The Scottish Episcopal Church, to which I belong, is engaging in a process of conversations around same-sex relationships, with a particular focus on the forthcoming debates we will have about permitting clergy of our church to solemnise marriages between people of the same sex. I have hesitated in writing anything about this, not because I don't have views, but because as a man married to a woman, it is right to be wary of saying things about a discussion that does not affect me in the same way that it affects those whose closest relationships are being discussed. I think it is a pity that this is the way we have set up the conversation, because it turns into a predominant 'us' talking about a minority 'them' in their very presence. I would much rather have a more open conversation about sexuality as a whole with all its shades and complexities because this is a vital part of our humanity and, therefore, a vital part of our understanding of our deepest nature and purpose. In this way, we might avoid some of the problems of assuming a kind of sexual normativity that can make this kind of discussion unequal.
At its best, the kind of conversation we have been promoting can allow this, and many of us who have been invovled as facilitators have urged a framework that does not make assumptions about 'normative' relations. And on the whole, despite the challenging nature of such conversations, I believe that it is still important that we try to make them work for a number of reasons.
First, It seems important to me that the church as a community is honest with itself about the variety of its experiences and views. In our own diocese, I think this is allowing people to express the complex interaction of deeply held theological views, diverse personal experiences, pastoral awareness and basic human kindness. Many have expressed a genuine sense of tension between these important areas. I think it is better to express our differences over how we manage that interaction than to supress or ignore these differences.
Second, this approach can allow people to share deep realities on the basis of experience rather than theory. Most of the time, our theory is shaped by our experience rather than vice versa. We have, as a church, learned how to re-read our source texts where they touch on equality between women and men, remarriage of divorcees, slavery and, to use the primary example for the Christian church, the admission of Gentiles to what started as a Jewish movement. We can accomodate such changes when we recognise that our ideas about God come from our of our experiences of God.
Third, it is our hope that our experience of listening to each other in this way will allow us to have our forthcoming debate in a spirit of kindness and understanding.
I don't doubt that the conversations in the process have not always lived up to the ideals we all hope for and I am particularly conscious of the painful and costly contributions of those who find they are being talked about rather than talked with. And sometimes that talk has been less than charitable. We have asked a lot of our gay brothers and sisters in this process and I am deeply grateful for their generosity of spirit. I hope that we will learn and change from this process and I hope we will not cause more hurt along the way. For the hurt we have already caused, we must be deeply sorry.
Above all, I hope that we find ourselves able - sooner rather than later - to celebrate the committed, Godly, life-bringing marriages of our gay sisters and brothers in the church they sometimes struggle to call a home because of its historic reluctance to see the image of God in them. As a remarried divorcee, I am conscious that the church has learned a considerable degree of hospitality to people in my position over the last few decades. I am grateful for that and hope that the same degree of hospitality will be shown to those whose marriages God will bless, with or without us.