Church of Scotland Debate

I’ve spent much of today listening to the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly debating their Special Theological Commission that had been set up a couple of years ago to report on the way forward for that church with regard to the possibility of gay people to be ordained and inducted and to have their partnerships blessed by that church.

Three proposals emerged. The first two were in the report itself and labelled rather unsatisfactorily as the Revisionist (option A) and the Traditionalist (option B) position. Option A allows what tends to be called a mixed economy by which that church could eventually allow ministers in civil partnerships to be appointed to churches and gay couples in civil partnerships to be allowed to have their partnerships blessed. Option B would not though anyone who happened to be in a Civil Partnership already would probably not be hounded out of their ministry but no new minister in a civil partnership could be inducted or ordained. The third position emerged during the day and was moved in the name of Albert Bogle. (Confusingly it was option D – another motion C had been proposed and then was withdrawn during the process). This option D was a proposal to reaffirm the traditionalist view on these matters whilst allowing individual Kirk Sessions to opt to do as they like and choose such a minister anyway.

In each case, these were not final votes. The procedures of the Church of Scotland mean that where there are significant changes accepted by a General Assembly they then have to be put to the presbyteries of the church. The final position only emerges if a majority of presbyteries concur during the subsequent year and also the next General Assembly confirms the vote. (If a majority of the presbyteries do not concur then the process fails).

Option B fell in the first round of voting.

The commissioners of the Assembly then opted for Option D.

My own feeling is that this was a very hastily patched together compromise that is an astonishing move for the church to make.

It effectively means that the Church of Scotland has chosen by 340 to 282 to go down a path which delays the decision for another year and which is theologically incoherent and unexamined by the Commission which had been set up to consider these matters.

It means that the Church of Scotland has affirmed that it believes something whilst also giving permission to kirk sessions in the church to ignore that doctrine and do something diametrically opposed to what the church says it believes. It is not merely an untidy compromise, it is ecclesiastically and theologically incoherent.

The Church of Scotland became more congregational in its polity today. Some may feel that there are frightening implications for those in that church who support the ordination of women as ministers and elders. What else is going to become a matter of congregational choice?

All this now goes to presbyteries under the Barrier Act. (After next year’s Assembly, if I’ve understood this right).

It may be that some will leave the Church of Scotland because they have affirmed a plan that would allow that church to have gay ministers in some congregations even though the church has affirmed that doctrinally it believes that this is wrong.

It seems to me quite likely that presbyteries may refuse to affirm the proposal.

This matter was not resolved in either direction in the Church of Scotland today.


  1. Margaret of the Sea of Galilee says

    So someone can wake up this morning with a half-baked, hastily-put-together idea, convince his bureaucratic fox of a colleague to pull HIS compromise, (2c) …and people voted for it!
    The C of S look stupider than if 2b had passed with a whopping majority.

    AND we have 2 more years to wait!

    No gin for me tonight!

    • So pleased someone else understands what actually happened.

      No gin for anyone.

      • Margaret of the Sea of Galilee says

        “…gay [and lesbian] ministers in some congregations even though the Kirk has affirmed that doctrinally it believes this is wrong”
        Well, RE-affirmed actually, as of tonight.

        Why spend so many years of Committee work on what is a no-brainer question for any thinking Christian and THEN disregard their so-called findings? And at the last minute.
        Which they couldn’t even agree on anyway.
        Who ever heard of TWO opposite recommendations to Assembly?
        And now 4 more years of LGBTQ exclusion or more if you start counting from 2009!

        And they had the hutzpa to say that Good Little Evangelicals are feeling the Kirk is not accepting them for The Ministry or they are not offering themselves coz of “the Gayz”

  2. Rosemary Hannah says

    It is the insane desire to make no decision which will hurt anybody, and which leads to everybody being hurt. It is a feeling that if everybody is upset, and no decision is made, then this must be the right thing.

    For the record, I can see why people who are rejected for who they are are deeply hurt. I would be. On occasion though not on this issue, I have been. I utterly fail to see why finding you are in communion with somebody you deeply disagree with should cause you pain at all. That is the Christian condition. I have always been in communion with people whose opinions I thought were wrecking my church. All my Christian life.

