A Scottish Response to the Windsor Report
Changing Attitude Scotland is a network of people, gay and straight, lay and ordained, working for the full affirmation of lesbian and gay Christians within the Scottish Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion. Because of our aims and objectives, we welcome the opportunity the Windsor Report gives us to join the debate which is underway within the Anglican Communion and to make the following points.
Instruments of Unity
- We are concerned that the strengthening of the Instruments of Unity will create the means of dividing the churches, not necessarily bringing them closer together.
- We believe that creating new Instruments of Unity may simply result in the creation of new venues for the same bitter debates which have characterised the Anglican Churches’ dealing with issues of human sexuality.
- It is our experience that very many Episcopalians in Scotland had never heard of Instruments of Unity before this crisis. Furthermore, we are aware that many Episcopalians were unaware of their place within the Anglican Communion before this crisis. We would be surprised if a great percentage of Episcopalians in Scotland could name the Instruments of Unity even now. This contrasts greatly with, for example, the way in which the Roman Catholic church experiences its unity in relation to the papacy, something which the average Roman Catholic could name and explain with some ease.
- As people committed to the full affirmation of lesbian and gay people within the Anglican communion, we have a passion for the Bible. We read the Scriptures constantly in our corporate worship and in our private devotions.
- It is not our understanding that the only way of viewing scripture as an Anglican is to see it as the supreme authority in all matters of life and doctrine.
- We are surprised that the Windsor Report relies so greatly on the Pauline and pseudo-Pauline biblical material. We believe that this has led to a particular view of the experience of the early church which would benefit from wider scholarship and much further reflection. In particular, we would welcome reflection on the Johannine texts, especially on the emphasis which we find there of ‘abiding in love’ as a model for the life together of the people of God. We would also wish to incorporate into future reflection that insight which many have gleaned from scripture of God’s determined interest in the marginalised. This would include the Lukan material in the Greek Testament and the themes of liberation and justice which can be seen running through the Hebrew Scriptures.
- We believe that God is a higher authority than scripture.
- Many of us have joined the church believing that Anglican tradition embraced Hooker’s famous three-legged stool illustration, which emphasises our appeal to scripture, tradition and reason. Three-legged stools which have one leg longer than the other two tend to be uncomfortable, if not dangerous. We have believed that this was the point of this illustration.
- We discover as we read the scriptures that hypocrisy is condemned with much greater force than homosexuality by the biblical witnesses, if indeed homosexuality is condemned at all.
Scottish Church History
- The experience of the Scottish Episcopal Church is that Covenants can be used, and are used, to exclude and even to persecute. Episcopalians in Scotland lost livelihoods, livings and even their own lives as a result of the National Covenant. This makes us very wary of any attempt to use a Covenant as a means to hold the Anglican Churches together at this time. As a result of this heritage we believe that it would be very difficult to persuade a Scottish General Synod to sign up to the kind of document which the Windsor Report suggests.
- People in Scotland often deeply resent what they perceive as interference from England. For this reason, many are suspicious of any proposals to enhance the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
- The Scottish Episcopal Church does not have archbishops. It does not have them because it does not want that kind of government. It has far less of a hierarchical structure than the Church of England, with which we share a common geographical border. It is our understanding that this is the way that Scottish Episcopalians like their church and we believe they would resist attempts to reassert models of hierarchy which have already been rejected.
- Our bishops act corporately within the College of Bishops. Within this collegiality, autonomy is understood to lie with individual bishops within their own dioceses. We do not have suffragans or area bishops, nor do we have ‘flying bishops’. We do not have a Metropolitan in the sense that some provinces of the Anglican Communion have one.
Elections to the Episcopate
- It is only very recently (within the last 2 years) that it has been possible to consider any member of the clergy for elections to the Episcopate (with the new possibility of including both men and women on shortlists). We believe that such a move has represented real progress in the life of this church. We further believe that this has given real ecumenical benefits with other denominations, particularly the Church of Scotland, United Reformed Church in Scotland and the Methodist Church in Scotland.
- We believe that a moratorium on consecrating gay people who are honest and open would be wrong and unjust. We also would argue that it is contrary to the United Nations Convention on Human Rights.
- It is important for us to recall that Gene Robinson is not the first gay bishop in the Anglican Communion. Scotland has already had one bishop who came out as an openly gay man in his retirement.
- We believe that God works through synodical government.
