Changing Attitude Scotland: A response to the Primates’ Meeting and Communiqué
Changing Attitude Scotland - a response to the Primates’ Meeting and Communiqué
The Primates’ Meeting In Newry
Bishop Bruce Cameron, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church had a particular part to play at the Primates’ Meeting in Newry in February. In the absence of the Bishop Peter Kwong of Hong Kong through illness, Bishop Bruce was asked to make a presentation to the other Primates on the responses that had been made from across the communion. This presentation is available online, though has received little comment internationally as yet. (See below for web addresses)
Changing Attitude Scotland produced a statement before the Primates’ Meeting, and is pleased to note that this statement was referred to several times in the presentation. One particular point which was quoted in full was the view that a moratorium on consecrating a homosexual bishop who is honest and open would be unjust and contrary to the United Nations’ Convention on Human Rights.
The analysis of the responses which were received is also now available online. The statistical method which was used is worthy of some consideration. There were 322 responses made to the Windsor report. Responses from individuals were considered separately to all the other responses received. In total, 214 individuals responded to the report. There are estimated to be 71,000,000 Anglicans in the world. It is interesting to note in passing that when a similar exercise was tried in Scotland, attempting to solicit responses to the Human Sexuality discussion papers, there was again a very small number of responses - less than 30 out of an estimated number of 50000 Scottish Episcopalians. In a meeting with Changing Attitude Scotland committee members in November 2004, Bishop Bruce indicated that such a low response rate (less than 0.06% of Scottish Episcopalians) made any analysis almost worthless. The response rate of Anglican individuals to the Windsor Report was approximately 0.00045%.
The other responses were from dioceses and bishops, provinces, organisations, primates, theological institutes, ecumenical partners, mission agencies and the networks and commissions of the Communion. Bizarrely, these were lumped together for analysis. There were such 108 responses. To put this in perspective, there are some 558 dioceses in the Anglican Communion and innumerable organisations and networks.
It would still appear that although some Anglicans care a great deal about the issues raised by the consecration of the Rt Rev Gene Robinson and the development of formal liturgies of blessing for same-sex couples, a very great many Anglicans care little about these issues at all.
Prior to the Primates’ Meeting, an attempt had been made to do quantitative analysis on the responses, by making a judgement as to whether the responses were in agreement, qualified agreement or disagreement with a set of propositions. The resulting statistics were then turned into pie charts which themselves became a PowerPoint presentation which was used as the backdrop to the presentation to the Primates. The analysis document also includes a number of selected key points from the comments that had been sent in.
Throughout the whole of this process, one of the dominant questions has been where authority lies within the Anglican Communion. One possibility which has previously not been considered is that authority appears to lie with the work of a particularly poor statistician equipped with PowerPoint. Whatever else may be said about the Primates’ Meeting in Newry, this is a quite novel way for a church to determine its practice, procedures and doctrinal norms.
On his return to Scotland, Bishop Bruce issued a brief statement about the Primates’ Meeting. It contains this statement: ‘We did not solve all our differences on the issues of sexuality but did find a way which respected the integrities of both sides of the argument and set in motion a process that will allow us to keep talking together.’ It is difficult to see how this can be so. The call for the US and Canadian Provinces to exclude themselves from the Anglican Consultative Council makes it appear that these provinces have behaved like naughty children. Changing Attitude Scotland believes that these churches have done nothing wrong and should not exclude themselves from the councils of the church. In issuing the statement that they did, we believe that the Primates have acted in a way which is without precedent and which exceeds their authority. It is clear to us that the Primates have very precisely not respected the ‘integrities’ of both sides of the argument. Furthermore, it is difficult to see how both sides can be kept talking when one of the ’sides’ is told to stay away from events where discussion can happen. The Primates have taken deliberate steps to ensure that both sides are prevented from communicating.
Changing Attitude Scotland finds the image of ‘two integrities’ operating in the church to be a troubling one. Such language has been used in two particular situations before: over the ordination of women in the Church of England and in the way that political groupings are described in Northern Ireland. Neither of these provide particularly helpful precedents for the current debates in the church. Integrity, like justice, does not fragment.
There have been two subsequent developments in Scottish dioceses which should not go unnoticed - these have occurred in the Diocese of Brechin and in the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway.
