What the Church of Scotland decided today

Well, a significant debate in the Church of Scotland today on questions relating to ministers in same-sex relationships and also with regard to ministers who are looking to bless couples in same-sex relationships.

They have chosen a very modest step forward. It’s not a great triumph for the cause, but the alternative was worse.

So, how to understand what they actually did? (Don’t read the newspapers, as they are not all accurate. The Guardian is particularly culpable with an inaccurate and ridiculous report on its website claiming that the Church of Scotland has voted to allow gay ministers. It hasn’t).

So, what did they do?
Well, first of all if you want to understand this you need to read the report. You can find it here. At the start of it you can find the “deliverances” which are the various clauses that the church was debating today. I think that they all passed without amendment, so what you see at the start of that report is what they’ve now agreed. Except, and here is the crucial point, they chose option B for Clause 7 not option A.

They’ve agreed to have a new Theological Commission on same-sex issues. I don’t think that many people expect this new Commission to resolve everything, but they have given the Commission a trajectory – suggested a path to follow. What the Assembly agreed today was this:

Resolve to consider further the lifting of the moratorium on the acceptance for training and ordination of persons in a same-sex relationship, and to that end instruct the Theological Commission to prepare a report for the General Assembly of 2013 containing:
(i) a theological discussion of issues around same-sex relationships, civil partnerships and marriage;
(ii) an examination of whether, if the Church were to allow its ministers freedom of conscience in deciding whether to bless same-sex relationships involving life-long commitments, the recognition of such lifelong relationships should take the form of a blessing of a civil partnership or should involve a liturgy to recognise and celebrate commitments which the parties enter into in a Church service in addition to the civil partnership, and if so to recommend liturgy therefor;
(iii) an examination of whether persons, who have entered into a civil partnership and have made lifelong commitments in a Church ceremony, should be eligible for admission for training, ordination and induction as ministers of Word and Sacrament or deacons in the context that no member of Presbytery will be required to take part in such ordination or induction against his or her conscience; and to report to the General Assembly of 2013.

They have also agreed not to inhibit the induction to a congregation of ministers who were ordained before 2009 who happen to be in a same-sex relationship. This means that clergy in that position are not “stuck” in a place unable to consider a call to a new ministry whilst the work of the Theological Commission goes on. It will be for a further Assembly to decide what to do about any such persons. There was considerable debate about this, with many conservative commentators saying that it was going to open the floodgates and that there would be ministers in openly acknowledged same-sex coupledom being inducted in presbyteries up and down the land with all the concommitant fallout that this would bring. One Commissioner even said that the delivererance would allow him to leave his wife, take up with a man and still be inducted to a new charge.

They did make it rather sound as though the Church of Scotland was a hotbed of hitherto undisclosed gay couples in manses and that being gay was such fun that even the straight ministers of the kirk were dying to give it a go.

All in all the best possible outcome. It was a triumph of process rather than a triumph for the gay cause. However each step forward makes the journey possible and my good wishes go to all my presbyterian friends for a well conducted debate and a good outcome.