- We recognise and respect the way in which the Diocese of New Westminster and ECUSA have deliberated over the issues involved. We discern within their careful and prayerful processes the work of the Holy Spirit.
- We struggle to understand how Communion can be conceptualised by Christians as something which can be impaired. We struggle to understand degrees of communion. However, the actions of the Diocese of New Westminster and the actions of ECUSA have increased the (already strong) bonds of affection and love which exist between the Anglican Churches in the USA, Canada and Scotland.
- It should be noted that Scotland has a distinct Code of Canons which are specific to the life and work of the Scottish Episcopal Church. We would be surprised if the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church would accept within our canons the concessions which the Windsor Report suggests. Furthermore, we expect that any attempt to impose such concessions would bring strain to the current collaborative working patterns of the College of Bishops, the Boards and Committees of the Church and the General Synod.
- We long to be able to contribute within our church to the theological work that is currently needed to formulate appropriate sexual and relational ethics for all people within the church. We are saddened that the current controversies make this task more difficult.
- We do not believe that God expects different ethical standards for the laity and the clergy.
- We do not believe that God expects different ethical standards of the different orders of ministry.
- The Scottish Episcopal Church does much of its theological deliberation over the production of liturgy. Lex orandi, lex credendi (roughly – as we pray, so we believe) is a reality for us.
- The most recent liturgy which has been developed in the Scottish Episcopal Church is a new liturgy for marriage. We note that the theological construct of Christian marriage which underpins this liturgy is utterly different from that which underpins the liturgy of marriage in the Scottish Prayer Book 1929. In the more recent, the couple are treated as equals, in the SPB, the woman is treated as a chattel to be handed over from one man to another. The existence of these two liturgies in our church alongside one another tells us much about diversity of belief which is an aspect of our life together as a church. We are therefore not fearful of different liturgical practice developing across the Anglican Communion to meet new circumstances in appropriate pastoral ways. This is the way in which we operate in Scotland.
Civil Developments in Scotland
- Within months, there will be new opportunities for gay couples to register and regulate their relationships in new Civil Partnerships. This development raises all kinds of questions to which our church will need to find answers, including how we address the pastoral concerns these changes will generate.
- We have been given informal assurances, that the church will not attempt to evade its legal obligations towards pension rights for the partners of members of the laity and members of the clergy whose relationships are regulated by Civil Partnerships who are members of the church pension scheme. We now look for these assurances to be expressed publicly.
- We expect that some couples entering a Civil Partnership will look to the church to mark this moment yet we feel that the church is unprepared for this mission opportunity.
- We recognise in the person of Jesus Christ someone who practised a radical hospitality, challenging religious and societal norms in his life and mission. As his disciples, gay and straight alike, we are committed to carrying on that life and mission in the world today.
- Increasingly, the Scottish Episcopal Church is emphasising the importance of local context to decision making. We are learning to apply contextualised theological methods and biblical reflection from parts of the world church which have emphasised liberation as a key theme in mission. Much within this theological emphasis comes from the ‘global south’.
- We would not now presume to impose the priorities and practices of the majority of members of the Scottish Episcopal Church on churches in Africa and other parts of the Global South. We believe the imposition of the cultural norms of such parts of the world on the people of Scotland to be equally inappropriate. We enjoy learning about the experience and witness of Christians in these parts of the world. Amongst the diverse voices which we hear from all parts of the globe are the voices of lesbians and gay men who have been hurt by the current controversies. The cost of ‘unity’ can be very high for some people. As part of our belief in the mission of God in the wider world, we call for the human rights of gay and lesbian people to be respected wherever such people are found.
- We are unable to separate the struggle for justice from Christ’s current mission and activity on earth. At this time this includes, but is by no means limited to, the need to affirm fully and incorporate the experience and witness of God’s gay and lesbian children in both church and society.
- We believe that being an inclusive church is fundamental to the gospel and to the mission of the Scottish Episcopal Church. We further believe that if that inclusivity is challenged or diminished the very fabric of our church would be damaged. We fear that without a common commitment over the long term to such inclusivity the very being of our church would be threatened. Many of us believe that if the Scottish Episcopal Church were to lose its distinctive inclusivity, God would have little purpose for it.
- We affirm the presence and activity of lay and ordained gay and lesbian people working within the whole church. We discern in Scotland, that the Holy Spirit is at work, as the whole people of God strive together to bring in God’s new kingdom of justice, peace and joy.