Where does the Church of Scotland stand?

It has been a pretty confusing 24 hours for the Church of Scotland. My prediction yesterday morning that the news would be reported inaccurately was bang on. There have been very many reports in the media about the Church of Scotland that have been inaccurate. And you know what? The media are not the ones to blame.

Yesterday afternoon after a very long debate the Church of Scotland thanked the Special Theological Commission that it had set up to examine whether blessings of gay couples could be permitted and issues around the ordination of gay clergy in relationships. Rather than accepting either of the proposals from that Commission, they adopted a hastily cobbled together deliverance which I think seemed to the Commissioners to be a compromise.

Then the press got hold of the wrong end of the stick, led by the BBC which reported the news entirely inaccurately. Robert Piggott was on the TV all last night saying that the Church of Scotland had changed its policy on gay ministers but that some congregations could opt not to have them. In fact it was the reverse – they accepted a proposal to bring plans to a subsequent 2 Assemblies to maintain the view that the Church of Scotland does not accept gay relationships but that individual Kirk Sessions (ie the elders in a congregation) could have a minister in a gay relationship anyway if they really wanted one.

I think it is one of the greatest attempts at Doublethink since the Church of England allowed women to be ordained but allowed some people in the Church to think they hadn’t been ordained.

This kind of thing does the churches no good. When decisions like this are made it seems like a compromise, which appeals to people who don’t want to hurt or upset anyone and who think that the fundamental thing that needs to be done is to keep the church together.

Yesterday the Church of Scotland decided to follow a path towards crucifying its own internal integrity. You can’t expect to flourish if you say that something is doctrinally wrong but that you’ll turn a blind eye to congregations doing it anyway. It means you’ve lost sight of what truth is. And that isn’t really suppose to be an option for God’s people.

As an Anglican, I obviously don’t say that from a position of any superiority. Indeed, we tolerate things in the Anglican Churches which are just as bad and worse.

The question was asked yesterday as to what happens if a congregation want a minister who happens to be gay but a presbytery doesn’t want a person who happens to be gay. The answer came from the top table that the presbytery could not overule a kirk session. I find it almost impossible to understand how this will work in practise. A friend gave me the example that currently a presbytery cannot refuse to ordain a woman – being female is not grounds for refusing to ordain or induct according to the highest court of that church so therefore such an ordination cannot be presented. I simply don’t see how a General Assembly can affirm a “traditionalist” anti-gay position and then insist that a presbytery has to ordain someone because a local kirk session demands it.

It is certainly the case that yesterday the Church of Scotland accepted that some people are gay. However, it didn’t really deal with it. It accepted that some people affirm gay people but still affirmed a position which condemns that affirmation.

The Moderator of the General Assembly, Lorna Hood is being quoted as saying “This is a massive vote for the peace and unity of the Church.”

It seems to this outsider looking in on the General Assembly that its own moderator hasn’t understood what it was she was presiding over yesterday. This is a decision that will be challenged next year, challenged at every presbytery through the subsequent year and challenged and fought over at the following Assembly. Then, even if it succeeds, it will be challenged inevitably through cases brought to further Assemblies. This isn’t peace, it is a vote to enshrine the war in the life of the church for the forseeable future.


  1. Robin says

    I understand your sentiments, but both on this issue and on the ordination of women in the Church of England the weary words of Mrs Boyle in Sean O’Casey’s ‘Juno and the Paycock’ in reply to her son, who scorns the Irish Free State and wants an Irish Republic or nothing, are inclined to come to mind:

    “To be sure, to be sure — no bread’s a lot better than half a loaf.”

  2. I think you’re right to think this is a disastrously wrong-headed attempt to avoid having to think the issue through, although we may not agree on what would be involved in such thinking (almost nobody agrees with me!)

    I think we need to revisit some pretty fundamental problems on the nature of the moral authority of the Bible, the meaning of “salvation” and what ministry is to make any real progress with this issue and there appears to be depressingly little appetite to do this in a spirit of mutual trust and of trust in the leading of the Spirit guiding our interpretation of scripture


  3. Frank keefe says

    This is what happens when you water down Gods truth so the secular world will think what a progressive church you are.When a small secular wedge is pushed under a church door you can bet a larger one will be pushed under it in the not to distant future.I believe a liberal minded church like the Church of Scotland is more dangerous to the Christian faith than atheists like Richard Dawkins and his followers. Jesus found it hard to convince the Pharisees of their misguided beliefs if He walked our earth today He would find those modern day Pharisees in the Church of Scotland even harder to convince.

    • Rosemary Hannah says

      Well, there you go – I think the exact opposite – that Jesus, who plucked corn, and healed, on the Sabbath, would be out partying tonight with all sorts of disreputable people. The Pharisees were the people who stuck rigidly to the law, breaking it even as they kept it. Jesus was the one who re-interpreted it.

