The Church of Scotland General Assembly

vcAfter several hours of debate yesterday, commissioners at the Church of Scotland General Assembly voted by 351 to 294 to adopt a proposal which means a move towards the acceptance for training, induction and ordination of those in same-sex relationships for the ministry. The Assembly also voted by 393 to 252 to allow ministers and deacons in same-sex relationships ordained before 2009 to be inducted into pastoral charges.

A theological commission will be set up to bring recommendations to the 2013 General Assembly, as well as considering whether ministers should have freedom of conscience to bless civil partnerships and possible liturgy for such occasions.  As nothing has been formally enacted, the proposals do not need to consult the Kirk’s 46 presbyteries under the Barrier Act, but it does mark a significant departure from the Church’s traditional teaching, as acknowledged by the Commission’s report.

In presenting the report of the Special Commission, the convenor, Lord Patrick Hodge, reported that the commission had received a letter from the Presbyterian Church in Ireland confirming that their position was that sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman are sinful. The PCI Moderator, Dr Norman Hamilton, spoke in the debate yesterday and affirmed the position of the Irish Presbyterian Church.

While the debate was well managed by the Moderator, Dr David Arnott, some of the speeches confirmed my worst fears about the views of many within the Church of Scotland. “We know better than the Bible” was the tone of one speech, and, as one speaker said, since the Bible had got it wrong on slavery, the role of women, and the death penalty for adultery, we should not be afraid to discard what it says about homosexuality. The speaker insisted that current scientific evidence makes it clear that homosexuality is perfectly natural and not sinful, and therefore homosexuals should not be barred from leadership in the church. Another speaker referred to the pastoral and prophetic insights of bisexual and transgender people.

One feels for the many conservative and evangelical people within the Church of Scotland who must be very hurt and depressed by their Assembly’s decision. The conservative voice was not prominent in the debate and an amendment by Rev Martin Allen was overwhelmingly rejected. What the response of the conservative wing of the Church of Scotland will be is unclear, but if ministers, elders and congregations withdraw in numbers as a result of this decision, it may seriously damage the Kirk. The evidence is that this kind of schism has not happened in the recent past, and may not happen now.

Undoubtedly this decision will affect how Irish Presbyterians view their Scottish counterparts, and the links with both the Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) following their recent decisions may become an issue for debate and discussion within PCI.

18 Replies to “The Church of Scotland General Assembly”

  1. Hi Stafford, I read a report of this in the Scottish and National Press last night; and was greatly saddened by what I was reading. Thanks for a much clearer picture of what actually took place in the debate. Difficult days ahead for conservative and evangelical colleagues in Scotland – what would the greats of the past think about where the Kirk is today?

  2. Thanks for this post, Stafford. It’s good to see that David Arnott made a good hand of moderating the debate.
    As far as the outcome is concerned, I’m actually rather pleased to see this sign of movement in Scots Presbyterianism beyond ‘traditional teaching’. The ‘greats of the past’ did not have a monopoly on wisdom and, I dare say, had a different handle on some other issues in their day. In any case, I do hope that it is the case that it is SOME Irish Presbyterians who will be looking askance across at their the narrow water, not all!

  3. Good post Stafford. I watched a substantial amount of yesterday’s debate and was grieved by so much of what I heard – and particularly by the final outcome. There were views expressed that were entirely irreconcilable with a church that claims to take the Bible seriously. The Church of Scotland has established a trajectory that will undoubtedly lead it further and further from orthodoxy in all areas of its life. It makes me wonder if PCI ought not to establish a trajectory that would lead to the severing of our (admittedly symbolic) ties?

  4. As painful as it is for evangelicals in Scotland, perhaps it is time for congregations to consider moving? Or at least refusing to support the central funding of the Kirk?

    Experience shows us that when denominations take such liberal positions, they eventually die. Look at liberal presbyterians in the States, Canada and Australia (the Uniting Church). Stafford correctly reminded us at the summer special assembly last year, that growing churches particularly in the developing world all hold to an orthodox line on sexual and theological matters.

  5. Thanks for that, Stafford. Many friends of ours are heart broken and confused, trying to work ourt where to go from here. What we msu hope for is that there’s not knee jerk reaction but that whatever happens is totally shaped by a desire to see Scotland brought back tiothe values that once made it great.

