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Scottish Synod: Church faces a ‘new chapter’, says Primus David Chillingworth

16 June 2017

Debate on marriage canon concludes with historic vote, writes Hattie Williams


THE Bishop of Edinburgh, the Rt Revd John Armes, moved Motion Five, on a revised Canon 22, which he said had been accepted by all the diocesan synods. As much care should be taken to forming and changing liturgy as canon law, he said. Under the motion, proposed changes would be read twice, over two years. This matter had been brought to a head by the proposed Canon 31.

The motion was passed by a two-thirds majority. All three houses carried.

Bishop Armes presented the second reading of a revised Canon 31. The proposal had been met with “joy and sadness”, and had led to “much conversation” within the Church, he said. There were different understandings of marriage in the Church, not only over whether only a man and a woman can be married, but whether marriage was a sacrament, and whether people could marry after divorce; liturgies expressed some of these interpretations.

The issue of marriage for same-sex couples was “something on which we clearly do not have a common mind; but the change would keep the conscience of both sides, and protect the conscience of those who think marriage after divorce is wrong. No one is asking you to change your theology.”

He continued: “We are neither passionately in favour, nor passionately against. We are not Catholic apostolics on one side, and liberals against.” Reasons of voting for and against were numerous, and the Church needed “honest diversity” on this, and to disagree with integrity, knowing that all worshipped the same God, and read the same scripture.

The intended canon was “permissive not directive”, and did not deny disagreement, he concluded.

Helen Hood (Edinburgh) seconded the motion. She quoted words from the marriage liturgy, approved by the Synod in 2007, and the Scottish Prayer Book liturgy: “God as Trinity reveals to us the nature of love in relationship. Marriage is a gift of God and sign of grace.” Nothing that the Church decided today would alter these beliefs, she said. Speaking as a married woman of 39 years, she could see no reason why the blessing should not be extended to same-sex couples. She respected the views of others against same-sex marriage, and agreed with the Bishop that no one would have to change their theology.

The Revd Markus Dünzkofer (Edinburgh) also quoted marriage liturgy. “It is a journey in which we grow and transform,” he said. “Today will decide what we will become, and whatever we decide, we will not be the Church we were before.” The new canon would allow growth, because the revision did not remove but expanded the definition of marriage. The Church was not “caving in” to cultural pressure — rather the opposite. “Do not doubt that those who support the motion do so with the grace of God,” he warned. The Anglican Communion was “bigger than GAFCON bishops”, and there were hundreds of persecuted Christians around the world “waiting for signs of hope. . . The Church of Scotland is also moving in this direction: we are not alone. The vote is about what kind of family we are in. We must decide if there is space for us to live together.”

Canon Ian Ferguson (Aberdeen & Orkney) described the Church as “broken”, and expressed his concern that the motion would contradict the teaching of Jesus. It would be “the most sad and painful days for many of us” if the motion were passed, he said, and would distress clerics and congregations, such as his own, who believed in an “orthodox” tradition of marriage. “It is a schismatic approach that will break us apart from our brothers in the Anglican Communion,” he warned. He was also concerned that, if the amendment was passed, those seeking ordination would be put off, and the Church would be “letting down” those in celibate same-sex partnerships. Nor were the guidelines fit for purpose, he said. “Are we saying that all of the variety of understandings are right and acceptable?”

Victoria Stock (Edinburgh) spoke of the pain and struggle of being accepted as a gay member of the Church. “Jesus would be telling us to get on with it; but this vote is greater than allowing clerics to marry same-sex couples in church,” she said. “It is about reaching out to one another, and the wider world, with compassion.” The “small but feisty” Church could offer “generosity of the heart” to the world through the motion.

Should the Church agree to the changes, it would be “hailed by the press and political establishment as an enlightened progressive affirmation; the Church catching up with social norms,” Dr Christopher Johnston (Edinburgh) said. The notion of equality in the UK, however, had been used against those who were against same-sex marriage, he warned, arguing that marriage in the traditional sense had protected families, children, and women for thousands of years, and that, if removed, “sexual anarchy” would ensue, and violence against women would increase.

Bishop Kevin Pearson (Convener, Institute Council) spoke of intended discipleship and flourishing. “If we do not pass this, it will be interpreted as deliberately excluding present and potential disciples,” he warned. “We are all made in God’s image, and our purpose is to flourish in his love; to deny flourishing is to deny God-given unity.” Turbulence was the sign of the Holy Spirit, he said.

