Design Group for the Discussion of Same Sex Relationships

Today was the Diocesan Synod of the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway.

I chose not to seek a point of clarification at Synod today because I’d realised that I was so angry that had I got my hands on a microphone at that particular moment I would have done something that I have never done, ever, not in any church, not at an AGM or a Vestry or at General Synod. At that moment, I did not trust myself to speak without losing my temper. The Bishop, the Chair, the whole of Synod, all the invited guests, and the members of the Design Group for the Discussion of Same-Sex Relationships. They would all have got shouted at and I don’t think I could have brought myself to entirely regret it later.

The point that I wanted to clarify was in any case clarified by someone else, but I’ll come to that.

Yes, I am banging on about same-sex relationships again. Oh, believe me, I am as bored of talking about it as I know you are of hearing me talk about it, but, given that I participated in a small group conversation today in which LGBT people were referred to as those people, I trust you’ll see why I don’t consider my job done.

Today, we have been given an update from the Design Group for the Discussion of Same-Sex Relationships. I mentioned this process last June when it was imposed on a dissenting General Synod, and the Provost wrote before Synod last year about the information we were given on the process — information, I might add, that has never been made publicly available, to the point that there were people at Diocesan Synod for whom today was the first time they knew that such a process had been taking place. I was invited in my capacity as one of the convenors of Changing Attitude Scotland to meet with the Design Group late last year, and I declined to do so on the grounds that we do not believe it wise to collude with or endorse a process that we don’t believe is fit for purpose. In declining that invitation, I outlined at some length what our issues with the process were and I informed both the Design Group and the Standing Committee of General Synod of the alternative mechanism that I propose for seeking resolution to the issue of same-sex marriage within the Church. The proposition, which I do not feel is a terribly radical one, is that a resolution is sought through the usual channels of Synod, which would lead to a three year discussion with an end in sight and a framework for getting there. I keep being accused of trying to rush the process. I presume you will forgive me for believing that three years has never by any definition constituted a rush.

In all of the correspondence I’ve had on this subject over the last eight or nine months, one of the things I’ve kept saying is that it isn’t my intention to undermine the work of the Design Group. I’d been told very little about the work that they had done, but I thought that if it were good then it could be used to bring about just such a motion as to lead to what I propose and I didn’t think it out of the realm of possibility that their work might start us off in facilitating just such a three year discussion process as I’ve described.

My view on that has changed somewhat today.

It is my opinion that not only the process which led to its formulation but the Design Group as a group is not fit for any purpose at all. It is my opinion that the existence of the design process and its imposition on General Synod last year is and has always been a stalling tactic. It is my opinion that the Design Group considers LGBT people to be Other. It is my opinion that this has not been and will not be a transparent process. It is my opinion that the Design Group is not a safe space for people who happen to be gay, and that furthermore both the Design Group itself and any space or conversation that it tries to facilitate will potentially be a dangerous space for people who happen to be gay.

I am tired of being talked about as if I am not there. I am tired of LGBT people being talked about as though we are not Christians, as though there are no LGBT people in our churches or in our rectories or on our Synods. I am angry that when these conversations take place, they are of a tone and with a presumption that a conversation about same-sex marriage is about Other People, that it is not about the marriages of people who are in the room, and that a conversation about gay bishops is about Other People, that it is not about the careers of people who are in the room. I am so tired of standing up just to remind them that I am not an abstract concept.

I believe that this is a process with no credibility and that if the Province continues to pursue something so deeply flawed and so very unsafe that that will raise questions about the credibility of the Church.

For consider this:

You cannot claim to be working to provide a safe space for conversation if you demonstrably have no understanding of what a safe space means to LGBT people.

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19 comments

  1. Whilst I’m not desperately impressed by the process presented to the Edinburgh Synod today – frankly it’s opaque, with a rigid timetable that doesn’t allow for wide publicity and engagement by the diocese unless you’re one of those “in the know”, making it a too easily “establishment controlled” – I think it’s probably reasonably safe, as one of the presenters was a gay partnered priest of the diocese.

    • Fr Dougal, I clearly don’t know what was said in Edinburgh, but when we asked what was meant by a safe space we were told that discussions would be required to be confidential and that we all understand what confidentiality means and that that is a safe space. Quite apart from what Kelvin says, all of which is valid and true, not only is confidentiality and a safe space not the same thing, requiring participants not to talk about what is said about them in a room in which they are at the bad end of a power differential is the OPPOSITE of safe.

  2. I hear you.

    It annoys me that +David’s blog post could be read as though the governments had just sprung this on us, rather than it being the result of a multi-year consultation (during which both the SEC and CoS looked in their legal drawers, said “oh yeah, this is our position” and ignored the prospect of change). I was tempted to comment there saying “by your own words, you have 3 years”.

    Just to illustrate timescales: in two years, Herself(TM) and I have moved house *twice* and got married, including making choices about churches on all 3 counts. If we can do that, how many LGBT people are sitting around suffering injustice while the church sits on its hands?