  6. Brothers, I write as a C of S minister but originally from Moneydig, Garvagh and brought up through the PCI. Please pray for those of us who are sick at heart and grieved to the marrow of our being by this gross and blasphemous insult to the Lordship of Christ. I cannot say too much on a public blog, but I can assure you there are many for whom this moment will turn out to a decisive and significant one. Let it also be a warning to the PCI – don’t ever, ever think it could never happen to you. If you let liberalism go unchallenged for the sake of ‘peace’ or politeness, if you let liberal theology in through the backdoor, clothed in evangelical language, if you are ever tempted to turn a blind eye to a colleague who is going off the rails, if you are tempted to engage in dialogue with those with whom communion should be broken….resist; stand firm; do it graciously, yes, but do it. Don’t let cowardice masquerade as wisdom or fear of man prove to be a snare.

  7. I hope Denis tewart realises MANY members of P.C.I. are greatly concerned at the events of Tuesday and will pray for those who stand firm on the message proclaimed in God’s Wd that, while we were sinners, Christ died for us.

  8. Dr Carson I consider myself a liberal in our Church and would repectfuly not agree with all of your views eg the role of women and ecunemism. However, I am with you on this one – it is a step too far and wholly unjustifiable

  9. Hi Stafford,
    you won’t remember me but we met at a WARC Conference in Geneva in 1981! I am a minister in the C of S – just across the water in Kintyre (and incidentally my granny came from Belfast!). Yes, it was a wretched decision and a grievous blow. We are clearly a divided house in the C of S; some of us are ministers with divided Sessions, and we evangelicals will need great wisdom, grace and courage as we think and pray over the result.
    Thank you for such a crystal clear analysis of what happened, and for your prayerful concern – and that of so many in the PCI!
    Thanks too James and Noel for your timely words.
    Blessings . . . .

  10. Aside from the homosexuality hot potato, are there other issues that PCI and CofS are failing to focus on that should be equally exercising the doctrinal and ethical minds of the denominations?

    We do seem to spend so much more time worrying about sexuality than doing anything practical to realise Jesus desire – as relayed time and time again in the four gospels – for us to look after the poor and put them ahead of ourselves.

  11. Although the sexuality question is debated at the moment, the bigger question relates to what consitutes authority in our respective Kirks. Are we Bible based or not? And if we are selective about what God does or doesn’t say about sexuality (in this instance) then we place our subjective moral concerns above His.

    This debate has taken place not because evangelicals are pursuing a stringent doctrinal campaign of purity in the Church, but because decision makers have departed from orthodox Biblical teaching and have therefore forced the issue themselves.

    However as you indicate Alan, as evangelicals we need to examine our position on a wide range of issues relating to social justice, our environment, family life, education all in light of the Gospel, which calls us to continual reformation.

  12. Alan may be interested to know that we run a community outreach project from St Rollox Church which provides cheap clothing and food, offers classes in English and computing, a drop-in cafe as well as opportunities for non-Christians to examine the gospel claims concerning Jesus. Our drop-in cafe today led straight on to a Cxty Explored course where 7 Iranians (6 M’lims and 1 former M’lim), 2 Sikh ladies and a few Glaswegians sat around God’s Word. The problem in the C of S is not that the poor have been forgotten. If anything it is that the message of repentance, faith and new life in Christ has been drowned in a sea of social work.

  13. Thank you Stafford. This has been coming for many years. When Scripture is seen no longer to be absolutely authoritative and sufficient in matters of faith and life, history tells you and shows you the inevitable trajectory.
    It would surely be foolish merely to see this lamentable decision in isolation from the evangelical refusal and reluctance to confront liberalism. It was never “enough” to preach the word – at least our spiritual forefathers in every age of history, within and without of God’s word, believed so. The Reformers chose rather to die (never mind leave pulpits) rather than keep a low profile. And many Puritans, 2000 of them, chose a wilderness rather than submit to the Act of Uniformity (they had a great consolation: God always sets a table in the wilderness for his people). I have never advocated secession. But I do advocate going where the word of God takes us, whatever any church court may say. Courtesy and humility must never be absent from a gospel minister, but neither must boldness and a sacrificial spirit.
    What will happen next? I am not sure if any one course of action is the obvious and right one. One thing is sure, we have God’s age-old promise, “Those who honour me, I will honour”.

  14. So what is the rationale for keeping symbolic ties with the PCUSA and CoS? Why don’t you change to have ties with the PCA and/or OPC etc? But why have any ‘symbolic ties’?. What is the point really?

  15. Gary Millar and Scott Woodburn – thank you for your fortright and refereshing comments on this matter at the PCI assembly. Norman Hamilton and John Dunlop, stop trying to avoid grasping the nettle.

  16. Our contemporary culture mocks sin, denies sin, excuses sin, defends sin, ignores sin, rationalises sin, enjoys sin, flaunts sin, promotes sin, glorifies sin, applauds sin, redefines sin, relabels sin… but God hates sin. Ultimately it cost Him the life of His own beloved Son

    Norman Hamilton and John Dunlop – time to graspp the nettle!

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