Church of Scotland Special Commission

There is a piece in the Herald on and apparent leak of the report of the Church of Scotland’s Special Commission. This was the commission that was set up after the debate about whether a presbytery could induct a minister who is living in a civil partnership.

The exact remit was this:

“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 a 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.”

If the Herald is to be believed, then I was not far wrong in what I predicted at New Year. At that time, I said that:

The Church of Scotland will have a rocky General Assembly with a moderately conservative report from their Special Commission. (No more gay ministers, no questions to be asked about sexuality of office bearers but also no removing anyone currently in any post on the grounds of their sexuality).

It is said in the Herald that they will recommend a new commission for a couple of years, a ban on further inductions of partnered gay clerics, a ban on training for gay candidates in same-sex partnerships and also a renewed ban on C of S people talking about it in public. (This last ban in the so-called moratorium, which is and always was madness, if you ask me). Oh, and no removing people already in post.

There is a lot of discussion in the Herald about who would leave the Kirk if different policy decisions were made. If I understood the report correctly, just over 20% of session members said they would leave the church if gay clergy were allowed to proceed to ministry whilst just under 10% would leave if the opposite held true. This leads to the schism-alert headlines that we’ve come to know very well within Anglicanism.

The trouble with this approach to the issue is that it makes doctrine the captive of the bully. It also creates false “extreme” wings and an equally false central position which tries to play off each side. It also fails to capture the reality which is that good hearted liberals slip away in the wars of attrition – leaving because they simply cannot stomach what they perceive as the intolerance of a church which does not represent their values and ethics. How many gay folk have left the C of S already? How many family members? How may young people? People like that slip away. In my experience, those who take a less tolerant view of gay people in the church are more likely to work together to make the big threats about taking their money or members away en bloc.

What will be most interesting will be to read the report in full – it is reported to be 50 pages worth and the Church of Scotland tend to do that kind of theological reporting better than anyone else.

The figures we have so far are really only figures that can generate hysterical headlines. What will be really interesting will be to see the breakdown, if it is published, from one presbytery to another.

The really shocking headline that the Herald might have run with today is that if gay clergy were allowed to be appointed unimpeded then 80% of the kirk elders would stay loyally in place living the gospel in their parishes. That would not always have been so and represents an astonishing period of change over the last 20 years or so, the time that I have known the Church of Scotland.


  1. “Good hearted liberals slip away because they simply cannot stomach what they perceive as the intolerance of a church which does not represent their values and ethics. How many gay folk have left the C of S already? How many family members? How may young people? People like that slip away.”

    Oh Amen tenfold. This is is why I left for the Piskies. (Well, that and the music and liturgy.) Time and time again I’ve been told that eventually the CofS will be forced to change, because of legislation, and then it won’t matter any more. But what kind of a church is only welcoming and loving because it is forced to be?

    Some of the worst homophobia I’ve experienced has come, not from strangers on the street, but from people I know in CofS congregations. When challenged, they seem shocked to realise they’ve been employing “one of them” to play their music for years.

  2. Rosemary Hannah says

    I thought the saddest moment in the last Newsnight interview came as it was revealed that prejudice against gay people was highest among ‘religious people’ – and possibly the best when the point was made that the issue affects all those with gay friends and family as well as those who are gay themselves.

    I wish I was surprised – but I’m not. Those who are prepared to ‘scream and scream and scream until they are sick (they can, you know)’ are always at an unfair advantage.

    • Rosemary – the problem is even worse than that religious people are less accepting of gay people. It is that the more religious they are (ie the more they go to church) the less accepting they are. The problem is not with the well disposed people at the edge of church life – folk we welcome at Christmas and Easter, people who come for weddings and funerals and baptisms etc and folk who might just be disposed to drop in from time to time. As I understand the figures, the problem (present company excepted) is with the most devout.

