Anglican Communion Secretary General responds to Scottish Episcopal Church vote to allow same-sex marriage

Posted Jun 8, 2017

[Episcopal News Service] The Scottish Episcopal Church voted June 8 to amend canon law to allow same-sex couples to marry in the church. The vote required a two-thirds margin in each house: bishops, clergy and laity. Clergy wishing to perform same-sex marriages will need to “opt-in,” according to a BBC report.

Scotland legalized same-sex marriage in 2014. The Scottish church’s vote puts it at odds with most of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church made canonical and liturgical changes allowing for marriage equality in 2015, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage that same year.

After the June 8 vote, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, issued this statement followed by a Q and A:

“The churches of the Anglican Communion are autonomous and free to make their own decisions on canon law. The Scottish Episcopal Church is one of 38, soon to be 39, provinces covering more than 165 countries around the world.

“Today’s decision by the SEC to approve changes to canon law on marriage is not a surprise, given the outcome of the vote at its Synod a year ago.  There are differing views about same-sex marriage within the Anglican Communion but this puts the Scottish Episcopal Church at odds with the majority stance that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman. This is a departure from the faith and teaching upheld by the overwhelming majority of Anglican provinces on the doctrine of marriage. The Anglican Communion’s position on human sexuality is set out very clearly in Resolution 1.10 agreed at the Lambeth conference of 1998 and will remain so unless it is revoked.

“As Secretary General, I want the churches within the Anglican Communion to remain committed to walking together in the love of Christ and to working out how we can maintain our unity and uphold the value of every individual in spite of deeply-held differences. It is important to stress the Communion’s strong opposition to the criminalisation of LGBTIQ+ people.

“The primates of the Communion will be meeting in Canterbury in October. I am sure today’s decision will be among the topics which will be prayerfully discussed. There will be no formal response to the SEC’s vote until the primates have met.”

Some Questions and Answers

Q:  What does the change in canon law mean?

A:   It removes the doctrinal clause which states that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Q:  When will the changes come into force?

A:  The changes come into force 40 days after the end of General Synod – in late July.

Q:  Who will be affected?

A:  This applies only to marriage within the Scottish Episcopal Church. The Church of Scotland – which is a separate entity – is also considering changing its laws on marriage but has not done so yet.

Q:  What about the rest of the UK?

A: The Church of England, the Church in Wales and the Church of Ireland are the other Anglican churches within the UK. The canon law on marriage in all three is unchanged: none is able by [canon] law to marry couples of the same sex and their teaching is the same as before.

Q:  Will any measures be taken against the Scottish Episcopal Church now?

A: The primates’ meeting in Canterbury in October will consider how the Anglican Communion should respond. No action will be taken before then.

Q:  Isn’t this is a further sign that the Anglican Communion is bound to split?

A: There is a very strong desire within the Communion to remain together – there is so much that we hold in common. The Task Group, which was set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury last year, is dedicated to maintaining conversation between us and restoring relationships and trust where they have been damaged. That work will continue.

Q: What do you think of Gafcon’s plan to appoint a missionary bishop for Scotland

A: We note the planned appointment. We will not be commenting on it at this stage.


Comments (13)

  1. The Rev'd Dr Richard G. Leggett says:

    With all respect to the Secretary General no resolution of the Lambeth Conference is binding upon the Anglican Communion and only expressed the opinions of the Bishops present at the Conference. We are a synodical church in which the laity, the deacons and the presbyters, in collaboration with their bishops, determine the doctrine, discipline and worship of their respective provinces. For the Secretary General of the Communion to make such a statement betrays a level of unfamiliarity with the synodical nature of our Communion. He should read the excellent set of essays published some years ago, ‘Authority in the Anglican Communion’, before he makes any further statements on the matter at hand.

  2. Peter George says:

    As of 1st August 2017, The Scottish Episcopal Church will only have four bishops left following the resignation of THREE of its seven bishops within one year. On a narrow interpretation of its behaviour over the issue of same-sex marriage, theoretically it has acted within its self-defined powers and to its own satisfaction. But it has has acted outside its religious powers in passing a so-called ‘law’ which contravenes God’s Unchanging Laws. The Word Of God remains supreme to genuine Christians. Does the SEC really believe that it has the authority to put itself above God’s authority? Has God given it this power? Or the Devil? Are there no sanctions against an institution that acts irresponsibly and contumaciously?