    For me, hope takes the form of a Synod-wide vote on a proposition “…to rewrite canons and the marriage liturgy to include LGBT people”, with the speed of the Covenant’s rejection. And if it takes a massive internal re-education project to instill a sense of common human decency in congregations rather than tolerating lousy attitude under a mask of “tradition”, then that’s fine by me too.

    • Oh, the marriage liturgy doesn’t need rewritten. The Liturgy Committee did that years ago, and if you choose Option A at every point them it is entirely gender neutral. So, just the Canons, then (and I agree with you).

  3. Oh Beth I really do not know how these things are allowed to happen in the way that they do. I was not of course there – but it sounds as the participants have no understanding at all of what ‘safe space’ is or involves for ANYBODY on any topic. Plain ignorance.

  4. @FrDougal

    Can you say what’s safe about gay people (particularly gay clergy) being invited to talk about their lives and loves in the company of 50 people, many of whom they won’t know, including all the bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church? Yes – that’s the people (all the people) who have enormous and disproportionate influence over their futures – posts, appointments on committees, housing, right to get married etc.

    A straight person goes into that conversation talking about a topic which may be of great concern to them. A gay person goes into the same space and is immediately put in a position of much greater vulnerability and expected to talk about the most intimate aspects of their being with no guarantee possible that this won’t affect their future.

    I suspect that if one were to ask the likes of Stonewall, or other groups which do know how to set up a safe space for conversation within an organisation, they might well advise that this was a textbook case of how not to do it.

    • The cost and the pain are always, sadly. borne by gay people. but rest assured that there are those who will stand for you and beside you in as far as we are able, and will do it consistently. We cannot fix it, but we will stand there all the same. We will speak out, and we will go on doing that. You will not be left alone, and we will give you what defence we can.

  5. Oh, Beth, thank God for your rage – I don’t know how you kept quiet. I’m already being warned by friends not to be intemperate (!) at our Synod, and my distaste for an organisation that behaves in this way grows daily. Keep going – we’ll get there.

    • Christine, you be as intemperate as you feel is necessary and know that we are behind you. I didn’t keep quiet; it was a point of clarification regarding what was meant by safe spaces that I left to someone else to make, but before that I had said my piece and then some. I have no patience with being told that I shouldn’t be rocking the boat – Standing Committee have already tried.

  6. I think that all churches and all demominations have to accept some Christians are gay and just move forward.Equality should not even be seen as a problem needing focus groups.To do otherwise will split churches and causeccacause pain and exclusion tp many Christians woking, worshiping and living

  7. Beth, I had to leave at lunchtime, with a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. Nothing to do with missing lunch! The attitude at my “table” was preposterous, and almost, ‘over my dead body’. My thoughts were with a colleague at another table, and I was praying that she was not having the same sort of ride. The whole thing was handled dreadfully, but your blog gave me hope later in the evening. Thank you for that. This is not going to be an easy journey, but God will get us to where we need to be. What worries me is the number of people who will be hurt and broken along the way. Don’t be one of them.

      • Absolutely, Christine. My experience of such groups is that there is a lot of listening but no hearing. I know it’s a sexy way to avoid confrontation, but it is so Anglican in the way it talks and talks and nothing is done. Real confrontation at a Synod may be the only way forward, and although I suspect it may mean defeat, first time around, it will not go away. I’m glad I’m off Synod this year, for I fear that the Bishops and their chums will try to bat the whole issue into the long grass, and that would anger me greatly. We talk about three years. I think, with current tactics, it will be nearer six, but it will happen. God will see to it. It could be worse. We could be in the jolly old C of E!

  8. Thanks Beth for your blog. What you and others are reporting leaves me sad and disillusioned about the Christian church; especially after hearing, on BBC Radio 4 this morning, that a radical fundamentalist American minister influenced the Ugandan government on its homophobic policy.

  9. Perhaps I’m naively assuming goodwill across the board will produce a level of safety, but I accept that it doesn’t look as if it’s particularly healthy a set up. That being the case it will inhibit honesty and render the “dialogue” making it must less useful and productive. I’m with Kenny in seeing it as a “kick the ball into the long grass” sort of exercise and that’s not what we want or need now. The world is moving on and we need to engage with it not take our own sweet time catching up. The Scottish Govt has engaged in a lengthy process of consultation of which we were part. This seems to ignore that and go all the way back to the beginning ignoring what has been going on in civic society. The Seekers song “In a world of our own” seems to be the theme song of the SEC/Anglican Communion on this .

  10. “…but, given that I participated in a small group conversation today in which LGBT people were referred to as those people, I trust you’ll see why I don’t consider my job done.”

    The other week, I stood at the podium to introduce the hymns with another woman – it happened to be African American History Month – and I stood next to this Caucasian woman whilst she said how “those people” had suffered. I find that one simply cannot respond/react to everything – for some people, othering is simply a way of life. The question of should you accept it within your church leadership, of course, remains answered with the firmest, “No,” so do know that I admire your “banging on” about it and have every confidence that you WILL get there.

    Sing a chorus for “We Shall Overcome,” and feel better. ♥t

  11. Pingback: Not in my name | Working Hypothesis

  12. Pingback: LGBT People and the Scottish Episcopal Church | The Road Less Travelled


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