      The long term implications of that from a mission point of view are profound, for the very people who don’t have the problem with accepting gay lifestyles are the people that churches traditionally feel are the most likely to be drawn more closely in. There is a divide forming between the devout and the penumbra on the gay question. This could be a long term, systemic issue and I suspect is already making its contribution to decline.

      I’d hasten to add that this is a general point and not one specifically about the Church of Scotland.

  3. Roy Henderson says

    Dear all,
    Thanks for the interest. Please remember that we in the C of S are subject to a moratorium on commenting directly on this extremely vexed matter for the time being. Hence Blogging is problematic for us…

  4. agatha says

    Given that there have always (in my 50 year experience anyway) been gay congregation members and gay clergy it seems to me that what some people actually object to is not what they are but them being honest about what they are. Which is pretty sad.

  5. Rosemary Hannah says

    I always feel so bad because I am so useless in all this. True, I can and do argue the hind legs off several donkeys, and I know I have helped sway one or two people. And I am a useful source of information to the chronically under-informed, along the lines of, ‘Yes my son has a husband, yes, he is proud to call his partner that and you will not upset him by asking after his husband, no that will be fine’. But you see I do not and never have understood why people who are anti-gay are like that. I cannot for the life of me see WHY other people going to bed with those of the same sex causes some folk problems. It makes no sense to me and it never has. So I can do nothing to help that kind of debate. I don’t buy ‘You never heard about it when we were young, and we never knew any gay people.’ I was THERE. I’ve always had gay and lesbian people in my life, and I’ve understood since I was old enough to understand sexual attraction as a quasi-adult.

    But equally, I am not totally convinced that this prejudice is fairly spread across all churches. My last real church was to the greater part fine with it ( know one member who struggled, the rest did not) and I was told the church I attended for a short time after moving also felt perfectly comfortable accepting gay people. And I know my daughter’s father-in-law who is C of S has stoutly defended the rights of queer folk to be in relationships and in church, and he is an elder and not the demographic from which one might expect the attitude.

    So it MUST be more complicated than church-going = hostile to gay relationships. Or as you point out, what are the bulk of readers of this blog doing here, and you, and ….

    I wish I understood. Really I do.

    Are lines hardening, do you think? Or is it just a last stand of uber-conservatism.

    • I think that lines are fracturing, actually. The fact that 80% of C of S elders won’t leave if gay folk are treated like anyone else does represent huge change, as I’ve said above.

      The interesting thing about that is that its like that during a time when debate has been stifled in the C of S by this moratorium against speaking in public about it. One of the greatest things that changes people’s minds is whether they know a gay person and hear their experience in their own words. Some won’t be changed by that, but some undoubtedly are. In the C of S, voices have been stifled by the moratorium and inevitably one does not have to think very hard to know gay folk in that ministry who worry that if they are honest and do speak about their experience then their livelihood is at stake.

      When people find a voice the proportions will change even further towards acceptance than they have already done, I’d say.

      Having said that, I think that lines have hardened in our own church amongst the bishops. It seems to me that almost all of them speak differently in private to the way they speak in public, have done so for many years and though they know there is an ugly word for behaving like that can’t figure out quite how to get out of the mire. They also, rather quaintly, sometimes think that it is they who are suffering though all of this. My view is that they won’t get themselves out of the mire on their own. We won’t make much progress until the idea that bishops are ideally placed to rule on same-sex ethics without much attempt to deal in public with same-sex couples, their advocates, family members etc disappears from their minds in a puff of common sense.

  6. Rosemary Hannah says

    ‘Just’ social conservatism then. ‘Just’ issues of gender and sexuality as it has been since the fifties. ‘Just’ the same self-perpetuating self selection. And this one will fall as the others largely have, leaving the churches with too many who believe in a society order which has past, and too few whose hearts and minds flame for God. Same old, same old.