  3. Doug Desper says:

    I am an outlier in many respects. I sense that sexual orientation should not be the breaking point for any relationship, particularly as regards unity in the Church. There is much validity to people being unsure about the “wrongness” of homosexuality – thus it should not be the defining issue for being a Christian. God will sort each one of us out, and each one of us at death will approach the nearer Presence with brokenness, whether as perceived by others or in fact through our imperfect walk with God. That said, I also sense that our Church has arrogantly gone a bridge too far with regards to redefining marriage. Through constant pressure from Integrity and the culture, including a bishop who flaunted his desire to “be a June bride”, our Church has been wearied and guilted into very questionable theology regarding marriage. Richard Hooker’s formula of Scripture-Tradition-Reason has been uprooted and replaced (in this discussion) with human impulse and a misguided sense of obligation to destroy in order to be seen as fair. We’ve been misled – from the very top. The so-called Marriage Study distributed throughout our Church is clearly predicated on how “marriage has evolved”, and therefore pleads that marriage should continue to be allowed to evolve. The mistake? Marriage hasn’t “evolved”, but humanity has pursued its own way – aberrations – in disregard to God’s design for family bonding as described in Genesis 2. We’ve been misled into another aberration because our own Marriage Study is laden with Scripture that talks mainly about relational virtues, but entirely omits the words of Christ Himself on the subject of Marriage. In looking at the human debris in history with humanity’s choices and preferences chosen over God’s, our Lord took that backdrop to reaffirm Genesis 2 as the norm for marriage. Humanity had tried it all: polygamy, marital slavery, adultery, and more, and to this Christ Himself said in Matthew 19: “Have you not read that the One who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” This plain teaching was entirely left out of The Episcopal Church’s Marriage Study as a redefinition of marriage was pursued. That is because it stands as a glaring obstacle; that Christ Himself supported Genesis 2 would not fit the redefinition. We have been misled from the top. This includes bishops who say that the change to marriage does not affect or touch “core” teachings, particularly about who Jesus Christ is. Excuse me, but when you ignore the plain word of the Lord on this matter you have denied Christ Himself. Yes, we can be conflicted about homosexuality, but we cannot be conflicted about what Christ calls a marriage. I am 100% certain that the voices of the present day who say “all none – none must” regarding accepting this change will turn to “all must”. I am also equally certain that there will be a hard push to revise the Prayer Book in order to canonize this mistake. Furthermore, it remains that those who pushed this redefinition have now started what they can never stop. Today’s evolution to redefine is to accommodate what is fair and loving with no parameters other than those subjective feelings. Now, what will be the next evolution? Society is already seeing 3 or more people living in a relationship – and if our “new standards” apply then we must evolve as a Church to bless multiple people in a relationship with each other. This error can and must be corrected. One thing is for certain — God will correct this error with our Church or without it. The question remains whether or not we will be consigned to the dust bin of history as a Church who threw tantrums until we just died away.

  4. Steve Colburn says:

    Well, at least the Episcopal Church of Scotland is on board! They always were independent-minded folks. This goes against the Church of England ruling in the rest of Great Britain, including Wales and Northern Ireland. Who knows, maybe they are next, but the COE is trying to keep the peace with the dissenting provinces in Africa and South America. In my lifetime, I have seen the same kind of struggle with the ordination of women as Priests and Bishops, and have come to know some wonderful counselors and preachers as a result of that change. The full participation of women in our church leadership has been one of the most beneficial changes that I have seen, in my lifetime. Like our LGBT Brother and Sisters, women too were once a marginalized group, and the struggle for the recognition that we are all equal, as God’s own creation and his beloved children, has many parallels to this current struggle.

    If it hadn’t been for the Scottish Episcopal Church helping us during our American War of Independence, the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. would never have been born. They provided two of the 3 required Bishops (the third was the only American Bishop), to create Apostolic Succession for the ECUSA. Bully for them, again!

    Let us remember, Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, that marriage as we know it today did not exist in Biblical times. It is an institution created long after the time of Christ’s life on this Earth and those of his Apostles. Remember also, Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, that Jesus made it abundantly clear, in his actions and teachings, that his mission was to bring the promise of New Life to the outcast, the outsiders, those who were downcast by the religious authorities that existed in his time on Earth. This New Covenant, created by Christ himself, between Christian believers and Christ as God’s representative, sent to teach and save us, is what separates us from the prevailing Jewish law of Christ’s time here on Earth, living among us. That is what should guide us, in all our thoughts, words, teaching, prayers and actions. Those who would hold fast to the teachings of the Old Covenant with God, created with the Prophet Moses, should consider themselves Jews, not Christians.

