Thursday 9 February 2012

..time for a rant

The General Synod of the Church of England (20 months ago I was a cleric in that church, at some point in the future I may well become one again) is continuing to debate how the C of E should live with women bishops. They have already committed to the fact that women should become bishops - the process is slowly grinding on, and the arguments are now about what happens to people, lay and ordained, who don't like the idea.

Outside the church, society would prosecute under discrimination law for this sort of behaviour. The Equality Act 2010 has an exemption for religious organisations that allows them to disciminate on grounds of belief or sexual orientation - but not gender! Interesting - I hadn't really hoisted that on board!

How do the churches play this game?

There some who like debates about churches being places that define counter-culteral positions - Jesus came and contradicted the existing unjust structures of his day, didn't he? So it's the job of the church to take that same ground. And that means rejecting women/LGBT/... delete as applicable.

But if the counter-cultural position that the church takes is only counter-cultural because society has moved on and has a more developed view of what human justice ACTUALLY is - on gender, sexual orientation etc. - is not the church merely hanging onto a conservative, reactionary point of view?

What appears next? 'But the bible says...'

It says a lot of things. It has things that were oral traditions gathered around campfires over 3000 years ago, it has polished histories of an occupied people 2500 years ago, it has grumpy letters to badly behaved churches, it has love poetry, it has books of pithy maxims. It is a glorious human edifice, filled with God-inspired wisdom - and also filled with dozens of cultural contexts.

The culture that surrounds our churches, whether resisted or accepted or embraced, is a vital part of how a church relates to people and relates to God. And culture formed scripture, tradition and our view of reason.

The church in which I am now a cleric, the Scottish Episcopal Church, has already fully accepted women bishops. But we have never had one. In fact, I'm not even sure there's been a woman dean or provost (I'm sure someone will correct me if there has been one). Hmm. The hot issue, in the SEC view on the wider Anglican Covenant-related debate, is on sexual orientation and the episcopate.

And I would observe that Scotland, as a nation, is advancing faster than our neighbours in the UK on removing the final inequalities for sexual orientation. Legalisation (but not compulsion) of same-sex marriage in church is high on the Scottish government agenda.

Where is all this rant going? Where would Jesus be with all this? This first century Jew, in the occupied territories known as Israel/Palestine - what would he make of all these heated, sometime vitriolic debates on who/what is right and wrong? I suspect he would crouch down and draw with his finger in the dust, maybe humming a little tune to himself, before coming up with something along the lines of,

"Let you who is without sin cast the first stone..."


  1. If the Church (as a whole) was simply discussing the nature of cultural contextualisation then at least we could assume our arguments would not be as heated, although probably as divisive as the people whom we serve are human just as we are. The problem we have, whether in Scotland or in the UK is that we are grappling with the nature of what we believe sin to be. People are not just angry or stubborn in the Church, I believe they are also scared either that the Church they attend will fall from the grace of God or that their own belief systems will be unravelled. I am not sure what the answer is but I am sure we need to be openly talking about how to get Christ involved in the discussion. And I am certain, whatever each individual or group decides will require a strength of conviction and a faithful step that our communities have not had to practice in a long time...

  2. Good post, Andrew. It makes me curdle inside when I realise that this is still going on - and not in a galaxy far away. If our faith does not ultimately rest on love - agape - then it's not anything I want to have to do with. And accommodating people who themselves steadfastly refuse to accommodate half the human race seems to me to allow for a dilution of that.
    Maybe you should stay in Scotland ...

  3. Good to read this even if it does bring on the 'curdle' effect. And yes, Andrew, we've had a woman Provost in Brechin. Can't remember if Rev Miriam was also Dean...?

  4. Dear Alison - thanks so much for the comment - as a still-relatively-recently-arrived-person I was starting to become rather disconsolate at the dearth of women senior clergy with us in the SEC - so I am delighted that there has been one. Some more would be even more delightful... but time, hopefully will sort that one!