Church of Scotland General Assembly Decision

I’ve got a huge amount of respect for the way that the Church of Scotland does its business. That comes from having been a corresponding member of the Presbytery of Perth in my formative years as a priest. I came to the conclusion there that a good moderator could get through more business in 2 hours than our General Synod takes two and a half days to get through. Furthermore, the business at Presbytery would be conducted with everyone having had their say and a great deal of kindness and charity expressed. (And if I noticed a slight tendency towards clerical camp in the debates, I managed to suppress a smile and keep an appropriately earnest visage throughout).

So, it was with some degree of hopefulness that I watched the debate last night from the Church of Scotland Assembly Hall on gay clergy. They decided to impose a ban on gay clergy being ordained or inducted into parishes for two years. That was disappointing but not unexpected. I was just as disappointed that the debate seemed quite confused. I watch a bit of the Assembly every year and know the procedure fairly well. (I have done so to better inform my contribution to the Organizational Review Committee in the Scottish Episcopal Church which until now has been given the task of making suggestions to make our own synods better). To see frustrated people at the end of the debate who had expected a final vote and felt deprived of one was not the highpoint of C of S business. I don’t think it was the Assembly at its best.

The real sting in the tail of the ban on gay people being ordained in the C of S was a gagging clause seeking to stop courts, committees and councils of the Church and those subject to their discipline making any public comment. This is presumed to include ministers and others in the church blogging or making comments on blogs and also making statements to the press.

The Church of Scotland has simply the best educated and most articulate leaders that any church could hope for. To gag them seems like madness from outside the church. I expect there will be an outbreak of anonymous comments and blogging and people speaking to the media but refusing to be quoted directly. All in the name of encouraging debate. The media coverage that the C of S has had recently has been excellent. Any chance of directly influencing the way the media report on this aspect of the life of the C of S has been surprisingly squandered. There will be no way to correct bad reporting and that is hardly going to help. And blogging is a way of encouraging debate. Stifle at your peril, I say.

The actual decision about clergy was all too predictable. Yesterday was a day on which some of those most opposed to gay clergy were reported as bullying the Church of Scotland with the threat of withdrawing financial resources. The church then took the decision to scapegoat gay people who have vocations and to ban them from taking up public office and all the while silencing those most affected.

Welcome to our world, sisters and brothers. Welcome to our world.