Two motions, both alike in dignity. What happened in the Glasgow and Edinburgh Synods.
Glasgow and Edinburgh had similar motions put through their Synods on Saturday. They are similarly worded, but have significant differences.
The Edinburgh Synod motion was this:
“In the light of the recent coming into force of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act, this Synod urges General Synod to ensure that Canon Law does not require or expect any member of the Clergy to act against their conscience with a view to same sex marriage”
The Glasgow Synod motion was this:
“In the light of the recent coming into force of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act, this Synod agrees that Canon Law should be revised to ensure that no member of the clergy should be expected to act against their conscience with a view to same sex marriage and proposes a motion to this effect to the General Synod of 2015.”
So what’s the difference?
The Glasgow motion makes it hard for General Synod to delay the process of canonical change. There has been talk (and I hope it is only talk) on a delay on the canonical process until we have been through a possibly never-ending report on the nature of marriage. I think the Glasgow motion makes that difficult – or at least means that canonical change could happen at the same time as any report, rather than after it.
The Edinburgh one was far less precise than that, but does say something about the intent of the process.
If it is possible to hold dual integrities on this, and remain a part of the same church (and I expect and hope it is) then there are significant things to be worked out – and I hope these motions go some way to doing that.
Some feared that a process similar to the women Bishops vote will take place. In England, there was alternative accommodation made for those who felt they could not be under the jurisdiction of a woman Bishop. There was none in Scotland, and there was a concern that no similar provision could be made for those who were against marrying gay people. Somehow – and in a more profound way than simply altering a gender-specific word or two – the integrity of those who cannot marry people on grounds of gender and sexuality must be protected in canon law. These motions at least show that we should go there.
Some also fear legal issues – that someone may raise a complaint against them. These motions at least demonstrate a desire to ensure that their rights are legally protected, and that we would stand by them as a church.
The motions also show necessary mutuality of our endeavour as a church. Scripture is ambiguous on this subject, and we have to listen to that. Perhaps it is deliberate on God’s part that occasionally, we have to think it through without much of a scriptural steer. Maybe God is trusting us to do this well. And if God trusts us to do this, then maybe so should we.
The Edinburgh motion tells us that we can and must move forward together as a whole church, trusting one another and minding one another, as well as gently holding one another to account. The Glasgow motion tells us that we need to do it without unnecessary delay. The quickest the Synod can change its canons is two years. That’s more than enough time to say everything that there can be to say, and heal enough wounds to stay together. If we have the grace to do it.
I know it’s difficult for those who oppose same-sex marriage to feel they maintain their integrity – but this is a double-edged sword. Both sides of this are struggling with the ability to hold onto their integrity and remain one church.
The equal marriage issue is scripturally ambiguous, and I know too many people who I love who disagree with me to fall into the trap of seeing it as obvious. I’ve been speaking with a lot of folk who profoundly disagree with me, and when I say profoundly, I mean that this is an issue which they regard as a huge, possibly insurmountable obstacle between them and me.
That’s the central issue, and as someone who wants reconciliation, it’s hard for me to keep my feet firm. But this isn’t simply an issue of opinion or of my personal integrity. It’s not even solely a justice issue, although it is certainly that. It is an issue for me about how we listen to God.
I think there are scriptural, logical and spiritual reasons why God wishes us to marry gay people – I think God’s wanted it for a long long time. Why else has God called so many gay men and women to the priesthood? Why else has God drawn gay people into the church? Why has God called them to priesthood, and to Christian life, but not to celibacy? If we respect the integrity of our gay clergy and lay people at all, we have to listen to what God is saying to them, and trust their experiences to count.
I know others feel the opposite, and their integrity should be protected. But I feel the more we delay, the more we damage the church, and the more we fail to do the will of God.
Hopefully these motions at least do one thing – they refuse to allow us to keep avoiding the crux of the issue. And they hold that, as we go through the painful and testing process of discussing what is a vital matter to the church, we do so, with a full desire and wish to protect one another as we do so.