Canon Dave Richards (Edinburgh) welcomed a change in the nature and tone of the debate in the past 12 years, but suggested that the proposal was not simply about the Church’s attitude or welcome to the LGBT community. There were differing interpretations of marriage, he said, “but the State cannot expect the Church to agree with its definition.” He questioned whether the Church could still claim to be Catholic Apostolic, should the motion pass.

“Marriage demands a lot,” Canon John McLuckie (Edinburgh) said, “but what it does not demand is that marriage be limited to one man and one woman”.

The Revd Stephen Townsend (Aberdeen & Orkney) disagreed. Changes to the doctrine of holy matrimony changed the “scope” of marriage, he said. The phrase “differing understandings of the nature of marriage” cannot be distinguished as either theology or a doctrine, he said; therefore numerous forms of marriage could be improved. “If there is any uncertainty on marriage, then it behoves us to seek a fresh understanding of Jesus’s teaching.”

Alistair Dinnie (ACC representative) said that he believed that God had been with him and his partner in their darkest hour, and he longed for the day on which they could affirm their relationship in the eyes of God. “Whatever we decide, whatever we gain, whatever we lose, can we not lose each other.”

The Revd David Greenwood (Aberdeen & Orkney) warned that some members of the Church would feel “compelled by conscience to leave” should the motion be passed, because marriage was understood as a holy sacrament which could not be altered or replaced, any more than the sacrament of holy communion.

Linda Whitby (Glasgow), who has been married for 55 years, said that her four sons were all married with children, but that should one have grown up gay, he would have been supported by his parents. “Everyone, whatever their agenda, needs love, support, and companionship,” she said. “Love comes from God; let everyone share that love.”

The Revd Dean Norby (St Andrews) said that the love in his family was strengthened by holiness. He warned: “No matter what your view of sexuality, removing the marriage doctrine removes this otherness, this holiness, that comes from God.”

Quoting the Primus, the Revd Liz Baker (St Andrews) spoke of the “structures of faithfulness” needed in marriage. Understandings of God and marriage changed throughout the Bible, and marriage was not the same today as it was then, she said. “Over my life and ministry, I have worked with several women who are transgender; before then, they could have been married in church, but after the transition they cannot.”

Canon Malcolm Round (Edinburgh) apologised for “any sense of rejection and hurt” he might cause in opposing the motion, saying that the debate was about the “heartbeat values” of doctrine and marriage, not sexuality. “This is not a secondary cultural variable truth,” he said, “it is there from beginning to end of scripture, and we should not be using reason or experience alone to change canon.”

The Rev Ken Webb (Edinburgh) supported the motion because it represented the best chance of staying united. “What holds us together is not agreeing on every doctrine or practice, but having the same mind as Christ, an attitude of humility,” he said, before quoting Paul and the Philippians on having not a “uniform opinion” but the same attitude of mind. He concluded: “We would be modelling a way forward for the Anglican Communion, even though we may be marginalised at first.”

Maybe the Church is trying to turn the world upside down, Dr Beth Routledge (Glasgow & Galloway) said; but that might just be what the world needs. The Anglican Communion was a broad Church, but there were also many beyond the Scottish borders “cheering on” the Church — including, she said, “many LGBT brethren who live and die under persecution”. It had been a long road to this point, but it was a transitional journey of which she was proud, as a gay member of the Church. “Today is a chance to show what we are doing to the world; you can do anything as long as you can remember to love one another, and God will use that love to turn the world upside down.”

“We are all stumbling in our faith,” the Revd Dr Sophia Marriage (Edinburgh) said. The Church had a choice between acknowledging different views, or “seeing partially” by affirming that there was only one understanding of God, “and that we in our righteousness have it”. If the motion was rejected, the Church would be saying that all other views on marriage were wrong; but to accept would be to “journey together with integrity, knowing that we understand very little of God.”

Anne Jones (Glasgow) said that the issue was a matter of equality in law and in the eyes of God, and should be enshrined in canon law as well as the law of the land. She said that her own marriage was equal to the relationships of her LGBT friends: “Let us make them equal with all of the members of this Church.”

Hospitality and mission defined the Church, the Revd Professor David Atkinson (Convener, Church in Society Committee) said, and the canon should therefore be approached with a “missional magnifying glass”: Will the revised canon make more disciples of God? Many of the speakers had dealt with Matthew’s Gospel, he said, but the issue of continuity, and “change growing out of continuity”, must be acknowledged.

