The Cascade Conversations: Why The Scottish Episcopal Church Is Frightening Me

In a few days, fifty people will be meeting in Pitlochry to have a conversation about issues around homosexuality as they relate to the Scottish Episcopal Church. This is the process that I alluded to after Diocesan Synod and that Kelvin talked about earlier in the week.

I will not be there because I haven’t been invited.

I’m not comfortable with the process as I understand it or with the environment in which these conversations are going to be conducted next week, and I’ve publicly criticised both of those things. In spite of that, I find it odd that I’m not going to be there. It is going to be two days of conversations about gay people and our relationships. I am one of the convenors of the Church’s only national LGBT advocacy group and I haven’t been invited, and nor has the other convenor and nor has the founder. Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I will freely admit that I, on behalf of Changing Attitude Scotland, had already turned down the opportunity to give input into the design process as those of us within the organisation felt it important not to lend credence to what we see as a flawed process, and so it might seem churlish of me to now be suspicious about my lack of invitation to the Cascade Conversations. But it seems to me that we have moved on from process and are now into substance, and I do find it deeply worrying that that conversation is going to be happening without us there.

There is a phrase for this in the NHS: “No decision about me without me.”

I do not believe that these few days are going to be a safe space for LGBT people. I worry that the precautions that we are told will be taken will be more effective at making it a safe space for homophobic people than for the people who the conversations are about. I admit freely that I wouldn’t have been comfortable sitting in and participating in those conversations, and I wouldn’t have been comfortable thinking of my LGBT friends doing that, particularly my LGBT friends who are in ordained ministry. But I do uncomfortable things all the time, and here’s the thing: I’m a lot less comfortable thinking that those conversations are taking place behind our backs.

And I don’t feel that I’m overstating things when I say that it’s behind our backs. It’s not only that I’m not going to be there. It’s that I don’t know who is going to be there. It’s that I don’t know what the conversation points will be. It’s that ten months after the questions was first asked, I still haven’t been told what “issues about same-sex relationships” are. It’s that in discussions about Pitlochry, people keep telling me that participants will maintain confidentiality and I don’t understand – and I say this as someone whose entire life is regulated by the General Medical Council – what that means or how it’s going to be achieved or what the point of it is.

This frightens me.

It frightens me because I believe that it undermines the place of LGBT people within the Church, whose existence ought not to be up for debate and whose rights ought not to be the subject of backroom politics and under-the-table decisions.

Now, I’ve been told a lot in the ten months since this process was imposed on a dissenting General Synod that it is going to be done this way because the Synodical process of debating and passing resolutions does not allow for Whole Church engagement with the issues. I disagree with this, but I do see how that might be a matter of opinion. But for the sake of absolute clarity, let me list the things that Synod is:

  • The accepted governing body of the Church.
  • A body of lay and ordained individuals who were elected by the whole Church in a free and open electoral process.
  • An annual meeting for which the agenda is freely available.
  • An open meeting at which anyone who was not elected is free to come in and hear whatever is said.
  • A moderated process which is carried out according to established rules, which publishes a public record of minutes and decisions, and about which anyone, whether member or observer, can talk about to anyone else.

It is the way this Church decides things. It is the way we decide little things that seem relatively inconsequential, like when exactly we celebrate the feast day of a saint that only three people have ever heard of. It is the way we decide important things, like what provisions we are going to make for our clergy in their retirement. And it is the way that we decide enormous great seismic social shifts in the life of the Church, like the ordination of women. It isn’t a perfect system, perhaps, but, my God, it’s better than any of the other options.

If there are issues about LGBT people to be debated, let them be debated in the proper way and let us do it in public.

I’m also frightened because I believe that it undermines the credibility and integrity of this Church that I honestly love.