      • Frank keefe says

        I find it amazing how those who look for sin to be accepted would try and use Jesus to back them up.First Jesus said the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath.The Pharisees abused Gods law with their legalism.Its why He said about the rescue of a sheep on that day.He didnt re-interpret it He was showing them how it SHOULD BE KEPT as God ALWAYS intended it.Its the church who is doing the interpretation and Jesus certainly wouldnt be “out partying” such disrespect of our Lords holiness is often the way with liberal ” Christians” Instead of the church being a light to the world that worlds darkness is putting out that light.

  4. It’s a fudge, no doubt. And one which, far from preserving the “traditional” Kirk actually serves to undermine it in a number of ways, particularly concerning the status of “doctrine” and who gets to determine what it is, or at least what practical meaning it is for something to be “doctrine” rather than merely a personal religious sentiment. Explicitly to permit complete deviation from “doctrine” by congregations is not very Presbyterian, and the “traditionalists” either didn’t seem to realise that, or they care about preserving substantial doctrines at the expense of, well, what makes the Kirk the Kirk.

    To an extent, though, you could see it coming. I think the traditionalist wing sensed they would lose if it was a straight choice (unfortunate phrase) between 2A and 2B, and so tried to push for something that retains a symbolic attachment to historical doctrine whilst letting liberals have the lion’s share of the cake they want, which is to be able to ordain those in committed same-sex relationships and to be done with it. I know for a fact that a fair whack of liberal commissioners were swayed by 2D (not including my parents, who are CofS ministers who voted with option 2A), many seeing it as a way of letting the traditionalists have some sort of phyric victory whilst in fact enabling ministers to be in civil partnerships without any lasting problems. It is much more likely that 2D will make it through Barrier Act procedure now that it’s got the traditionalists’ name on it, and notwithstanding the extra year it’s going to take to turn it into a proper overture, I think the consensus of the Kirk is that they really want to stop talking about this.

    The new system ought to be fairly robust once the Legal Questions Committee have had their teeth dug into it. The clear intention was conceded by the movers that they did not intend for Presbyteries to be able to discipline or annul decisions made by Kirk Sessions seeking to be allowed to appoint ministers in civil partnerships, and for a lot of liberals (and actually, a lot of those on the conservative wing too) this will be seen as a critical part of the compromise if it is to be laid to rest. My only real concern is that if the traditionalists are for any reason unhappy with the implementation by LQC it could lead to the whole debate re-opening in GA 2014.

    It’s clearly not enough for many liberal ministers, elders and members of the Church of Scotland, for whom this still presents a partial sense of “separate not equal” for congregation and minister alike, and it probably makes it more difficult for the theological position of the kirk formally to be moved away from same sex relationships being sinful, now that the “practical harms” are in a significant sense out of the way, but by Church of Scotland standards, it’s a major step forward for a very broad church, and one which has probably saved it from a major schism (though a handful of churches may still leave over and above The Tron and Gilc South). For those of us in the Kirk 5 years ago, this would have been virtually unthinkable, and momentum has picked up since the Rennie case 4 years ago. The good fight goes on, and hurdles remain, but if it gets through Barrier Act procedure I think the practical objectives, in a Kirk which already offers substantial liberty of personal opinion in matters of doctrine which do not enter into the substance of faith, have largely been met, albeit in a roundabout way.

    For more of my thoughts on this matter, see:




  5. Margaret of the Sea of Galilee says

    And it still does not properly address how LGBTQ people (single or in civil partnerships) will be dealt with (dealt to?) when they offer themselves to Presbyteries as feeling called to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. Will they be asked about their orientation? Questioned? Interrogated? What responses will allow them to or prevent them from pursuing that call?

    Who is this Albert Bogle anyway – is he about to become the first to be beatified by the Kirk and for what exactly? By-passing (even disregarding) Kirk “Order”, convincing his important friends to let him bulldoze ahead and his less important friends to print off 700 and something copies of a Deliverance which is incoherent and unimplementable.
    Off to read Revelation for other signs of The End Times…

  6. Kelvin, you make lots of good points in your post. But just to clarify- what is the doctrine and practice of the Scottish Episcopal Church on this issue? Does your doctrine approve of persons in civil partnerships being clergy, and is that put into practice?

    • Yes – there are quite a number of clergy in civil partnerships. In England, Anglican clergy in civil partnerships are supposed to declare that they are “celibate”. That isn’t the case in Scotland.

      The pension scheme in Scotland recognises Civil Partnerships by giving such partners the same benefits as wives or husbands in marriages. Civil Partners also are treated in the same way with regard to housing as a straight spouse if a relationship breaks down.

      Any candidate for ordination who is in a Civil Partnership is expected to be honest about that at selection.

      The bishops of the church announced a few years ago that they would not consecrate anyone as bishop who was in a Civil Partnership. They were clear at the time that this was a moratorium. However it is not clear to me whether that moratorium still stands. I do expect there to be questions about that at the coming Synod.

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