Monthly Archives: December 2014

staggeringly normal

You never met my Uncle Alan. Not actually a blood relative, he was a dear freind of my father’s and a dearer friend of mine. He came to most of the family events, and was kind, funny and helpful. He was a dear who knew how to entertain and delight a young child and talk with a theatre-mad older one.

I must have been about twelve when I said to Mum that it was a pity Alan had never married for he would have made such a wonderful father. She said that he was homosexual. (This was years ago, remember.) I was puzzled. Desire was beginning to put exploratory feelers into my world, and I understood enough of the need for privacy over it to have something like understanding.

I was standing in my parents’ sitting room as my mother explained that this dear and kind man had had his life made a living hell because other people could not accept that he desired his own gender, not the other.

I stood looking at their old fashioned curio cabinet as I understood more. Nobody despised him as much as he despised himself, because he could not want a woman and he had to want men. This had ruined his life. My mother seemed to think this sad but not totally unreasonable. Not me.

I  realised at once that it completely ridiculous. There could not possibly be any merit in desiring one gender or the other. If it was fine for women to be desired and fine for men to be desired, then it could not possibly matter if a man or a woman was doing the desiring.

People had taught my Uncle Alan a monstrous lie and they ruined his life, and I was utterly furious. Utterly. And I swore: never again, not on my watch. I have never seen or read or heard anything to change my mind.

I had a huge advantage over most people in this debate. I never knew a strange gay monster. Gay meant a dear friend. It never entered my mind for a moment there was anything odd in desiring ones own sex.

I have heard so many permutations of Alan’s story. Most of the early ones had a huge element of shame. Entirely socially produced shame. There was a lot of wasted love. More recent ones tend to focus on happy endings. On love found, on finding happiness in seeking the good of another. This gives me great joy. That some people are stuck with my mother’s understanding makes me sad. What was understandable in 1964 is no longer so easy to account for.

Two things have not changed. One is the courage of men and women who are prepared to discuss their most intimate lives until others can see that it is staggering normal to desire your own gender. The other thing is, sadly, that the fight still goes on, because some people are still trying to shame others by teaching the lie that the love for one’s own gender is different. Not on my watch.

some of the brightest and certainly the best

I am not alone in my reaction to the Bishop’s guidance. Here some of the most illustrious names in the SEC sign a letter expressing – well, let them speak for themselves. There will be others who had no chance as yet to sign, and as yet the laity have had no chance to register their dismay except as individuals.

Dear Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church,

We read with dismay the Guidance for Clergy and Lay Readers in the light of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014.

We appreciate that we are bound by the law, and that until our canons are changed, we cannot legally perform same-sex marriages. However, we are disappointed by both the timing and the tone of the document. We have been urged by you to enter into ‘cascade conversations’ in a spirit of open and sensitive listening with people of all views on this matter. This document only makes this process much harder for us, even impossible for some. Far from acknowledging the reality of differing experience and views in the church, it gives the impression of a definitive answer to the question we have yet to discuss or debate. The document ought to make it clear that the restrictions it describes may be temporary, if the church decides to change its canons. Because of the confusion created by this document, we now believe that such canonical change should be decided in Synod as soon as possible.

But we were especially dismayed by the section of the document which refers to clergy, lay readers, and ordinands, should they be in a same-sex relationship and wish to be married. In particular, we find the warnings to ordinands, both currently training and those who might be training in the future, to be unrepresentative of the generous and communal characteristics of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Even though our church has not yet agreed to solemnise same-sex marriages, they will nevertheless become a civil institution which we will recognise like everyone else under the law. It is our firm belief therefore that any prohibition on obtaining a civil marriage is outwith the moral and canonical authority of a bishop.

We acknowledge that this process is one which creates anxiety for all church leaders, and bishops in particular. We empathise with the difficult situation that you as bishops are in, and reaffirm our desire to support you in your leadership of our church, and as fellow members of it.

Nevertheless, some of us are now uncomfortable about solemnising marriages at all until such time as all can be treated equally, and all of us will continue to feel morally compromised in our ministries, and wish to make clear our continuing commitment to affirm and support all people in our church, and to recognise and rejoice in all marriages, of whatever sexual orientation, as true signs of the love of God in Christ.

