Sunday, August 03, 2008

Scotland leads on tolerance - will the Church of England follow?

This article was written for The Scotsman.

PS, the Anglican Communion has failed to fall apart.

THE VERY REV KELVIN HOLDSWORTH Provost of St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow
THE bishops of the Anglican Communion are all gathered at Canterbury this weekend. It is the last weekend of the Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade jamboree for bishops hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Well, all the duly consecrated bish
ops of the Communion are there except one: the Rt Rev Gene Robinson has been in Canterbury, but with no status in the conference. He was frozen out of the official programme by the Archbishop of Canterbury – presumably his presence was too much to stomach for some potential participants. In the end, they did not turn up anyway.

Gene Robinson was refused a place at Anglicanism's high table because he is the only bishop to live openly with a gay partner. The rest of the gay bishops of the communion presumably keep the details of their relationships firmly under their mitres.

The Anglican Communion was really started, if you believe any Scottish Episcopalian, by the Scottish Episcopal Church. It consecrated a bishop for Connecticut when the Church of England would not dirty its hands dealing with the Colonies. Yet the Communion remains a strangely English place. No-one really gets excommunicated from the Anglican Communion for being naughty or indeed for being gay. You just don't get an invitation to sup with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Lambeth Conference; no garden party with the Queen.

Bishop Robinson has also been refused permission by the Archbishop to celebrate the Eucharist while he is in England. However, the Archbishop of Canterbury has no jurisdiction here in Scotland. When it became apparent Bishop Robinson was inhibited from celebrating communion in England, it was inevitable he would be invited by someone to do so in Scotland. That someone was me. Tomorrow, Bishop Robinson will celebrate communion and preach in St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow.

I invited Bishop Robinson to spread good news. Not just the Good News of the Gospel, which inspires all preachers, but the good news that churches are changing. At one time, gay people were expected to pretend they were not doing anything with anyone in order to be acceptable on Sunday. Those days are gone, at least for some of us.

They are certainly gone in the Scottish Episcopal Church, which has many serving gay clergy and in whose churches clergy may offer, if they so choose, prayers of blessing for gay couples.

The character of the Scottish Episcopal Church is more pragmatic than the Church of England. No-one seriously believes there are no gay clergy in the Church of England; their presence has been the subject of snide innuendo for decades. However, their presence has also been witness to the kind of faith often prepared to go places others find most difficult.

A couple of Lambeth conferences ago, the church made a compromise over polygamy that is worth re-examining. It was decided where the church had a mission to local polygamous cultures, if a family were converted to Anglican Christianity, then it would be better to keep it intact than to dump all but one of the women in a culture where women had no power and little value. It was a liberal compromise to ensure women did not suffer as the news of the gospel spread. It meant different standards of behaviour were being worked out in different cultures.

But now many from those cultures are turning the tables on us in the West and demanding we take our cue on morality from their local interpretation.

At such a time as this, I'm proud to invite Bishop Gene Robinson to share bread and wine and preach Good News. He is a symbol of positive change. He represents the fact churches can once again be worth belonging to, preach about a God worth believing in and contribute to a world worth living in.

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