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!

6 thoughts on “General Assembly Issues Gag Order?”

  1. Thanks for this. I was trying to piece together the legislation from across the Piskie fence and this makes it much clearer. No better, but much clearer.

  2. Does it really mean individuals can’t comment? From the wording it’s not particularly clear. Shocking that another grey area has been created, that’s unusual…

  3. I think the 2nd clause is primarily to stop the utter nonsense that’s been in the press about the Scott Rennie case. I’m seriously annoyed about the BBC news website reporting of the proceedings. It’s all been misinformation, inaccuracy and downright lazy and shoddy reporting. So I guess they don’t want the same sort of press coverage for any potential case that may appear in the future.
    I don’t think it stops discussion of the general issues, just specific cases.
    Anyway, my thoughts are on my blog until I get a gagging order.

  4. I think you’re right about the shoddy reporting John. The BBC website report of tonight wasn’t even written in sentences! The thing is that this shoddy reporting came from ‘journalists’, not from anyone involved. Some of the best stuff in the media over the past few weeks has been when ministers have had open and honest conversations. Some of the worst has come from people who should know better posting sermons on their blogs. None of those people were involved in the case.

    Pauline, that was the impression given from the debate. Anyone who talks about human sexuality in the context of faith is by default talking about the ordination of gay ministers. How can they not be?

    The problem with this whole motion is that it is unclear and impossible to police, and therefore pointless. My concern is that it will lead to even MORE illinformed comment from people on the outside which must remain uncorrected because no-one can speak publicly.

  5. So, in short, they had a very long & complicated discussion to decide that they need to go out and have another very long & complicated discussion?

    *blank look*

  6. Thanks for this Stewart… problem is the longer we delay making a clear statement on this issue the more entrenched each side becomes, it is clear that those on the ‘extremes’ of the debate are not going to compromise – two years of a Special commission is not going to change that. All this has done is prolong the agony.

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