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SCOTLAND: Scottish Episcopal Church Responds to Sexuality Issues

SCOTTISH EPISCOPAL CHURCH RESPONDS TO SEXUALITY ISSUES

A RESPONSE FROM THE COLLEGE OF BISHOPS TO SUBMISSIONS MADE AS A RESULT OF DISCUSSION OF THE PUBLICATION HUMAN SEXUALITY: A STUDY GUIDE

In 2001, the General Synod received Human Sexuality: A Study Guide and resolved that the Study Guide produced by the Working Party on Human Sexuality be received by the General Synod and that its use be commended to those congregations who wished to explore the issues addressed by it=94. Subsequently, 31st December 2003 was fixed as the deadline for receiving feedback on the Study Guide.

Approximately 25 responses were received and a synopsis of these, commissioned on behalf of the College of Bishops, was prepared by the Rev Christopher Smith, the Chaplain to the Archbishop of Wales. As undertaken in Human Sexuality: A Study Guide, the synopsis is now being made available to Boards and Committees of the General Synod as a way of informing them of the views received. The College of Bishops is grateful to individuals and to congregations for the various submissions sent to it.

The College is conscious that during the period of that consultation a number of divisive issues concerning homosexuality have arisen within the life of the Anglican Communion, and within the legislative programme of the Scottish Executive. The College recognises that, in the Scottish Episcopal Church, strongly held, and intelligently articulated, views are being put forward by a whole range of interested persons and parties, each trying to understand what God might be saying to the Church and to the world.

The College therefore:

Is convinced that, within the Scottish Episcopal Church, open debate, a deeper mutual understanding, and an agreed way ahead in our life together, will ultimately best be achieved by working to maintain the strong bonds of trust and respect which already exist among those who disagree with each other.

Recognises that significant debate on sexuality is taking place both inside and outside the church, and that this can cause puzzlement to some and pain to others.

Believes that differences over matters concerning sexuality, though important, are generally second-order disagreements, which should be capable of being handled within the life of our Communion, and are not ones that should cause a major fracture in it.

Believes that in this area the Church is called to set an example to the world as to how debate on matters involving deep disagreement and sincerely held conviction could be conducted.

Recognises that the Primates of the Anglican Communion have called for a period of mutual listening, and of reflection on documents such as those produced by the Lambeth Conference and by the meetings of Primates. To enable this to happen the College does not, in this area, propose any change in current policy, or alterations to the Canons or Liturgy of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Rather, it expresses the hope that within existing provision, clergy and laity will be able to minister sensitively and pastorally to each other regardless of issues of sexuality or gender.

February 2004

Responses to Study Guide on Human Sexuality.

1. Scale of Response: (25 responses in total)

Number of responses to the Study Guide received: 20

Individual: 12

Vestries: 3

Other Church groups: 5

Seven of the feed back forms provided with the study guide were forwarded, some were groups responses, others from individuals within groups where an overall group response was also included. A number of groups and individuals responded to the questions at the end of each section of the guide rather than using the questions in the feed back form.

Also included in the papers were a number of letters and documents on the subject of homosexuality, which make no reference to the study guide:

i. A letter in response to the appointment of Jeffrey John to the Bishopric of Reading (dated 28.06.03)

ii. 2 general letters on the subject of homosexuality, the Scottish Episcopal Church scripture (dated 11.08.03/23.12.03)

iii. A short treatise (45 pages) on the Church's argument against Homosexual Conduct, covering the Old and New Testament, the Fathers, Feuerbach, reductionism and its consequences and a chapter on the casualties and consequences of a change in the Church=92s teaching on homosexual conduct. As an appendix the author has attached a copy of St John Chrysostom=92s Homily on Romans 1: 26-27

iv. A copy of an address given to a church on the subject: The homosexual crisis-a matter of authority.

v. One correspondent included a photocopy of an article by Jack Dominian from The Tablet reflecting on the use of the term Marriage for same sex partnerships which the writer felt would make a useful contribution to the debate

vi. A lecture appended to one response: Towards a theology of transfiguration.

Some responses included substantial background papers and/or fuller details of their discussion.

