I am travelling to Edinburgh tomorrow for the opening of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church. For three days, the laity and clergy and bishops of our Church will all gather together to do our year’s business.
In the last few weeks, headlines from a number of media outlets have suggested that what we are going to be doing in Edinburgh is legalising marriage equality within the Church. This is (a) not our only item of business, and (b) not true (yet).
When it met in 2015, a significant majority of General Synod asked our legislative committee to prepare material that would make room in our laws to recognise the already reality that in this Church we have different understandings of marriage. The material that has been produced would remove a doctrinal statement of marriage from Canon 31, the law that governs marriage within the Church, and replace it with the following:
“In light of the fact that there are differing understandings of the nature of marriage in this Church, no cleric of this church shall be obliged to conduct any marriage against their conscience. Any marriage which is to be conducted by a cleric shall be solemnised strictly in accordance with the civil law of Scotland for the time being in force and provided said cleric is satisfied, after appropriate enquiries, that the parties have complied with the necessary preliminaries as set forth in civil law. No cleric shall perform the Marriage Service, nor permit it to be performed in Church, for parties who are within the forbidden degrees as specified in Appendix 26. No cleric shall solemnise a marriage between persons of the same sex unless said cleric shall have been nominated on behalf of the Church to the Registrar General for Scotland.”
General Synod will be asked to vote on this on Friday morning. If a majority of Synod agrees, the material will be presented to Diocesan Synods early next year for debate and discussion at a regional level and will then come to the General Synod of 2017 for a final vote.
I know, believe me, I know, that this seems like a slow process. There have been days and weeks and years when it has felt like pushing a lorry uphill in the snow barefoot — and every once in a while the lorry rolls backwards and squishes your toes.
But I also know that it is less than ten years since I thought that civil marriage equality was a nice daydream, maybe.
The world has come a long long way.
I will be very proud to vote for this amendment.
It says that this is a Church where we have a long and deep and faithful tradition of not always agreeing with each other. It says that the ability of this body of Christ to accept more than one idea is something that we are righteously proud of. It says that having different opinions is okay, and more than that: it is the thing that makes us fabulous.
If we remove our doctrinal understanding of marriage from canon law (and it is a legislative peculiarity that it has ever been there, to be honest), then it reverts to what we can find in the marriage liturgy. The marriage liturgy of the Scottish Episcopal Church is a beautiful thing, and there are many different understandings of marriage to be found within it; things that I agree with and identify with and want for myself, and things that I recoil from. I am sure that the same thing is true of those of my sisters and brothers who disagree with me. There is room here for all of us.