    As Christ taught us, I pray for all our Brothers and Sisters in Christ, that they will understand what was truly new and unique about Christ’s Gospel, and also for our Leaders, Primates, Archbishop, Presiding Bishop, Bishops, Priests, Deacons, and Lay Ministers, I pray that Christ’s message of the New Covenant will guide your actions and your prayers for us, as we are God’s children too, made in his image just like you. As Christ taught us, we are all one body, and as Christians, our duty is to minister to one another. Until such time as our entire Church and Communion makes Canon Law agree with Christ’s own teachings, my Brothers and Sisters in Christ who are left out in the dark, will continue to minister to one another, as Christ taught us to do, as our duty is to love one another, regardless of whether we agree with one another or not. I pray that everyone will accept this comment in that spirit, as that is how it was intended.

    1. Doug Desper says:

      Steve — while I agree with many of your sentiments one cannot stand on solid ground while ignoring how Jesus Himself clarified the candidates and purpose of marriage. His appeal back to Genesis 2 was deliberate and clear in the wake of thousands of years of humanity contriving many other options. If ever there was the moment and opportunity to redefine marriage it was then in the Matthew 19 setting with the religious leaders. He did not. He didn’t hesitate to reject divorce or adultery and called attention back to original design. His word to the religious leaders was not “go and do as you think best and most fair”, but instead “Haven’t you heard that in the beginning….”? We cannot take Christ’s generalized statements about fairness and love and raising outcasts and use them as a false equivalency on a particular subject (marriage) that was addressed with very certain clarity. When Christ asked “haven’t you heard…?” He knew that the religious leaders had, in fact, heard and known but chose to neglect the knowledge. By that example we should know better.

      1. You speak of Christ in the past tense. I was under the impression that he is alive and reigning even as we speak.

        1. Doug Desper says:

          My reference to Christ is as He spoke while present and witnessed on earth (as recorded in the Gospels – Matthew 19). That is a past historical reference which does not negate His being alive. If you mean to imply that the Risen Lord altered His teaching on marriage since the days of the apostles then I would lean on that original witnessed account – one valued in our Articles of Religion and canons as Scripture “containing all things necessary for salvation”. The Mormons believe in an open canon where the utterances of their Prophet have equal weight to the Scriptures. I am under the impression that we do not believe that our General Convention has such an authority.

    2. Kendall Fields says:

      Do not compare homosexuality to women wanting to vote.

  5. Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD says:

    One by one the Provinces will give way to the movement of the Holy Spirit to be inclusive. I am hopeful that the Anglicans in Ireland will follow the Scots. Africa is still living in the dark ages.

  6. Steve Colburn says:

    My Dear Brothers in Christ: Doug, Don, and William, thank you for your thoughts and comments on my posting. I would love to get all four of us together in a room, to pray and reflect on these things together, as Christ taught us during his time here on Earth, and as he continues to teach us, through his living presence in our lives. I think we would have a joyful experience of sharing. I strongly believe that we would find that we have much that we agree on, and I am praying for each of you, and in particular for my Bishop Diocesan, Dabney Smith, as our Church, and the wider Communion proceeds with their discernment on these things. I love each of you, just as God made you, and ask you to pray for me as well.

    1. Steve Colburn says:

      Sorry Donn, my spellcheck did not catch that error.

  7. Jan Adam says:

    The 10 Commandments warns against coveting another man’s wife which leads to adultery and divorce. In order for adultery to exist then a “one flesh” marriage needs to exist, and this isn’t a legal state marriage certificate as Bathsheba and Uriah never purchased one. However, King David and Bathsheba committed the act of adultery. God commanded for children to honour their father and mother so it is obvious that God never intended for children to be legally separated from their father or mother. God warned against idolatry, dishonesty, and worshipping oneself including the sexuality and gender theories which are self-centred and narcissistic.

  8. Iain MacRobert says:

    Thank you Doug for your sound biblical comments on the authority of Jesus. As a Scottish Pisky minister, I am caught up in this tsunami of revisionism.

    William of the many degrees, you seem to be suggesting that the declining church of the affluent, secularised, post- modern first world is almost uniquely sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit while the rapidly growing church of the poor in the southern hemisphere is deaf to the Holy Spirit. The centre of Christianity has moved and the expansion to taking place where the authority of scripture is being taken seriously. While one tree is withering, the other is flourishing.

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