2. The Study Guide:

Thanks were expressed for the work involved in producing the Study Guide. Those who responded and expressed a view were pleased to have the opportunity for informed discussion. Some felt the Guide could have been more usefully structured for group discussion. One group in their response felt the guide did not wrestle fully enough with the issues involved, focusing on problems rather than solutions and failing to offer a theological or practical vision for how churches in the SEC might wrestle with issues of human sexuality. Some felt the report polarised those of different viewpoints. Some writers found additional material useful in reaching their conclusions. One writer, working in the field of the sociology of sexuality and socio-epidemiology of Aids/HIV, criticised the Study Guide=92s coverage of homosexual orientation and sexual relations as scientifically deficient and misleading, asking to be allowed to comment on future draftings or recommendations. Among some points, which writers felt could have been included for discussion, one respondent felt that the report should have dealt with adolescent same sex feelings which can be a passing phase in the life of a teenager. One response felt that the report failed to address the question of the morality of homosexual practices and provided a lengthy description of, and discussion on, this point.

Statistics from Review Form: (Comments have been included in the summaries below)

Q.1. Do you think that taking part in the discussion:

-helps gain greater understanding unanimously yes

-creates unhelpful conflict 1 yes 6 no

-builds bridges =96 1 don't know 6 yes

-worthwhile =96 unanimously yes

Q.2. Study Guide useful see above

Q.3. Scale of 1 =96 4 in importance

Strong moral leadership; 2, 3, 3, 1, 3, 2

Acceptance and openness: 4, 1, 1, 2, 1, 3

Inclusion of minority groups: 4, 3, 2, 3, 2, 1

Adherence of biblical authority: 2, 2, 4, 4, 4, 1

Q.4. Strong agreement reached on:

No one should be excluded from church membership because of sexuality

the libertarian point of view

the church must bring its doctrine up to date (agreement but not strong)

love and marriage essential for growing relationship, married or not

Q.5. Heated debate on:

Scripture

Should homosexuals become bishops?

Should the term marriage be used for homosexual partnerships?

homosexual marriage

Should clergy have stricter attitudes in their sexual relationships?

Q.6. Personal views changed by discussion Yes 4 =96 no 2

Q.7. Is it important for the Church to enter the debate: Yes unanimously

3. Overview:

It is difficult to divide the responses to the Study Guide into groups labelled conservative or liberal as requested, (groupings suggested in the covering letter) since in some cases this would require reading more into the responses than is perhaps there. However, where it is possible to discern a clear opinion the division between conservative and liberal would be roughly equal with a number of feed back forms avoiding making any firm decisions on the questions. In the letters and writings on the subject of sexuality which make no reference to the report, the overall tone of the letters is conservative but not unanimously so.

It might be worth making two general observations. First, there is little evidence in many responses of the individuals or groups having used the study guide, or related material, to open up the issues involved in this debate. This is why I have tried to distinguish in the above figures between responses to the report and general writing on the subject. Secondly, some of the contributors seem to be dealing with the issue in the abstract as if they have never met any homosexual people. There was surprisingly little evidence of contact with, or input from, homosexual, lesbian or transsexual people.

4. Summary of responses to the Study Guide.

Concerns:

i. That God=92s love for all people includes those who have homosexual feelings or practise homosexuality and that they should be welcomed into the Church to hear the Good News with love and respect.

ii. That homophobia should have no place in society or in the church.

iii. That the Church's treatment of homosexuals should be addressed as an issue of justice

iv. The need to find the loving thing to say in shaping our Church's policy; especially in relation to the Gay and Lesbian Community. There has been far too much hatred, rejection and dislike of these fellow human beings and far too little recognition of their positive contribution to our common life.

v. There is a need to hold together an orthodox view of scripture and at the same time a practical compassion towards people.

vi. That the Scottish Episcopal Church will focus its discussions on the question of what the Bible teaches on these issues and how we should live under its authority.

vii. That a balanced reading of scripture requires an awareness of scripture and the Gospels, the Christian Tradition embodied in the Church, the leading of the Spirit within the Church and an individual's God given reason, experience and understanding.

viii. That the Scottish Episcopal Church, rather than following the example of the North American Episcopal Church will following the lead of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates, abide by the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1:10 at this present time.

