Church of Scotland God, Faith & Church Theology

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.

Church of Scotland God, Faith & Church Society Theology

Making Sense Of The General Assembly

I thought I’d have a go at exploring what the General Assembly has been up to because lots of people seem to be completely confused by what has been going on.  I know how you feel!  Let’s start with the part that has had all the headlines:

Did the Church of Scotland Approve Gay Ministers?

Contrary to what you have probably seen on TV or read in the papers, on Saturday the General Assembly did not vote to ordain homosexual ministers.  The case being heard on Saturday was a complaint that the Presbytery of Aberdeen.  The complainers were saying that the Presbytery hadn’t followed the procedures properly when they were dealing with Scott Rennie’s call to be minister of Queen’s Cross Church.

Their complaint was denied.  The General Assembly found that the Presbytery had followed procedure.

Mindful that the implication of this decision was by default to approve the induction of Scott to his new charge the Assembly inserted a disclaimer… that this decision did not overrule or change the code of ministerial conduct.

Yesterday (Monday) the General Assembly was scheduled to hear the Overture from the Presbytery of Lochcarron and Skye.

That didn’t happen because a motion was proposed by Dr McPake which was heard first. (I blogged about it yesterday)

The outcome of that discussion was to return the Church of Scotland to it’s pre-Assembly position.  There was much discussion in Saturday’s debate that inducting Scott Rennie would set a precedent.  The General Assembly was keen that this wouldn’t happen without a debate.  That was partly the motivation for the Presbytery of Lochcarron and Skye bringing their Overture which simply reaffirmed the historic orthodox position of the church.

The result of Monday’s deliberations was to:

  • Set up another Special Commission to consult with Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions on the subject of human sexuality and report to the General Assembly of 2011
  • impose a 2 year moratorium on inducting anyone who would bring a challenge to the potential outcome of that commission
  • ban anyone subject to the courts of the church from making public statements about the ordination of gay ministers

Because of that return to the pre-Assembly position the Overture was withdrawn.

That might seem like a fudge and I know many who would have preferred the debate on homosexuality just happen and a decision be made but there seems still to be a greater desire to hold together the Church of Scotland.

Davslate on Twitter last night said: Prediction for GA2011 – Special Commission reports that there are a range of divergent and often irreconcilable views on sexuality.

There is a sense of inevitability about the discussion to come.  There are quite simply two sides of this debate, neither likely to move.  That said, there are probably more areas where those two side agree than disagree.  I would think that all would agree that good relationships are important and that committed, faithful relationships are the ideal.  That at least gives people a place of agreement to start at rather than starting at the point of most disagreement.

To me the ban on public comment makes no sense.  I understand that people involved in case should not comment on it but to ban all comment on a topic which will be the subject of much debate and discussion in the media leaves a vacuum which will be filled by those less qualified or poorly informed.

I hope that makes a bit more sense of what has happened, and what is to come.

Church of Scotland God, Faith & Church

General Assembly Issues Gag Order?

That might seem like an overly dramatic headline, but this afternoon the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly agreed to ban all those subject to it’s courts, that’s Ministers and Elders, from talking about discussions relating to the ordination of gay ministers.

In a confusing and lengthy session the Assembly decided (I think):

1. Appoint a Special Commission composed of nine persons, representative of the breadth and unity of the Church, to consult with all Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions and to prepare a study on Ordination and Induction to the Ministry of the Church of Scotland in the light of the issues (a) addressed in the report welcomed by the General Assembly of 2007: “A challenge to unity: same-sex relationships as an issue in theology and human sexuality”, and (b) raised by the case of Aitken et al v the Presbytery of Aberdeen, and to report to the General Assembly of 2011;

2. Instruct all Courts, Councils and Committees of the Church not to issue press statements or talk to the media or to make public comment, whether in publications or otherwise, on decision-making in relation to contentious matters of human sexuality, with respect to Ordination and Induction to the Ministry of the Church of Scotland, until 31 May 2011; and

For the avoidance of doubt, affirm that the provision of this whole motion shall in no way be interpreted as offering grounds for challenging the decision in the referred case Aitken and others against the decision of the Presbytery of Aberdeen.