    • Jackie Heatlie says

      Rosemary, it’s good to hear you affirming the tolerance necessary for members of a heterogenous congregation when going through challenging times. How privileged we are to belong to a richly diverse community.

  3. Scott Rennie says

    Kelvin, I agree with much of what you say in terms of procedure and the disconnect between what the church apparently believes and does. It is messy no doubt, and not what I would have preferred.

    On the other hand it would be churlish not to admit that today the ‘traditionalists’, by their own initiative conceded liberty of conscience and moved for permissive legislation, which the assembly then backed. The bottom line, however one frames it, is that the Kirk has moved and is moving. Have we reached the promised land? No. But I tell you – we are crossing that Jordan river.

    Best wishes to you, and thanks for all your ecumenical encouragement to those of us in the Kirk.

  4. Morag says

    No matter which proposal had been adopted by Assembly it would have been sent to Presbytery for discussion/approval – thats just how the C of S does things. So there was never gonna be an answer at this year’s Assembly.

    Also, I personally know the person who wrote proposal c and he’s got a pretty sharp mind so would not have been “duped” into withdrawing unless his proposal was extremely close to that of d. Which incidentally Rev Albert Bogle has now gone on record as saying he didn’t put in earlier because he didn’t think it was appropriate for the Moderator of the General Assembly to move proposals while still in post and he didn’t demit office till Saturday!

    In practice I don’t think it’ll be accepted by enough presbyteries to go through, but at least someone tried for a compromise.

    • Margaret of the Sea of Galilee says

      So how come it looked like he’d scribbled it on the back of a cigarette packet over breakfast.
      And who facilitated this bureaucracy-wise for him and why?
      This is definitely not how things are done in the CofS or any Reformed outfit.
      Who woke up this morning saying to themselves “How did that HAPPEN?” And not just Our Sort either.

  5. Morag says

    And to clarify something said above, the proposal goes to presbytery at the end of the General Assembly 2013, they all have to report back in time for their answer to be given at General Assembly 2014, and in the unlikely event that enough presbyteries are in favour it would then be ratified at the 2014 meeting and come into effect thereafter.

    If they don’t get enough presbyteries in favour then the Assembly Hall explodes in a great plume of panic and further bureaucracy 😉

    • I don’t think you are right about the dates, Morag.

      Check out the text again – (it is here)

      The overture will be brought to next General Assembly in 2014 and this will then go down to presbyteries and then come back to GA in 2015.

      That is one of the reasons that I think this was rather like a wrecking amendment. It also introduced new ways in which this could fail – ie the overture needs to be passed next year too.

  6. Joan H Craig says

    Some of us will be having a double gin in an attempt to revive the will to live.
    I can’t see how the GA would ever have dealt with the theological Commission’s report. It may well have been a more disastrous day if Bogle hadn’t come up with his motion.
    A congregation’s right to choose its own minister is fundamental. Yes, we are utterly congregational.

  7. Peter Nimmo says

    Kelvin, the worst was avoided. A very traditionalist position was rejected. That’s progress, even if it isn’t as fast many would have preferred.

    • I’m not saying that the worst was not avoided. I am saying this is an incoherent thing to do and one that though not the worst that could have happened falls a very long way short of the way that most of the media is reporting it.

      I remain unpersuaded that the C of S can get itself in a position whereby a kirk session can insist on a particular minister who happens to be gay when its presbytery does not want ministers who happen to be gay. It was said this afternoon that this would be the consequence of these plans but I just don’t see how that can be so.

      • Augur Pearce says

        That last point was, I think, addressed yesterday, though the Overture drafted for next year will have to give a more black-and-white answer. It was either the Procurator or the Principal Clerk who said that, as she/he understood it, both proposals A and D meant that the presbytery’s right to withhold concurrence in a Call would not be exercisable on the sole ground of the candidate’s civil partnership.


  1. […] They voted a few minutes ago in favour of a convoluted neither yes nor no option that Kelvin has explained better than I can attempt to. This has been an ongoing debate in the Church of Scotland for over a decade, but particularly […]

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