Arguments:

i. That homosexual practice of any kind is incompatible with scripture, tradition and arguably even reason.

ii. That homosexual practice (and some heterosexual practices) are immoral.

iii. From scripture it appears that sexual activity finds its right expression between a man and a woman in a married relationship. Any other form of sexual activity, i.e. sex before marriage and sex outside marriage, whether heterosexual or homosexual is sinful and should be met with a call to repentance, the offer of forgiveness through faith in Christ and the pastoral support of the church to assist in holy living in the future.

iv. That scriptural texts regarding homosexuality need to be read in context. Only one gives a reason why homosexuality is immoral and none seem to look at homosexuality from the point of view of loving committed relationships.

v. That same sex eroticism, when expressed in a committed interpersonal love is definitely not against the word of God.

vi. Celibacy, with the help of the Holy Spirit, is possible for homosexual and single heterosexual people.

vii. The belief of one respondent, that the Holy Spirit in this, as in many issues through the ages, is leading us to re-think attitudes.

viii. Priority of God's word of truth over the changing notions of fallible, sinful mortals needs to be affirmed

ix. That the Church's understanding of Christian marriage is far less uniform than the study guide suggests and that the Church's understanding of the primary purpose of marriage is that husband and wife may comfort and help each other, living faithfully together in need and plenty, in sorrow and in joy.

x. If homosexual people, in committed relationships, can manifest the fruit of the Spirit, on what basis do we condemn them?

Issues raised:

i. That homosexuality is legal and that homosexuals are able to live openly does not mean that homosexuality should be regarded as the norm, nor that homosexuals should be appointed to posts where their life style would bring them into conflict with the traditional nature and teaching of that post.

ii. A gay or lesbian relationship expressed in church would be a problem for one group since they wouldn=92t want their children exposed to it.

iii. The notion that church teaching on any issue has changed significantly is challenged by one group.

iv. That in some areas, a paradox is at work i.e that one response from a group which felt that scripture did not permit same sex partnerships did feel that in terms of justice regarding the rights of gay partners in law, they would be actively supportive of such moves as it would be uncompassionate and unjust for such partners not to enjoy the same rights as heterosexual partners in situations such as bereavement.

v. On the question of same sex marriages, one group felt that the Church couldn't bless what God doesn't.

vi. It should be possible for a covenanted lesbian, gay, transsexual relationship to be blessed by God (SEC 2002 marriage rite allows for this implicitly) (Since the term marriage carries a lot of baggage some wouldn't want to use this term.)

vii. The recognition of the need to become more open to the inclusion of a homosexual bishop in the Anglican Communion.

viii. The central issue in the debate is about relationships; God and person, person and person, person and sexual partner/spouse.

ix. Human sexuality is very varied (complex)

x. In the light of current events, the Church's attitude to homosexuality requires further constructive discussion.

xi. The College of Bishops should bring this issue back to the General Synod

xii. That the issue that the Church come to terms with the equal valuation and treatment of homosexual and heterosexual relationships and individuals should be passed by Synod to the Provincial Faith and Order Board for further consideration.

One vestry provided voting figures on the responses to three questions: the first: Is it wrong to be a practising homosexual or lesbian? (3 answered Yes, 5 answered no and 2 abstained) the second: should a practising gay person be ordained? (4 answered yes, 4 answered no and 2 abstained) and thirdly: should we find ways of blessing same-sex unions (not marriages)? 6 answered yes, 2 answered no and 2 abstained).

Additional Correspondence

It was unclear from some letters whether they were responses to the Study Guide or simply letters responding to events in the Anglican Communion in recent months. From these letters, points which have not been covered above, are:

i. A clear distinction needs to be made between same sex friendships and same sex sexual relationships.

ii. There is a need for certain standards of behaviour to be expected from those in leadership in the church.

iii. The human body=92s sexual organs are designed so as to enable copulation.

The College of Bishops expresses its gratitude to the Rev Christopher Smith for the production of the above summary. It is being sent to the Conveners of the Boards and Committees of the General Synod, as was indicated in the Study Guide.

END

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