3. Urge all members who are subject to the discipline of the Courts of the Church of Scotland to act in accordance with the process outlined in 1 and 2.

So, what does all that mean?

What is clear is that the Kirk will appoint a Special Commission, a committee, of nine people to consult with Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions about the issues surrounding human sexuality.  This will report to the General Assembly of 2011.

Scott Rennie will (probably) be inducted to Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen, but the unclear position I blogged about previously came up towards the as the Assembly did not decide on anything other than the function of the Presbytery in this matter in their discussion on Friday night.  A motion to clarify was needed.

Then came what is possibly the biggest ‘sledge-hammer to crack a nut’ piece of legislation I’ve seen in years.

No-one who is a minister, elder or holds any other ordained position in the church, can talk to the press or make public statements about the issue of ordaining gay ministers.

It is hugely unclear what ‘public statements’ means.  Clarification was sought but was never really achieved.  Specific clarification was sought on blogs.  This was not given but it must be assumed that blogging would be a ‘public statement’.

This was prompted by the press coverage of Scott Rennie’s case.  Just as in civil law, there is already legislation in the church to stop people involved in a case from discussing it until the case is over.  This piece of unclear and unworkable nonsense goes way beyond what was needed and is completely unenforceable.

The Presbytery of Lochcarron and Skye graciously withdrew their overture in light of the appointment of the Special Commission.

The question has to be asked, will anyone really be any further forward in two years?  Is another committee really going to help?

Only time will tell… because no-one else is allowed to!

Church of Scotland Society Theology

All is not yet said and done…

Last night’s decision by the General Assembly was only the first of two crucial discussions to be had this week.  The Overture from the Presbytery of Lochcarron and Skye is still before the Assembly and has been moved from last night to Monday at 4pm due to the length of time the Assembly took to hear the case against Aberdeen Presbytery last night.

Today’s headlines proclaiming that the Kirk has welcomed a gay minister are potentially misleading.  Last night the General Assembly upheld the Presbytery of Aberdeen but also added a caveat.

The following motion was agreed by the Assembly:

a) refuse the dissent and complaint of Aitken and others and sustain the decision of the Presbytery of Aberdeen on the basis that the Presbytery followed the vacancy procedure correctly in Act VIII 2003.

b) affirm for the avoidance of doubt that this decision does not alter the Church’s standards of ministerial conduct.

The complaint was that the Presbytery had not followed the vacancy procedure.  The Assembly disagreed…

However, what the decision did not do was preempt the discussion of the overture which will decide who can and can’t be ordained.  It remains to be seen how the Assembly will decide on the issue of homosexual ministers and elders.

“That this Church shall not accept for training, ordain, admit, re-admit, induct or introduce to any ministry of the Church anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of faithful marriage between a man and a woman”

There are a number of notices of motion which will suggest alterations to this motion, including one to add ‘or civil partnership’ to the end.  In many ways that would make sense of the decision last night, both to uphold the Presbytery of Aberdeen and also fulfil the second part of the motion reaffirming that the Church still has agreed ministerial standards.  That gay ministers would be expected not to engage in sexual relationships outside a civil partnerships would seem to be the most appropriate addition to those standards, but the General Assembly doesn’t always agree to things which might seem obvious!

What was obvious was that the discussions last night were conducted in a spirit of gracious understanding and patience.  I pray that the same spirit continues on Monday.

Church of Scotland God, Faith & Church Society Theology

Decision Day For General Assembly

The Case

This evening the Church of Scotland hears the Case of the Dissent and Complaint against Aberdeen Presbytery who upheld Queen’s Cross Church in their call of Scott Rennie to be their minister on the grounds that Scott, an openly gay man in a relationship with his partner David, is unsuitable to be a minister because in their opinion homosexual activity is prohibited in the Bible.

This is a case about many things.  It questions the right of a congregation to call a minister.  It questions the right of a Presbytery to uphold that call by majority voting.  It questions the basis on which a minister can be excluded.

