The Anglican Moratoria – Where Do We Stand?

I’m in Edinburgh at the moment, at the last day of the General Synod 2013 of the Scottish Episcopal Church. This is the voting body of the Church, represented by the bishops and by elected members of the clergy and the laity, and it is the place where the business of the Church is done.

One of the items of business up for discussion on Friday morning was the question of establishing a design group which will create a process by which the Church will discuss same-sex relationships in a manner and with a timescale that could not be any woolier if it had been presented on the needles of the Synod knitter.

It is exactly as ridiculous as it sounds.

I wanted to try to define exactly what we were talking about.

It’s a wonderful word, “relationship” — covers all kinds of sins and indeed all kinds of sacraments. It is also, when trying to talk about a process such as this one, an unhelpfully vague word. The Bishop of Brechin in his introduction to this item talked about the Church trying to find a way of discussing the undiscussable, and it is, I think, the fact that some people consider it undiscussable that lead to us using woolly terms like “relationship”. So, what are we talking about? Are we talking about equal marriage? Are we talking about pastoral responses to same-sex couples? Are we talking about how the Church respond to people who happen to be LGBT and live within its congregations?

I didn’t really get an answer to that.

And I also wanted to clarify exactly what we aren’t talking about, and specifically I wanted to clarify whether we could take it as read that the Anglican Moratorium on the ordination of individuals living in same-sex relationships as Bishops was no longer the policy of the Scottish Episcopal Church and that therefore that particular question would not need to be part of whatever the design group ends up designing.

A little bit of history — a little bit of history that I got knotted up in when I spoke about this on Friday morning and I do thank those who set me right about this part. The Anglican Moratoria were created by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in February 2009 (in Alexandria, not in Dar es Salaam) as part of a longer document called Deeper Communion: Gracious Restraint and were signed up to by the College of Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church in March 2009. They effectively acted as bans on the Church authorising a formal liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions and electing as Bishop an individual who happened to be in a relationship with someone of the same sex (I note that Bishop David specified when he was responding to me that that moratorium was on a long-term same-sex relationship, and I could make a sarcastic point here about casual sex evidently being just fine). And it’s all Gene Robinson’s fault, is the implication in that moratorium. Then, later in the same year, the Anglican Communion was presented with the Anglican Covenant for its consideration. It has never been entirely clear to me nor I suspect to a lot of people what the relationship was between the Covenant and the Moratoria. But there certainly seems to have been a relationship, and, as General Synod resoundingly voted last year to opt out of the Anglican Covenant, my presumption, which I was prepared to be told was a faulty one, was that this Province had also ceased to observe the Anglican Moratoria.

The answer was a wonderful treatise from the Primus on the nature of the Anglican Communion and a view that we have no idea what the status of the moratoria really are, that the authority for them is slowly ebbing away, that they are not a major factor in the way we live… The point was made that Justin Welby made no reference to the moratoria when he said earlier this year that ordained men in civil partnerships could be consecrated as bishops (just so long as those men don’t actually have sex with their civil partners). And that is all very pleasant and uncontroversial and may well be very true, but it is again woolier than the Synod knitter’s knitting and it doesn’t really answer the question.

An attempt by Kelvin Holdsworth later in the proceedings to clarify that answer resulted in it becoming even less clear.

There comes a point when this begins to look like an obfuscation made in order to avoid saying the difficult thing.

It is interesting to me that in every conversation I’ve had on this subject in the last 24 hours, and I’ve had a lot, the person I have been talking to, whether they have been evangelical or high Anglican, whether they have subscribed to traditional theology or liberation theology, whether they have been clergy or laity, every single one of them has said that they would have welcomed a straight answer. They have said that even if they hadn’t liked the content of the answer, they would have preferred having one to not having one. Because this is something about which it is important that we know where we as a Church stand.

For the avoidance of doubt, the question I was asking was not a hypothetical one about the nature of the Anglican Communion or about the natural evolution of the Anglican Moratoria or about anything like that. The question I was asking was a practical one about Church employment policy. The question I was asking was, if a vacancy arises in the College of Bishops tomorrow, whether through retirement or through someone being hit by a bus, will the Church accept the nomination of an otherwise qualified person who happens to be in a same-sex relationship and will that nomination then proceed on the same footing as those of people who happen to not be?

It is not a hypothetical question. It is not an academic question. It is not a woolly question.

It is a very straightforward question that should have a yes or a no answer, and I don’t think that that answer has been heard yet.

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17 comments

  1. Hello. I am baptised Pisky, now Quaker, and I went from being way-out liberal Anglican to rather conservative Quaker, and have carried on in the same direction. So, I think- how wonderful to have a chance to celebrate weddings when the CofE and “church in Wales” can’t. And- woolly is the Pisky way, and I can forgive it, with my father avidly reading his “New Directions” magazine each month and dispute in the church.

    I would like the candidate to emerge, and the decision to be made, then. Who knows? Perhaps the Holy Spirit might be involved. I tend to feel that acceptance of equal marriage and gay bishops is coming, so I can put off the actual moment when that is recognised.

    1. The trouble with doing it that way, I think, is that it is enormously unfair to the people whose relationship – and let us not forget that there *are* two people, one of whom most likely won’t have signed up for this – then ends up being used as a test balloon.

