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Because of that return to the pre-Assembly position the Overture was withdrawn.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

10 thoughts on “Making Sense Of The General Assembly”

  1. Stewart, I doubt very much that the complainers were complaining about a failure of procedure! The status quo of the Church of Scotland is now clear: any officer now has freedom to enjoy sexual relationships with any partner regardless of marriage or civil partnership commitments. Any discipline case against an office bearer about sexual misbehaviour – apart from one associated with a civil criminal case – would be arbitrary without legal ground or reason.

  2. David, like you I’m sure the root of the complaint wasn’t about procedure, but that was the complaint they brought and the complaint that was rejected with the motion: b) affirm for the avoidance of doubt that this decision does not alter the Church’s standards of ministerial conduct. I’m still unconvinced that no further complaint will be brought against Scott and unconvinced that the General Assembly has set any precedent.

    I would also disagree that ‘any officer now has freedom to enjoy sexual relationships with any partner regardless of marriage or civil partnership commitments. Any discipline case against an office bearer about sexual misbehaviour – apart from one associated with a civil criminal case – would be arbitrary without legal ground or reason.’

    That would be in disagreement with the section b of the motion passed. I doubt there is much, if any disagreement about the standards of ministerial conduct with regard to straight ministers.

  3. David,
    Whilst it may be true that the underlying complaint was was against the person and life of Scott Rennie, nevertheless, the legal grounds (as in Church Law) the complaint was based on was purely a procedural one. The vote ‘in favour’ was based, I would suggest, on the basis of the case presented. It would be true, I suspect, that many would have voted on the underlying basis.
    Furthermore, it is untrue and misleading to suggest that the CofS now condones indiscriminate sexual relationships. What was stated categorically on Saturday was that this does not set a precedent. Unfortunately, media reporting has largely concentrated on the headliner point.
    And as a further furthermore, Scott Rennie has not yet been inducted into his new charge. I understand there are several more legal hurdles to overcome before that happens.

  4. But the GA decision must mean that there can be no further legal hurdles to Scott’s induction. Otherwise the whole three days of debate has been a complete nonsense!

  5. And does this mean that ministers have to declare themselves straight, gay, or otherwise? What about bisexuals? Do they have to choose one way or the other? I really do not think anyone fully understands the implications of all this. We, as a church, are now a laughing stock to the whole world, Christian or not.

  6. David,
    I think you are correct and I’m in error about the additional processes needed. I’ve just checked the “Vacancy Procedure Flowchart” and sustaining the call seems to be pretty much the last part of the process. What I was thinking of was that the transferring minister needs to be released by their existing presbytery and accepted by their new presbytery, but those processes have to have been gone through before the call is sustained. So, assuming that was the stage they were at, then there should be no further barrier.

  7. Thanks John. My other concerns are becoming more apparent too. The Mission and Dicipleship Committee report/appendix on singleness raises the kind of questions that do not have obvious answers anymore: What place for marriage or civil partnerships if sex outside of those agreements or covenants is okay (see sections 7.1, 7.2, 7.4.2, and 8.4). Do our Muslim friends now have our blessing in their request for more than one partner? The questions could be multiplied.

  8. Stewart,
    Thanks for quoting my tweet! It was probably somewhat cynical and frustrated though…
    I’m not entirely sure that there are only two sides to the story though. One could be glib and suggest three sides – “yours, mine and the truth” – but in fact I suspect there are people who find themselves torn between positions, or who would support (say) the right of a minister to his personal living arrangements but who wouldn’t wish to see same-sex blessings in churches (ok so it doesn’t sound logical but I’ve had a conversation along those lines recently…), or people who are moving from one position to another. Perhaps all that comes down to a lack of information – more folks needing to sit down for the proverbial coffee…

    Is it in fact simply a catalyst issue that has crystallised the discomfort that (some) “conservatives” feel about sharing a denomination with (some) “liberals” (better and more accurate labels welcome!) who hold contrasting positions about the provenance of the bible, an interventionist God, supernatural/unscientific miracles, charismata (in some quarters)…?

    Dave [@daveslate]

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