I’ve blogged before about my hope for a gracious and ordered debate and I still hold out some hope for that, even given the things said in sermons and reported in the press over the past few weeks.

Because it is a case and the General Assembly meets as a Court, as with any other court proceedings, there will be no live webcast while the case is being heard.  I’m sure that given the proliferation of communication technology news of what’s happening will filter out and it might be worth keeping an eye on #GA2009 on Twitter for any news.

The Overture

Following the case an overture (motion) from the Presbytery of Lochcarron and Skye will be heard.  These are the terms:


From the Presbytery of Lochcarron-Skye


1. the Church’s historic understanding of the Biblical teaching on homosexual practice has been questioned in recent years.

2. a lengthy period of reflection has elapsed without a resolution of the issue.

3. it is undesirable that the courts of the church should be asked to judge on individual cases in advance of any such resolution.

It is humbly overtured by the Reverend the Presbytery of Lochcarron-Skye to the Venerable the General Assembly to receive the Overture set out below,

“That this Church shall not accept for training, ordain, admit, re-admit, induct or introduce to any ministry of the Church anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of faithful marriage between a man and a woman”.

There are a number of Notices of Motion already submitted and the discussion of the Overture will be streamed live.

Tonight will a defining moment for the Church of Scotland.  The outcome of this case may cause a split in the church.  It will cause hurt, no matter the decision.  I pray that God is with all of  those who are faced with this task and with Scott as he awaits the outcome.

Blogging Change The World God, Faith & Church Society Theology

Petition Posters

Some of the bloggers I read have been posting their thoughts on the petition to the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly regarding the ordination of ‘practicing’ homosexuals.  I wrote about it in my posts ‘Not In My Name‘ and ‘How Would Jesus Behave?‘ but there are some other interesting thoughs:

John Orr has posted some interesting thoughts on Biblical interpretation to follow up his initial post.

Chris Hoskins asks ‘Where’s the Grace?‘.

Iain McLarty has some posts on the implications of the Lochcarron and Skye overture, the logical problems with it and a summary of some of the blogging on the subject.

Bryan Kerr asks what happened to a God of love for all?

Change The World God, Faith & Church Life Society Theology

How would Jesus behave?

My previous post on the petition launched ahead of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly in support of the overture (motion) from the Presbytery of Lochcarron & Skye was my most viewed post ever.  I didn’t set out to say anything controversial and hoped to appeal to people to be calm, reasonable and gracious.

The question that I ended that post with was one asked by Christians all along the theological spectrum. ‘What would Jesus do?’.

This morning it struck me, and not for the first time, that one of the problems with this discussion is that Jesus said nothing specifically about homosexuality.  That leaves us with a bit of a vacuum when trying to answer the question ‘What would Jesus do?‘.  It means that we need to try to work out what Jesus might have said from his other teachings.  We also need to consider the rest of the Bible where again, little is said directly about homosexual relationships.

There are passages in the Old Testament in Leviticus, we read the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah and in the New Testament Paul has some words in Romans.

The problem for many is that these passages are in their view inconclusive.  For example, the passage about Sodom and Gomorrah tells of a host offering his daughters to visitors rather than them having sex with another man.  Not something we would see as acceptable now.  Paul’s words in Romans are the subject of much debate around the translation and context.  Is he talking about homosexual relationships or about the practice if ritual sex with young boys at the pagan temples?

I refer to these passages by way of illustrating the difficulty and complexity of the theological discussion.  Perhaps we need to move beyond throwing passages at each other and engage in a discussion about what the core of the Gospel is?

One of the biggest steps forward the Church could take is to begin these kinds of discussions is to start at the general rather than the specific.  As many will point out in the coming weeks, there are many things supported in the Bible that we have moved away from.  If the early church had not decided to admit those who were not Jewish to their membership then we wouldn’t be having this discussion at all.  Those decisions were often painful, often divisive.

So, let’s try to start again.

Let’s try to start from the question ‘How would Jesus behave?‘ because to be honest when I read the scriptures almost everytime I expect Jesus to do one thing He does something completely different.  What is consistent is how he does things.