      As to your second point, I am on the other side of the fence but I think perhaps for the same reason. The day when we have same-sex marriage and bishops who are openly LGBT is coming, so what is the point of delaying and delaying and delaying?

  2. Beth, this is a well thought out and written piece. A question that has a straight YES/NO needs to be asked.

    This has all the hallmarks of the Ordination of Women issue. No-one wants to upset anyone else so the issue will continue to be skirted around. We are now 20 years down the line with the Ordination of Women and the CofE still do not recognise Women Bishops. On that issue there are still people who can not recognise the ordination of women, and then there is the reaction of the Church of Rome and the Ordinariate.

    So turning back to same-sex relationships and religious joinings, ordinations, etc. we have to learn from that mess made with the Ordination of Women and just get on and just do it. A design group to discussion how to set up a process to discuss the issue. No, just get on and do it. Both sides have to realise that the result may not be what they want, however the way things are going – meetings about committees to determine what a group might do is a recipe for stagnation.

    1. Anyone can avoid giving a straight yes/no answer to any question if they think like a politician. There was nothing remotely unclear about the question on either of the occasions it was asked.

      1. I guess part of it is that the direct question that has been asked, but no-one wants to answer it for fear of upsetting one faction or the other.

  3. I do not want delay, but I suspect those who do think that in time the people who object strongly to equal relationships will just die out. It is not IMO a good way of making decisions, but some favour it.

  4. Churches of the Anglican Communion need to discern for themselves what is the right thing to do and simply do it. Churches have not ceded authority to the Anglican primates, nor should they. The moratoria never had legitimate authority. Unfortunately, Anglicans, and especially Anglicans in positions of leadership, are pathologically polite and loathe giving offense, even to ecclesiastical tyrants.

    If Western churches wait for a Communion-wide consensus on issues of human sexuality, they will be waiting a long time—long enough for their societies to conclude that the churches are irrelevant in the 21st century. This is not the way to advance the cause of the Gospel.

    My own church (The Episcopal Church) has avoided telling the primates what they can do with their moratoria, but it has since elected a partnered lesbian bishop and has seen other homosexual bishops in episcopal elections, and it has adopted provisionally a liturgy for blessing same-sex unions. Other Anglican churches have continued to interfere into the affairs of the U.S.-based church. There is a lesson for the Scottish Episcopal Church here.

    Of course, I should say how proud I am of your church for having the good sense and fortitude to reject the Anglican Covenant formally. I sincerely wish that The Episcopal Church would have done the same, rather than kicking the can down the road in the hopes that it can avoid having to do what it clearly wants to do, namely, condemn the Covenant to the trash heap of Anglican history.

    Good luck in your quest for an answer to your question.

    Lionel Deimel
    Episcopal Church Convenor, No Anglican Covenant Coalition

    1. Thank you for your very thoughtful comment, Lionel.

      I should say that because the College of Bishops of the SEC did formally adopt the moratoria, they were given what has been legitimate authority in Scotland — the fact that that should never have happened in the first place, and certainly not in the way it happened, unfortunately ceased to be the point as soon as it did. And because it did happen, we now find ourselves in a position where we cannot simply assume that their authority has ceased to exist and someone needs to be brave enough to stand up and actually say it.

      You are right when you say that we will never get a Communion-wide consensus on issues of human sexuality, and the truth is that I don’t know why we seem obsessed with trying to — we are not the Roman Catholic Church and we are not required to always agree with each other: that, in many ways, is the point.

  5. At the risk of sounding ignorant, I do say this is all so very COMPLICATED and I honor that you’re still trying to both make sense of it, and sticking with staying in the church, Beth.

    1. It is extremely complicated and you don’t sound at all ignorant. I have a working knowledge of this particular part of it because I’ve actually lived through the process of it all happening.

      As for staying in the church… well, I want to change the world and I can do that better if I’m working from the inside, but, also, you have to remember what the corner of the SEC that I occupy is like. I found a church where I feel as if I belong, absolutely and completely, and I am so ridiculously blessed to have found that. There is work to be done in the Province as a whole, a lot of work and a lot of work that is going to be hard. But on a Sunday morning, I walk in the door and God is there and love is there.

  6. It is tough to sort this all out, for any province that is not energetically homophobic. In all the comments I read above, I think the single thought that resonates is there exists no particular reason that we should expect complete agreement. We are members of individual Anglican churches, not as (the un- lamented on my part) former incumbent in Canterbury called it, “the Anglican Church.” That institution does not and should not exist.

    I think most of us on this side of the pond wish you well in you quest for clarity. I think the operative instruction may be, “let your yes be yes, and your no be no.” I think I read it somewhere. Unfortunately, we got a similar muddle at our General Convention. Maybe we are simply too nice?

    J. Andrew Beyer
    member: No Anglican Covenant Coalition
    diocese of Chicago
    The Episcopal Church (USA)

    1. I used to think that it was that we were too nice. But more and more I’m becoming less and less convinced that it isn’t simply that some people are too afraid — too afraid of saying the difficult thing; too afraid of being disagreed with; too afraid of changing the status quo; too afraid, a lot of the time, of the press.

      There is no particular reason for even those of us within an individual Province to be in complete agreement, so it seems absolute madness to expect interprovincial cohesion.

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