Yours sincerely,
Revd Carrie Applegath,
Revd Philip Blackledge,
Revd Maurice Houston,
Revd Canon John McLuckie,
Revd Canon Ian Paton,
Revd Kate Reynolds,
Revd Martin Robson,
Revd Malcolm Aldcroft,
Dr Darlene Bird (lay reader),
Revd Jim Benton-Evans,
Revd Cedric L. Blakey,
Revd Andrew Bowyer,
Revd Canon Bill Brockie,
Revd Tony Bryer,
Revd Steve Butler,
Revd Christine Barclay,
Revd Lynsay M Downes,
Revd Markus Dünzkofer,
Revd Canon Anne Dyer,
Revd Janet Dyer,
Revd Jennifer Edie,
Revd John L Evans,
Revd Samantha Ferguson,
The Revd Canon Zachary Fleetwood,
Kennedy Fraser,
Revd Kirstin Freeman,
Revd Frances Forshaw,
Revd Ruth Green,
Revd Bob Gould,
Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth,
Revd Ruth Innes,
Revd Ken Webb,
Rev’d Canon Mel Langille,
Revd Kenny Macaulay,
Revd Simon Mackenzie,
Revd Duncan MacLaren,
Very Revd Nikki McNelly,
Very Revd Jim Mein,
Revd Nicola Moll,
Revd Bryan Owen,
Revd Canon Clifford Piper,
Revd Donald Reid,
Revd Colin Reed,
Revd Canon John Richardson,
Revd Malcolm Richardson,
The Revd Gareth J M Saunders,
Very Revd Alison J Simpson,
Very Revd Andrew Swift,
Kate Sainsbury (lay reader),
Patsy Thomson (lay reader),
Prof Revd Annalu Waller

Revd John Penman,
Revd Tim Morris,
Revd Anna Garvey,
Revd Bill Eilliot.

Bishops against marriage

So, the bishops of the SEC are against marriage. Living together is fine, even taking some kind of vow is fine, but actually marriage – that is not fine. Gobsmacked? I was.
Oh if you are straight, yes, then you can marry. But not if you are gay. You can live together, enter a Civil Partnership (so far, who knows what lies round the corner) but you cannot commit yourself to another person of your own gender solemnly before God and in church – and that is how the bishops want it. Unbelievable, isn’t it? They would rather their clergy and their laity lived together without marriage.
The bishops have just issued guidance, which you can find here.  It begins innocently quietly enough with a warning to the clergy that if they give the impression they are conducting a marriage of two persons of the same gender at the present time, they will be acting against the laws of the land. It is true, largely because the bishops have chosen to have it so, but it is true. I must say I do not know any clergy who are unaware of this, and all the clergy I know who bless partners of the same gender make it plain that it is ‘just’ a blessing, so the warning appears to be unnecessary, but it is at least true. It is a statement of current fact.

Then it leaves the rails. It makes the jump to declaring it illegal under church law for clergy and lay readers to marry persons of their own gender. It makes a statement that nobody should be considered for recruitment to the ordination process who is considering same-sex marriage.

These two latter matters, the marriage of current and prospective clergy, have not at any point been considered by General Synod, and there can be no warrant, at all, for this step. It is, of course, true that the bishops can (in our system) behave an a totally autocratic manner, but one does ask oneself just how wise it is for them to do it. How far they are willing to alienate the younger members of their church, not just by espousing discriminatory views which are anathema to most younger people, but by governing in a way which, frankly, simply turns the stomach. It is so totally undemocratic as to be nauseating.

It goes on in much the same vein. For instance, it states, baldly, that none of the current marriage liturgies are suitable for the solemnising of marriages where both people are the same gender. Well, plainly there is one that is. This is really just a matter of fact. (Unless of course you feel that marriage between people of the same gender should be an apologetic affair with a good deal of misery and repentance as its key note). It also appears to try to shut down the blessing of CPs and marriages.

When I read the statement, my immediate reaction was to think of leaving the SEC. But I have been a member for a long time, and I am lucky enough to worship in a large, inclusive congregation which my grandchildren love. For now I stay. But be very sure that most normal people with normal views will be reluctant to be part of such an organisation as the bishops want.