  7. william says

    I think we need to be very careful here when we say things like – “the problem is even worse than that religious people are less accepting of gay people……….”.
    Jesus Himself was not accepting of the self righteous religious young man who came to Him – indeed, He let him walk away – but He still loved him.
    Not to be accepting of homosexual practice within the ministry – which at least must be accepted is a possible deduction to be drawn from Scripture, and so must be an acceptable stance within the Church of Jesus Christ – ought not to be equated with homophobia, far less not yo have an interest in mission. either within or outwith the church.

  8. Schools, hospitals, political parties, churches, doctors’ surgeries, sport, bars, ….

    …all these and more are places where gay folk have not been accepted in the past and in which significant changes either have taken place or are taking place.

    You are unlikely to ever convince me (or I suspect Rosemary) that a non-acceptance of gay folk is acceptable in any sitation. The pressing question for all of us I think at the moment is whether we can live with differences on this issue in the church. That question is one which faces all of us, whatever conclusions we come to about how to read scripture.

  9. Indeed. One is reminded about Santayana’s famous line about people who do not remember history being doomed to repeat it. Worth noting that many young, contemporary evangelicals would be surprised to hear that homosexuality was illegal in Scotland until 1980 – and the Church of Scotland opposed the legalisation, for the same ‘Biblical’ reasons currently invoked. The burden of proof is surely on those who claim that there is no lintrinsic ink between religious opposition to “homosexual practice” (as opposed to perfection? ;-)) and actual anti-gay persecution. If one thinks, as the Vatican is said to do, in centuries, then it wasn’t that long ago that Jewish People and Roman Catholics were being persecuted for ‘Biblical’ Reasons. Part of the problem is surely people who effectively live and think like ‘liberals’ but shy away from the term, analagous, perhaps, to those women who object to the term ‘feminist’ whilst simultaneously only being able to live as they do due to feminism’s victories. Technically speaking, making the Mass illegal was a law against ‘Roman Catholic practise’, but nobody now would claim that it wasn’t persecuting Roman Catholic *people*.

    It is bleakly amusing when certain ‘Orthodox’ groups simultaneously condemn sectarian conflicts and aspire to get back to Scotland’s theocratic blood-stained golden age.

  10. william says

    Ultimately it is of little value if anyone can convince you, or Rosemary!!, about the acceptance or non acceptance of homosexual behaviour – we leave such judgements to the One appointed to that by His Father.
    Our concern is to love one another, engage in mission within and outwith the Church – to the end that we all be conformed to the likeness of Christ.
    Can we agree that’s what we’re about together in the Church?
    It is not a sine qua non of such an approach that homosexual behaviour is given a guarantee by us[!] that it is not sinful in the eyes of God. Nor is it open to us not to “accept” such people – whatever that means – like Jesus, we have to love.
    In other words maybe we should try to get away from the mindset which thinks in terms of acceptance or non acceptance of homosexual people.

  11. What a thought, that Jesus has been appointed by his Father to make judgements about homosexual behaviour. I’d never considered that a possibility.

    As one of those gay folk working in mission and from a diverse congregation, I’m unlikely to get away from the mindset of acceptance or non-acceptance of those who are gay. Its rather fundamental to me after all.

    I do agree that the task is about loving one another and engaging in mission and being conformed to the likeness of Christ. I do think that my own attempts to live out that mission are sometimes impaired by the reputation that the church (often rightly) has, of being vile to people.

  12. william says

    It was good to read that we can agree in our task!
    I sense a poignancy in your saying –
    I’m unlikely to get away from the mindset of acceptance or non-acceptance of those who are gay.
    But think of the concept of acceptance/ non acceptance in areas where you may not feel so personally identified(!)but yet want to be involved –
    thieves, liars, murderers, adulterers, gossips, drunkards.
    Surely the issue that determines our relationships/friendships with any of such is not one of acceptance/ or non acceptance [at least of the people themselves rather than as that with which they are associated!] but rather with our agreed task.
    I’m not at all intending to equate homosexuality with any of the activities listed above [as a lifestyle!!] – rather I’m only in the business of trying to isolate out the attitude of acceptance/non acceptance in our relationships.

