In the 1970s, I studied Theology in St Andrews. I then went on to Oxford and did pretty much the same thing there. It is interesting, therefore, to see that the Kirk is now poised to accept gay clergy. I think this is a great step forward but it is also a step I could not possibly have imagined happening back in the 70s. Then, this austere, and rather imposing Church was also quite censorious and puritantical about homosexuality.
In those days, there were three oddly named prelates of distinction in St Andrews- Principal Black who ruled the St Mary’s college, Cardinal Gray and the moderator of the Church of Scotland, also called Gray. There was someone called White. In other words, we lived a monochromatic life in the Divinity faculty, as the messenger would have whined in “A matter of Life and Death” devoid of technicolour.
The process of acceptance has taken about 20 years, beginning in the 1990s with the commissioning of two documents to the Board of Social Responsibility. This led to the formation of some panels, one of which reported back unanimously confirming that gay marriage was not sinful. This in turn, not without some popular dissent, led to a decision to allow same sex religious blessings and later to admit to the clergy those who were in same sex relationships – but there was a fudge. Rather like the marriage of Orthodox clergy, the partnership needed to predate the ordination. Today, that fudge will be gone! Things are more progressive in the States, of course. Which makes me wonder why anyone would think that God’s law should be so limited geographically. Either something is wrong or it is right. And we surely cannot be “in communion” with people who are doing something wrong. As (with some mild exceptions in the US which I will come to) the Church of Scotland has not fractured at the agreed advances in social reform, it makes sense that the Scottish mother-church should hurry up and assent lest the whole thing crumble. The same might be said of the Church of England. What is right in America cannot be wrong in England – when it comes to basic morality in the church. This is not a traffic rule and we are not discussing whether to drive on the left or the right.
Now, I mentioned exceptions and these are important- the associate church, the “presbyterian church in America” and the Orthodox presyberian church have all condemned any acceptance of same sex relationships or of gay clergy. The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa in New Zealand confirms that “marriage is between a man and a woman” as does the Presbyterian Church in Brazil, and in Mexico. More worryingly, there is an organisation sponsored by some of these churches called “OnebyOne” which seems to still advocate aversion therapy.
While we in the UK, therefore, get into a flap about widening the State definition of marriage, it is remarkable and encouraging that some of the Churches are looking at the religious options available, and have been doing so for some time. Personally, I think the legal definition of Same-sex marriage still has a long way to go, but contrary to the anxiety of some MPs who saw fit to “quote scripture” out of context, this should be an issue about equality and not about religion.
Yesterday, there was a statement in the media that the UK parliament has more LGBT MPs than any other Political assembly. Many new SNP members are openly gay. But the UK establishment has long recognised that homosexuality is no bar to high office. If the rumours put out by a member of Monty Python are to be believed, and I suspect they are true, then certainly one of our former Prime Ministers was gay.
The presbyterian Church today is advancing the gay debate and setting forward a framework whereby, when the law comes back to the House of Commons in a few years’ time, as no doubt it must, no one dare stand up and make reference to a so-called prohibition in Leviticus or what they think Jesus might have meant. The religious bit of this debate is over.