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.