When I talk about the Church, I do it with a certain amount of privilege and I am very aware of that privilege. I am not an unprominent member of the Scottish Episcopal Church. I will be at Synod, because the Diocese in which I am a member chose to send me there. I am a member of a congregation that is growing and comparatively well off and has a degree of press visibility. I am white and middle-class and speak English as my first language. I am not ordained, not in the priesthood or in the diaconate or in any lay ministry, and that means that I can piss people off without worrying that it will impact on my livelihood. I am single, and that too is a privilege because it means that I can talk without jeopardising my relationship or dragging a partner into something that they never signed up for. I am enormously privileged. I have a voice and people pay attention when I choose to use it, and, because of all the rest of it, I believe that I have a responsibility to do so.

But still I’m frightened.

I’m frightened of what the Church is saying about me and about people like me. I’m more frightened of the things that are being said where I can’t listen to them than I am of the nasty things that are said to my face. I’m frightened for my place within the Church and for the place of the Church within my life. I’m frightened that a decision will be made about me and my friends that has no mandate, that I have had no say in, and that the clock cannot be turned back on. I’m frightened because even though no one can take God away from me, it sometimes feels like they’re trying to.

And if that’s how I feel, with all of my privilege and my little bit of power, I think that everyone else should be bloody terrified.

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10 comments

  1. Like you I am frightened about this. Until a situation can exist where anyone can contribute with out fear of retribution, bullying, etc because of they are different, or perceived as being different, then no consultation can be considered complete. There are people out there who are frightened that their world is being turned upside down. They need helping to understand that there is no need to worry. The process you have described does not do that, it just reinforces their way of thinking and does not challenge it.

    Putting the “conversation” under wraps of a “by invitation only” event and then not being open on what will happen subsequently just adds to the lack of openness and creates suspicion and un-easiness.

    It is a shame that Changing Attitudes did not feel able to attend the “design process” and make it work. I know it was not perfect at that time, however instead of the imperfections being broken down, they have now been reinforced. Which is a shame.

    How can anyone (whether those who want to be treated as equal – as they should be – or those who fear the world will come to an end – which it will not) be expected to have any faith in the process when it is not seen to be fully inclusive.

    I just, do not know the way forward now…..

    1. Changing Attitude Scotland was not invited to be on the Design Group, but to attend a single meeting with them. At the time that Changing Attitude declined that invitation we did give them in writing a detailed outline of what we felt were the flaws in the process and what we thought needed to be done, and in the official response that I received back from the Design Group all of those points were ignored to the point that I may almost as well have not bothered writing them down.

      1. Thanks for the clarification and correction. Those in charge of the Design Process should be ashamed of themselves for not even having the courtesy to respond to the detail in the Changing Attitudes letter.

      2. I learn there were gay people included in the group Beth. One of whom used to be a member of St. M’s until he moved further east in the city.

  2. It saddens me that all churches are acting in this way.You are a Christian who also happens to be gay, not a problem needing solved.A conversation requires both sides to have the opportunity to cintribute.

  3. Oh, wow. NOT GOOD. Because, as you state, conversations such as these is how your church decides things, this lack of invitation sounds very much like a meeting of “what to do about THEM,” which is disingenuous, counterproductive and outright wrong, from the perspective of Christians, that is, alleged followers of Christ, in whom there is no Jew nor Greek nor male nor female…

    Hang on, B. In spite of it all, He, watching over Israel, slumbers not, nor sleeps.♥

  4. The way to avoid well known voices dominating is to involve more people, not fewer. I too am scared – I refused to join the SEC until it agreed to allow women into the priesthood, because of what that said about all women – I would hate to have to leave again, I really would. But there is a limit to what I can put my name to.

    1. I suppose it’s reassuring that it’s not just me toying with the idea of membership. I’ve been weighing-up the pros and cons, the “what would it take”s at local and provincial levels, how much I’m fond of what else the SEC has to offer, if a categorical wrong decision from Synod would push me out (given that departure is either churlish or a personal atom-bomb) or whether it would be better to stay and try harder to fix things thereafter… Frankly, I get my hope from the kind of denial that would underpin a small resurrection, “no, they’ll not be so stupid”. Meanwhile, the fence is proving quite uncomfortable.

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