one small step or a giant leap?

Today was an interesting day at the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly.  As I’ve outlined below, today was all about the Special Commission on Same-Sex Relationships and Ministry.

The debate was long and to be honest we didn’t hear an awful lot that hasn’t already been said in the discussion already.  What was most interesting was that I got the impression the discussion seemed to be dominated by ‘traditionalist’ voices but that the votes, although close, went the other way.

I spent the day wondering why the Kirk couldn’t just get on with deciding.  There was lots of talk about agreeing to differ, about the need for unity above all else and even about the need for the Church of Scotland to ‘set an example’.  The choice looked like which variety of fudge you preferred but as the debate went on it became obvious that their was neither the appetite for a fight nor a form of words available that would precipitate one.

So, where does today’s decision leave the Church of Scotland?

Well, not really anywhere different but perhaps on an interesting ‘trajectory’.  By agreeing:

(b) Resolve to consider further the lifting of the moratorium on the acceptance for training and ordination of persons in a same-sex relationship, and to that end instruct the Theological Commission to prepare a report for the General Assembly of 2013 containing:
(i) a theological discussion of issues around same-sex relationships, civil partnerships and marriage;
(ii) an examination of whether, if the Church were to allow its ministers freedom of conscience in deciding whether to bless same-sex relationships involving life-long commitments, the recognition of such lifelong relationships should take the form of a blessing of a civil partnership or should involve a liturgy to recognise and celebrate commitments which the parties enter into in a Church service in addition to the
civil partnership, and if so to recommend liturgy therefor;
(iii) an examination of whether persons, who have entered into a civil partnership and have made lifelong commitments in a Church ceremony, should be eligible for admission for training, ordination and induction as ministers of Word and Sacrament or deacons in the context that no member of Presbytery will be required to take part in such ordination or induction against his or her conscience; and to report to the General Assembly of 2013.

the Assembly has set the tone for the next phase of discussion on a more permissive path.

Part of today’s problem was one I’ve mentioned before and one that is prominent in the deliverance, Civil Partnerships.  By failing to accept Civil Partnerships the Kirk finds itself in a place where it can’t really discipline its ministers in a fair and equitable way.  Without recognising partnerships there is no equivalent to marriage, and that’s going to continue to be problematic.

So, we’ll see where this goes but the BBC are reporting that the Kirk has lifted its ban on gay ministers.  That’s at best simplistic and at worst going to inflame the discussion when calm is what the church wanted more than anything.

7 thoughts on “one small step or a giant leap?”

  1. Hi Stewart,
    Nothing was actually decided today, although an aim was clearly put in mind, (the so-called trajectory), and yes, the Beeb have a simplistic view on this which is no surprise.
    And the traditionalists would never agree that civil partnerships are in any way equated with marraige. As I posted on John’s blog, I know of colleauges who are genuinely considering their position about this. They feel that Scripture has been abandoned in favour of an inclusive secularist agenda, and they have already had people phoning up for their ‘lines’.
    The Kirk prides itself on being a broad church, but like an overstretched elastic band, it will snap if pulled too far.

  2. Hi David,
    You’re right, the only thing decided today was not to decide, but to spend time exploring the theology and listening to each other. I hope that people can do that but as I tweeted earlier I’m not sure that there are many people who haven’t made their minds up. It’ll be interesting to see if this is just delaying the inevitable snap. Only time will tell (because no-one else is allowed to! 😉 ).

  3. I think that we can actually talk about things publicly, just not to the press or in the media…although I suppose that this might count ! Then again, Twitter is making a mockery of such restriction already…..
    As for time to talk, I deeply suspect that the traditionalists are done with talking. They’ve had years of what they perceive as a gradual shift away from their position and they have tried to accommodate a lot of compromise. This, I suspect, may be one too far for a lot of them.
    I’m in that camp, and find it a painful place to be. I would be grateful to anyone who can point me to any Scripture that actually says that homosexual practice is a good thing. It has to be as specific as that and not just a general statement about God’s love. How can Christianity be as all inclusive as we want it to be, when Jesus spoke of the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one coming to the Father except by him ? And I know that the revisionists have already said that Jesus really didn’t say that … Sadly that only makes the revisionist position look like they edit the bits they don’t like and have a Bible that endorses their own argument.
    There are a lot of passages of Scripture that are uncomfortable reading, but we can’t just edit them out as it appears to be the case here.

  4. I think one of the things we all need to do it to try to avoid treating both ‘sides’ as single entities. There is a huge range of opinion (and none) out there.

    From my own point of view I’d begin with the bible and what it actually says and doesn’t say. I’m not a trained theologian so I’m glad that a group of people will do that work for the church. I don’t know Greek or Hebrew so I can’t go back to the original passages and see if paul was talking about temple prostitution or committed relationships for myself. I need to listen to what others say and make up my mind.

    Part of the problem will be what the bible doesn’t say. We are often left to fill in the gaps and work out what on earth a passage or parable means for us today in our very different world.

    I hope we can do that together.

  5. I agree that there is a great deal the Bible doesn’t say, and from where I stand there is much made of that argument to argue for a change of view. I am certainly willing to give time to this, because knee jerk reactions are nearly always regretted.
    This thing I found unsettling was that there was much said about the mood of the church not wanting a change, and yet it has been potentially voted through. There is a lot of pain out there, and yes, I know that it’s on both sides.

  6. I think that the decision on Section 7 will be regarded by many, if not the majority of, people as being a tacit agreement with the “Revisionist” agenda. Likewise the “lifting of the ban” in section 4 will make it even more difficult for the theological commission to make a decision for a “traditionalist” agenda in 2 years time.

    Obviously there is the opportunity to register dissent until lunchtime today, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we start seeing some of the more traditional and evangelical churches beginning their exit strategies once the Assembly is over.

  7. Hi Ben, registering dissent directly can only happen by commissioners at the Assembly. Sadly, I think that you are right in suggesting that churches are planning their exit strategies.

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