The diocese of Brechin, at its synod on 5 March 2005 agreed the following motion:
‘We in Brechin Diocese wish to affirm the diversity of the Anglican Communion that has been one of its hallmarks down through the centuries.
‘We recognise that such diversity can from time to time, cause tension but we pray this tension may be channelled creatively, not destructively.’
‘In light if this, we in Brechin Diocese stand in solidarity with our Anglican sisters and brothers in Canada and the USA, supporting their right to openly affirm same-sex committed, loving relationships, and affirm vocations to all ministries in the church of people living true to their sexual orientation.’
(Voting: 28 in favour, 2 against, 9 abstentions).
In the synod papers for the synod meeting of the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway which occurred on the same day, the bishop put on record his appreciation for the ‘wonderful service’ of clergy who happen to be gay.
These developments are to be warmly welcomed.
A further and even more significant development has occurred with the release of a statement by the College of Bishops dated 4 March 2005. There are many things in this statement which Changing Attitude Scotland welcomes. Of particular note, are the following points:
- The acknowledgement that the Scottish Episcopal Church has never regarded the fact that someone was ‘in a close relationship with a member of the same sex’ as in itself consitituing a bar to the exercise of an ordained ministry.
- The fact that the Scottish bishops personally regret the call made by the Primates for the withdrawal of ACC members of ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada for the next three years.
- The committment by the members of the College of Bishops to personally help to facilitate dialogue amongst members of their dioceses with differing views.
Changing Attitude Scotland warmly endorses this last point. Members throughout Scotland will be looking forward to engaging in the dialogue which the bishops propose. We particularly enjoy discussing the authority of scripture and the ways in which we understand the Bible to be consonant with the view that gay people in relationships can live openly within the body of the people of God. The passion that we have for God’s revelation to humanity contained in Scripture is one of the major factors which has led us to call for the full respect within the community of faith for the human rights of God’s gay and lesbian children.
Public and Private
One of the most troubling themes emerging in the Windsor Report and from the Primates’ Meeting is the idea that Christian people ought to behave differently in private to the way they behave in public. With regard to same-sex blessings, Anglicans have not been asked to exercise a moratorium on such ceremonies but upon the formal public recognition of such ceremonies. Again, with regard to the Episcopate, Anglicans have not been encouraged to stop ordaining gay people as bishops but to stop ordaining openly gay people as bishops. (There is no mention of the probity of ordaining openly gay priests or deacons in the Primates’ Communiqué).
In the gospels, the views of Jesus on same-sex relationships and activities are absent. However, the gospel texts do record occasions where people are condemned for behaving differently in private to the way they behave in public. In setting the standards which they have tried to set, the Primates of the Anglican Communion are in grave danger of being seen by the world as promoting hypocrisy as normative for Christian people.
For this reason, Changing Attitude Scotland is delighted that the College of Bishops in its statement of 4 March 2005 has publicly acknowledged and endorsed a fact that individual bishops have known for some time - that clergy have been blessing gay couples as part of their pastoral ministries in Scotland for many years.
In making the statement that they have made on 4 March 2005, the bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church have moved the debate on within Scotland. Speaking with one voice, the Scottish Bishops have recognised the ’significant presence’ of lesbian and gay Christians in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Furthermore, they say that they rejoice that this is so. Changing Attitude Scotland welcomes the bishops’ statement and looks forward to the next stages of debate in this province of the Anglican Communion.
On 25 February 2005, the Primates Meeting in Northern Ireland drew to a close. As it did so, Archbishop Rowan Williams presided over the press conference which marked the end of the Primates’ Meeting. In that press conference and on subsequent occasions when speaking to the media, Rowan Williams has called for the US and Canadian Anglican Provinces to repent of their actions. We believe that this call is utterly misplaced.
On the very same day, the theologian Jane Williams was making a presentation to the 110th annual meeting of the Episcopal Church Women of the Diocese of Los Angeles. In her address, Jane Williams, who is married to Archbishop Rowan, said: ‘We are God’s beloved daughters and sons, and we must not be tempted to let anything destabilize that central fact of our being. From that certainty, we can reach out to each other, and we can stand against darkness, and hinder it.’
Members of the Changing Attitude Scotland are asked to reflect and meditate on these words at this time.
10 March 2005