Not in My Name

You may have heard on the BBC Scotland news this evening that Queen’s Cross Church of Scotland’s right to call an openly gay man to be their minister, a decision endorsed by a majority vote of the Presbytery of Aberdeen, has been the subject of a complaint and the case will be heard by the General Assembly in a few weeks.

There are some in the church who don’t think that a homosexual should be ordained as a minister so a petition is being gathered to take to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to call on them not to uphold the right of the congregation to make its own decision about who they can call to be their minister on the grounds of his sexuality.  Apparently 1/5 of the ministers of the Church of Scotland have signed the petition.

I don’t want to get into the discussion about sexuality here and now.  That will no doubt come in the future.

What I do want to say is that tonight people across Scotland and across the world have had their own prejudice confirmed.  Their own stereotype image that the Church of Jesus Christ is intolerant, bullying and homophobic has been paraded on the evening news.  Again.

There are ways to go about disagreeing.  Disagreements can be had with dignity and with respect.  Raising a petition, giving that petition to the press as an ‘exclusive’ and trying to raise a groundswell of support to pressure the poor souls whose turn it is to attend General Assembly into making the decision you want is not dignified.

‘What Would Jesus Do?’.  I wonder where ‘start a campaign that will put someone under intense media pressure, drag them in front of the General Assembly and have their life paraded for all to see’ comes in the answer to that question.  I don’t think it does and tonight I am ashamed to be a member of the Church of Scotland.

So, no.  I won’t be signing your petition.  And I hope no-one else does either.  Not because I don’t belive in your right to have one.  Not that because I don’t think you have the right to hold your opinion.  But because I believe that we are called to love one another and to conduct our discusions with love and respect.

19 thoughts on “Not in My Name”

  1. Stewart,
    well said! I havent seen the news but I knew about the petition. For the most measured and gracious comment I have included a link to Iain’s blog – wise words from a wise young man!! Iain has made a couple of posts and in one he too asks that question WWJD?
    In answer to that question – my reading of scripture is that Jesus steps in and stops this kind of behaviour – he LOVES, he shows us GRACE and gives us HOPE – none of which I can see in this campaign of grrrrrrrrr words allude!

  2. whoops sorry that last comment was meant to say that in my blog I have included a link to Iain’s wise words!

  3. Very well said. Totally agree. This campaign has the appearance of a baying mob, screaming “crucify him, crucify him!” They have already had to apologise publicly for spreading false information about Scott Rennie. Meanwhile, the minister has maintained a quiet dignity throughout the whole sordid affair which is in stark contrast to his opressors.

    I suspect that this campaign will backfire badly. The sort of people who will be least impressed by this display of homophobia will be the young people who the church needs badly.

    It will produce a lot of ill feeling, it will make the church look backward and just cause more polarisation

    WWJD indeed!

  4. I’m trying to compose some words on my own blog to cover this issue and I’m struggling. I find the whole petition thing deeply offensive. I admit I have concerns over the circumstances behind this, but I really don’t think this is the way to deal with it. Undermining the right of call of a congregation is a serious issue. Trying to bully GA delegates through the media is despicable. It undermines the authority and purpose of GA. It leads to division and discord and suggests that the GA is somehow incapable of dealing with it with grace and understanding. Mind you, they’ve ducked this issue for too long and maybe it’s about time it was properly dealt with, but this is not the forum to debate it in nor the circumstances to make for informed debate.

  5. Thanks for this Stewart, and for the other comments, Shuna, Colin and John. I’m about to write a blog entry on why I am supporting my friend Scott, but basically, Shuna, you nail it. I am standing with Scott, because I believe with total conviction that it is what Jesus would be doing.

  6. Good post sir. Unsurprisingly I’m in agreement with you here. As Shuna has already said my thoughts can be read on my blog. Colin, I totally agree that this is the best thing the church can do to turn away young people who often get the impression the church is irrelevant to them because all it ever seems to want to do is rant and judge people over issues of sexuality. I’ve been trying to think of a way for moderate voices like those here to join together to influence this debate since it’s a voice not being heard. A petition is probably not the way forward given what we all think about the current one. It’s very difficult not to turn this into a war.

  7. Thank you Stuart. I recieved this petition via email from a very close friend of mine whom i thought would have more respect than to have signed and tried to get me to sign this. I think that certain members of the Church have degraded themselves in the eyes of the rest of society. Petition is not the way forward and “Mob” mentality certainly holds no favour with me and i am in the same boat as you when i say i am ashamed to be a member of the CofS at this time 🙁

  8. Thanks for sharing these thoughts. We’ve seen stuff like this rip apart a couple of denominations in Canada and what it has done for many people here is to question where the love is in it all. The press will have a field day again.

  9. Stewart, you are bold and strong and I value you. You are right about the impressions the Church is making upon the young right now. They are being raised to be more tolerant, being made aware of the corruption of society, being made aware of how the larger ruling governments are wreaking havoc on the weaker ones for their own profit and gain (I live in the United States, and am referring to my own ruling government primarily here). Then for the Body of Christ, the bearers of His Name, to bicker and fight amongst ourselves, to be intolerant, to perpetuate oppression, and more…. It just turns them away. What do we have to offer this new generation? We have much to offer indeed, but many wouldn’t know it.

  10. Stewart – thanks for bringing some common sense to this – I read the list of Ministers who have signed this petition and I am not surprised – the good news is that only 1/5 of them have signed – let them move onto another denomination ….. they will deserve each other! Calum, keep the faith – Wasn’t it a mob who crucified Jesus?