Pamela Gordon (Edinburgh) said that the Church was “privileged” to have been given the opportunity to reassess its position in line with social change, and had a responsibility to put love into action. She also urged fellow members to show love and respect to those who would feel hurt, and question their future after the vote: “In celebrating diversity, we must continue to respect diversity of opinions.”

Emma Barrie (St Andrews) worried about the implications for elected bishops, celibate priests, and the vestry, should the motion pass. “A broad Church is not the same thing as a liberal Church,” she warned. Members of the vestry — organists, choristers, flower arrangers — would be put in a difficult decision if requested to partake in a same-sex wedding. A refusal or acceptance would force a “very public display” of views, which might be put on social media. Contrarily, a same-sex couple may be be forced to travel miles to be married by an elected cleric.

The Church was not only “a cog for change”, but a display of the power of religion in the world, James Gardner (St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane) said. As a young member with many LGBT friends, he urged the Synod to remember the “personal effect” of this canon, and the promise of providing a “safe space” for those who were deeply committed. “If God is love, then surely God is love in same-gender partnerships,” he said.

The Revd William J. Shaw (Edinburgh) said that he had changed his mind in favour of the motion. “God has called out his Spirit on those who have spoken,” he said. “God is holding all of our hands, that we should hold diversity.”

The debate was closed.

Bishop Armes thanked all those who had participated in a “gracious and helpful” debate. Responding to a few questions raised, he said that the guidelines from the College of Bishops were built on the revised canon, which “clearly” protected differing views on marriage. He assured the Synod that it was not voting for sexual anarchy, rather the opposite: to “raise the bar” of same-sex relationships. The Church, he said, had “turned a blind eye” for too long, particularly over unmarried clergy who were living with partners. The revised canon offered an opportunity to aspire to “something special” in marriage, and to bless what same-sex relationships had already achieved, but it did not undermine those who had chosen to live a celibate life.

Of the Anglican Communion, Bishop Armes said, “We want them to know that we have reached this decision through a carefully prayed-for understanding of God; that we are not alone in the diversity of disagreements; and that, whatever side we take, we are constrained by Christ: we believe that our unity transcends our disagreement.” If the Communion was to survive, it must embrace this diversity and honour difference in the family of God, he warned.

Motion Six was put to the vote.

Professor Hart thanked members of the Synod for their mutual respect and conduct. It was the highest standard of debate the Synod had had on this issue, he said.

A two-thirds majority was obtained in all three Houses: Bishops 4 to 1; Clergy 42 to 20; and Laity 50 to 12.

The Primus, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, responded: “End points are often starting points. It is a momentous decision: it affirms a position that same-sex couples are married in the sight of God. A new chapter opens up, and inclusion takes a particular form, but this same decision is difficult and hurtful for others who say this decision is unscriptural and profoundly wrong.”

The Church must embark on a journey of reconciliation, he said, not least with the Anglican Communion, which would have to explore whether its “historic commitment to unity and diversity can embrace change”.

A vote in the Synod could change the canonical position of the Church, but would not have the power to “lay to rest” the deep differences expressed. He reassured the Synod that no one would be compelled to act against their conscience. The calling of the Church must and should be to move forward with “truth, gracefulness and a deep acceptance of one another”.

Bishop Armes proposed Motion 7, on Appendix 26, which lists the marriages forbidden by the Church. The motion was carried. He then proposed Motion 8, on a resolution to ensure that the diocesan bishop or dean would be responsible for nominating a cleric to the Registrar General. The motion was carried.



SCOTTISH EPISCOPAL CHURCHSCOTTISH EPISCOPAL CHURCHStanding ovation “Religiously motivated violence is one of the greatest challenges of our times,” the Primus, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, told the General Synod, on Thursday of last week. “And so is the rise of the politics of popular nationalism — driven by a combination of anger and fear.”

Bishop Chillingworth was delivering his farewell charge after the opening eucharist of the Synod, in St Paul’s and St George’s, Edinburgh. Turning to scripture had been a “relief” in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in London, Manchester, and across the world, he said.

“They [the scriptures] carry their own challenge; but they are a challenge to enter a greater humanity rather than a lesser. . . People who are called by God to live cross-bearing, sacrificial lives.”


Scottish Episcopal General Synod also debated safeguarding, liturgy, ecumenism, communications, discipleship, climate-change, doctrine, and pensions. Read here 

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