    • >I’m not at all intending to equate homosexuality with any of the activities listed above

      And yet you do make that comparison.

      And it is vile and offensive to do so.

  13. Rosemary Hannah says

    You see, William, I never make a comment which equates the non-acceptance of homosexual partnerships with homophobia. I do however, consider it is downright foolish to fail to see that many homosexual relationships are good and blessed and of God. Folly, happily for all of us, is not phobia.

    Making the analogy between faithful partnerships undertaken in the belief they are good and blessed and acts of theft etc etc is – well, let us say it shows where you are coming from. For a start, it shows you believe that gay people undertake their relationships KNOWING they are wrong. And that is just the start.

    Let me put it this way. Dante, when he envisioned himself in Purgatory saw himself suffering the penalty of two of the Deadly Vices. I admit that in essence I am guilty of at least two of the vices you list. However, for the overwhelming length of my life I have not yearned to be personally involved in sex with another woman.

    So, what are you going to say of me? Given you do not that accusation to throw at me, how will you demolish MY arguments?

    Because sadly the church or even the Church is not rejecting gay people on well based arguments, but because some of those who wish to reject them are prepared to fight dirty.

  14. Rosemary Hannah says

    And while I’m at it – nobody can offer a guarantee that any TYPE of relationship is free from sin. Of course a gay couple can have a deeply flawed sinful and exploitative relationship, just as a straight couple can. Two women die each week in the UK as a result of their male partners. ANY relationship can be more sinful than it is good. What I am arguing for is the acceptance that a gay partnership can be just as much source of beauty and growth as a straight one – just as blessed by God.

  15. william says

    Rosemary – I think I can see what you are arguing for in terms of certain relationships, but it seems to me you have overlooked what I was arguing for. [indeed in each comment I’ve made here!]
    I’ve been arguing against the very concept of non acceptance!! – yet you seem to be getting involved with the quality [or otherwise] of the arguments used by those who reject [see your comment – the Church is not rejecting gay people on well based arguments, but because some of those who wish to reject them are prepared to fight dirty.]
    And we would certainly agree that none of us is without sin in anything we do.
    Would we not also agree, as was said earlier, that however poorly our words or our actions may be judged by others, we are about seeking to be conformed to the likeness of our Lord and Saviour.

  16. Rosemary Hannah says

    Acceptance is this.

    A heterosexual young couple turn up and church and the priest says: ‘How lovely! It does me good to see young people so happy and in love. And you are planning your wedding? Well, if you would like us to, we would be happy to help!’

    Non-acceptance is this.

    A homosexual young couple turn up at church and the priest says: ‘Oh, you are together? Well we are happy to welcome you here despite that, you know! And you are planning your wedding? Well, actually, I think you will find it is a Civil Union, and I really don’t think I can bless it. Of course I welcome you as I do all poor sinners, but I cannot affirm the sin.’

    While the script reads like that (mercifully not at St M’s) you are not talking about a situation where there is only love and no question of acceptance or non-acceptance.

    You have a more level playing field where the priest says: ‘Lovely to see you. I am happy to support all couples. We do a series of seminars on the quality of relationships, and I do try to get couples intending to marry to attend, and after that it is down to seeing what the church can do to help you affirm your love in a way that will help you support each afterwards through thick and thin.’ As far as I can see in the church, that is the task of mission in relation to couples. That is us empowering the path of loving commitment.

    When the actuality is non-acceptance, I fail to see how one can speak as though it is not there.

  17. Friend sent me this today, which seems – provocatively – relevant :

  18. There is so much in the above comments that I wholeheartedly agree with, so much warmth and humanity. This is never an easy matter to get to grips with, but the C of S must. Next Monday the Kirk will have an opportunity to take a huge step towards creatign a genuinely more inclusive church – I hope it has the courage to do so.

    As Roy says, blogging is currently difficult for those who are members. However, I’ve decided to speak out on this:

    I would love to see a church free of prejudice and discrimination; the C of S can takle a giant step towards this if it only grasps the chance.

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