Thinking Anglicans

Episcopal clergy respond to bishops guidance on marriage

Updated Sunday evening

Readers will recall that the bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church recently issued Guidance on Marriage and Civil Partnership.

This week, a response from quite a number of clergy was published, see Dear Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church. As Kelvin Holdsworth explains:

Last weekend I signed the following letter which was sent to the Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church. It was organised by a group of clergy in the diocese of Edinburgh. The fifty or so signatories were those who happened to learn of this over a couple of days last weekend. There will no doubt be others who would have wanted to sign it who simply didn’t hear about it…

The full text of the letter is reproduced below the fold. Follow this link and scroll down for the list of signatories.

The Scottish newspaper The Herald has picked up this story, and run two articles about it. First on Wednesday they wrote Church faces backlash after banning gay clergy from marrying.

CLERGY in the Scottish Episcopal Church have been threatened with disciplinary action if they enter a same-sex marriage, sparking a fierce backlash amongst its ministry and membership.

An edict by Episcopalian bishops warns clerics already in a civil partnership that converting their relationships into marriage would put them “outwith doctrinal understanding”, a move sources say could effectively make them homeless or strip them of their livelihood.

People training to enter the clergy and in civil partnerships, accepted within the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC), are also warned that if they marry they cannot be ordained. The ban also extends to ‘lay readers’, non-clergy trained to preach, teach and lead worship…

Then today, the same newspaper published this: Traditional weddings threat as church faces unprecedented insurrection over gay marriage ban.

CHURCH leaders are facing an unprecedented insurrection amongst their own ministry over their gay marriage ban, with signals some clergy will not carry out any weddings until the matter is resolved.

In what has been described as the biggest crisis to engulf it in living memory, over 50 Scottish Episcopalian Church (SEC) clergy – around one in six – have signed a letter condemning the stance of their bishops over same-sex marriage.

Amongst the signatories are some of the SEC’s most prominent figures, including current and former deans of three dioceses, essentially bishops’ deputies and the equivalent of an archdeacon in the Church of England, and two provosts, the senior priests in Episcopalian cathedrals.

While unhappy over the general stance of the SEC on gay marriage, the ire is focused primarily on the ban on the clergy and trainees turning their civil partnerships into marriage.

The letter also contains a veiled warning some members of the SEC clergy could refuse to conduct any weddings while the row rumbles on…

Andrew Swift has written Identity & Authority

Christine McIntosh has written Crisis? What crisis?

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.

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9 years ago

An excellent letter.

We do not seem to get this kind of protest from Church of England clergy whether gay, or straight.

I wonder why that could be ?

Nicholas Henderson
Nicholas Henderson
9 years ago

Laurie: It’s not quite the same but there was an open letter in February 2012 from over 120 clergy in the Diocese of London to the Times newspaper and to clergy proctors in Synod asking that they might be allowed to hold civil partnership ceremonies on the basis of conscience. Those signing of course risked being marked out as troublesome protestors.

9 years ago

Yes, that’s very true, Nicholas. That was a sterling witness.

And as you say risky, especially now that the freehold is no more.

Also, I think different cultural and societal dynamics, to South of the Border.

9 years ago

One thing that proposed “management training” for bishops in the U.K. (SEC or CofE) needs to include is how to draft statements on same-sex marriage that don’t come across as tone-deaf, heavy-handed and punitive. The SEC bishops’ statement, with its implied threats of defrocking and criminal prosecution, is particularly bad. At this time of year, it comes across as especially Scrooge-like: “‘If [we] could work [our] will,” said [the SEC bishops] indignantly, ‘every idiot who goes about with [“Happy Same-Sex Marriage”] on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
9 years ago

Bishop Michael Hare Duke (God + rest his soul) must be turning in his grave at this action by his peers.

Kelvin Holdsworth
9 years ago

Nothing about freehold has changed in Scotland in recent years. If we have it (and people may debate that as it certainly hasn’t been on the same terms as the Church of England ever) then we still have it.

There’s no common tenure north of the border.

Laurence Cunnington
Laurence Cunnington
9 years ago

“One thing that proposed “management training” for bishops in the U.K. (SEC or CofE) needs to include is how to draft statements on same-sex marriage that don’t come across as tone-deaf, heavy-handed and punitive.” Dr. Primrose

But if that’s what the statement intended to communicate – which I assume it did -I think I’d rather it was written as it was and not in mealy-mouthed management-speak. At least we know where we stand!

Martin Reynolds
Martin Reynolds
9 years ago

The statement from the Scottish bishops is sad for a number of reasons. One suspects the document published in their name began life as a report to them, probably by a lawyer. Here in Wales there are two lawyers on our bench and I could see this as a report from one of them to their brother bishops. A report of the legal consequences, ecumenical impact and implications for the Communion might be deemed an essential tool in the overall assessment of the great blessing of equal marriage. What saddens me is that this necessary piece of background work is… Read more »

9 years ago

Perhaps most disturbing, this passage from the second Herald article:

“The edict was issued several days before same-sex marriage became legal and a fortnight after a visit to Scotland by the figurehead of the Anglican churches, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, where it is understood the matter was discussed.”

Why does the Archbishop of Canterbury meddle so much in provinces not his own?

Why do provinces do out-of-character things while, or just after, the Archbishop of Canterbury visits?

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