  11. Thank you all for your comments. I think what frustrates me most is the lack of respect for the process. I’m not the biggest fan of the Presbyterian decision making system and think that General Assembly often avoid making controversial decisions but that’s the process we have. That is the process that ministers swear an oath to uphold and play their full part in. So why do so many feel the need to undermine that very process?

    I don’t want to call people names and I don’t want to deepen the divide. I just want this discussion to place in a climate of graciousness and calm. Is that too much to ask?

  12. Stewart I need to correct some misconceptions in your post. Firstly, it is clear that the petitioners do not object to a homosexual holding a position of ministry, but a practicing homosexual. Secondly, you seem to ignore the fact that the Aberdeen Presbetyry have broken with clear biblical teaching and (I believe) Kirk policy with the appointment. It smacks of bias to criticse the petition signatories for breaking with process when Aberdeen have done the very same thing.

    I also challenge your right to implying that the attitude of the signatories is unloving and lacking respect; I know personally a number of the signatories and I know full well their Christ-likeness and their love for the Church and I also know that correcting the Church can and does happen in love in line with the pattern of the Lord’s behaviour: “I discipline those I love”

    The Anglican communion is currently facing a rift over a similar issue. God knows I don’t want the Kirk to be in the same straits. To that end the work of the petitioners is commendable.

  13. Thanks for your comments Utar.

    I’m not sure it is clear that petitioners object to practicing homosexuality, not being homosexual. That’s because a device like a petition doesn’t allow for that kind of clarification from each of the people who have signed and that is part of my problem with using such a blunt instrument to address such a sensitive issue. The petition has been commented on, used by the media and the subject of public debate. When that happens the petition in many respects becomes what people say it is rather than what it was perhaps intended to be.

    I’d also say, with deep respect, that the opinion that scripture is clear on teaching on homosexuality is at the centre of this whole debate. There are those who would disagree that teaching is clear (a point I’ve tried to make in my most recent post) and again I don’t think lining up signatures does much to promote an honest and gracious discussion. It draws lines and causes sides to be taken. I have no doubt that people who have signed the petition have done so for the best of reasons. Like you, I know and respect many of the people on the list. I have tried very hard not to enter into the rights and wrongs of the case under discussion because I know what it is like to have people talk about you and your relationship. My plea is that people conduct that discussion with dignity and respect. Petitions don’t seem to me to me consistent with dealing with an issue in a loving way. They are impersonal, confrontational and divisive.

    As I said in my comment following the post, my concern is more that people have decided not to follow the proceedures in place. If people think that Aberdeen Presbytery were wrong in their decission then the General Assembly is the place to address that, not an online petition. Commissioners are appointed to serve at General Assembly. These are Elders and Minsiters of the Church. Ordained people charged with seeking the will of God for the Church. They will do that prayerfully and hopefully in a spirit of grace and love. They face a difficult enough task without pressure groups being formed.

  14. Stewart has said much of what I would say already, particularly the bit about biblical teaching being clear. When will people understand that just because it is clear to them doesn’t mean it is clear to everyone and for the whole church that means it’s unclear. I don’t know if anyone watched “The Speaker”, a programme recently on the BBC where young people were tutored on how to speak in public. One important point Alastair Campbell made was that you need to acknowledge the arguments of those who disagree with you and counter them if you are going to persuade them to your way of thinking. When people keep harping on about “the Bible’s clear position on homosexuality” that doesn’t acknowledge those who disagree at all, and because of that it is a pointless thing to keep bringing up.

    I would also like to add that I don’t think the problem with the petition is with individual signatories either. I’m sure Utar that your friends are wonderful people. To be honest, if I agreed with the petition I would probably have signed it without thinking of its effect on the debate other than getting my opinion heard. But that doesn’t get around the issue of the petition as a whole being a dreadful tool to use in this debate, regardless of the individual motives of those who have signed it.

  15. I am deeply appreciating this discussion and am glad that there is such an opportunity to explore a subject like this. From my own perspective I find it hard to see the petition, which is in short not following proceedure, cannot do any more than bully and undermine the work of those put in place to deal with such issues and discussions.

    I hope and trust that those in place at GA will take the time to have a duscission characterised by the love and respect that Stewart was initially talking about. All the best to them, it’s not going to be easy!

  16. Thanks for your reply, Stewart.

    Ultimately, I do not know what has gone on behind the scenes and whether the petition was the first port of call or a last resort because internal processes have failed. However I am comfortable that the approach is reasonable and on that we must respectfully differ.

    However I must take you up on your first point; the petition site does clearly and unambigiously differentiate between homosexual practice and orientation within the main statement, acknowledging the orthodox Christian teaching in the third paragraph while strongly supporting those individuals who honour God through celibacy in the sixth. To that end, it is reasonable to assume all signatories are voicing full support for the entire statement.

  17. Thank you for this sane and balanced contribution to the debate. I have been deeply saddened by the conduct of the debate within the Church of Scotland, and like you I have been embarrassed, ashamed even, to be a member of the Kirk at this time. There seems to be an assumption that if one is wholly right then one’s opponents must be wholly wrong and that there is therefore little need to worry about moderating one’s language or trying to work through the problems. It’s all about allies and foes, victory or defeat. Regardless of the rights and wrongs, I don’t think many in the Church realise how cold, unattractive and unloving their conduct appears to good and decent outsiders.

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