A good debate

Yesterday, the General Assembly of PCI passed a resolution in which it “viewed with concern” the direction of the Church of Scotland General Assembly to move towards approving those in same-sex relationships as being eligible for the ministry. The resolution was proposed by Very Rev Dr John Lockington, and seconded by Rev Nigel McCullough (Hill St Lurgan), who both spoke in a very measured way about the important link between PCI and the Church of Scotland and the overall feeling of dismay and sadness that the Church of Scotland would consider allowing congregations to call openly gay or lesbian ministers.

The Church of Scotland Moderator, The Right Rev Dr David Arnott, responded to the proposed resolution and made an excellent speech. Those who watched the debate in Edinburgh had been impressed by the dignified and gracious way in which he had chaired their Assembly. He confirmed that their Assembly had set up a theological commission to report on the theological perspectives on same-sex relationships at their 2013 General Assembly. He reminded the Assembly of the point that was well-made in Edinburgh that in any controversy there is no “them and us”, it’s just “us”.

In concluding his warm-hearted remarks, Dr Arnott apologised to the Assembly that he would have to leave the debate early in order to catch up with his Aunt Mary who had travelled to Belfast from County Tyrone to see her moderatorial nephew. Interestingly, Dr Lockington the proposer of the resolution, confirmed that he was Aunt Mary’s former minister, underscoring again the many personal and familial connections between PCI and the Church of Scotland.

There were a number of excellent speeches to follow. Rev Scott Woodburn (Edengrove, Ballynahinch), in a lively and humorous speech, called on the Assembly to be clear in its stance, and to adopt an aggressive stance on this important issue. Subsequent speakers thought that the military metaphor was inappropriate and could easily be misinterpreted. Rev Cheryl Meban (Chaplain UU) wanted the church to affirm a genuinely caring and compassionate attitude towards those who had same-sex attractions.

Rev Chris Kennedy (Dun Laoghaire) reflected on our sinful brokenness, whether heterosexual or homosexual, and affirmed the importance of maintaining a clear position on the biblical doctrine of marriage. Rev Eddie Kirk (1st Ahoghill) spoke of Christ’s grace to the sinful woman, and of his word of command to her, “Go and sin no more.” Rev Dr Gary Millar (Howth and Malahide) spoke of the significance of the Church of Scotland’s decision and how that those who had called for a deferral of any move were voted down. As a result many people were within that denomination were greatly distressed with the direction their church had taken. Several speakers referred to remarks made in the Church of Scotland debate that “we know better than the Bible”.

The out-going Moderator, Dr Norman Hamilton, who had been present in Edinburgh for the debate, confirmed what he had written in his report to the Assembly:

“There is a widespread view that the traditionalist position on the ordination of those who are gay/lesbian was rejected for what was described as the “revisionist” position…The traditionalist view was articulated by many in the Kirk and by every visiting delegate who spoke (myself included) and there is no doubt that many of those who hold this position within the Church of Scotland seem seriously demoralised and deeply apprehensive about future developments.

It also has to be said however that the Assembly was unambiguously clear that there should be no antagonism towards or marginalisation of those who are gay/lesbian within congregations. This is as important a principle for us in PCI as it is for the Church of Scotland.”

By passing this resolution, PCI has not only distanced itself from the trajectory taken by the Church of Scotland, but has indirectly affirmed its position on the qualifications required of those holding office in the church, believing that the Bible is clear in its statements on God’s will for us with regard to sexual relationships.

But the tone of the debate reflected a real desire to be gospel-centred in our message, and to recognise the struggles that many experience with regard to sexual attractions, whether homosexual or heterosexual. We follow a Saviour of whom it was said, “This man welcomes sinners” (Luke 15:1).

8 Replies to “A good debate”

  1. Thank you for the comment on the debate. It requires less courage for me to write a comment on a blog about the debate than it would do to speak in it! I did not see the original Church of Scotland debate referenced.

    I have associations with Scotland, having studied in St Andrew’s and Aberdeen (where I did my theology). I have also a brother in the COS ministry and a Scottish sister-in-law. Many within the COS hope we exercise pressure on their behalf, their view being that the nature of those arguing pro-same sex ordination makes them most formidable opponents indeed. PCI must continue to be strong (and probably even stronger) in standing with beleaguered folk seeking to be faithful to Scripture across there. It is a small step from the COS denying Scripture on sexual relations to denying Scripture on the person of Jesus to complete atheism.

    Something that has been striking me is that we are perhaps not affirmative enough about God’s great creation plan of the heterosexual way (Adam is prompted to stupefied poetry in Genesis 2: 23 at the wonder of God’s creation of a female companion for his needs)and hence we allow ourselves to be caricatured as people who have just a few proof texts from Leviticus and Romans on our side, rather than the whole very positive sweep of Scripture.

    Yes, it was a good debate and suggests some healthy things about PCI; but we must not be complacent about the call to be faithful in standing with our beleaguered friends in the Gospel across the Irish Sea.

  2. This is such a difficult debate to have, although as Norman rightly pointed out, we need to learn to have that debate, as we are still only scratching the surface. Norman also pointed out that in his view, as in my own, that this is not a theological issue but a pastoral one.

    My fear is that in aggressively defending Scriptural truth, we neglect pastoral grace and love. Whilst Scott’s speech yesterday was full of good intent, calling for the defence of truth, Cheryl very rightly pointed out that the language and attitude can often be misinterpreted. We do need to learn to be very careful to reflect Jesus in both his truth, and his grace. I was delighted to see many of the speakers speak in this way. I am very grateful to John Lockington and Nigel McCullough for setting the tone for the debate, with very careful and sensitive words.

  3. Neal Wilkinson can i ask, and maybe to Norman Hamilton as well, how can something be Pastoral and not theological? Surely our Pastoral response comes form our theological understanding? After all you talk alot about the need for Grace in our response, but is that in itself not a theological statement?
    I don’t see how we can make a difference between our theological understanding from our pastoral concern? Are they not two sides of the same coin?

  4. Can someone honestly explain to me why nobody has referred back to the BSW contribution on pastoral guidelines for Homosexuality debated over the last couple of years?

    We know how to deal with this issue. The Bible is clear. Certainly lets condemn phobias and careless language. But the issue in Scotland, PCUSA and here is about innerancy and Lordship.

  5. @Bryan Kee

    Bryan, yeah I guess you’re absolutely right. They are two sides of the same coin. Perhaps I’d be better so sum up my views in saying that I think the danger is neglecting the theology of grace and redemption.

  6. I am tempted to say that the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has lost the plot on human sexuality, but the truth is even more damning. PCI has consistently participated in the abuse of gay people by its resolutions and its indifference. Just as the denomination changed its mind on women’s ordination, I predict it will change its mind on gay ordination too. It will take 20 more years but it will happen. 20 years after every other mainstream Presbyterian denomination in the world has changed its mind.

    When anyone tells us the bible is clear on this issue, I know immediately that they are under-educated in the study of Scriptures. We are regularly told that the Bible is clear on excluding women for the same reason. It is not clear on either issue, because these ancient texts need to be interpreted and interpretations differ on the texts dealing with gender and sexuality just as they differ on many other texts.

    So let’s have no more statements telling the rest of us that there is no biblical room for debate. Instead, why don’t Irish presbyterians invite pro-gay evangelical theologians to their Assembly and listen to them explain why they changed their reading of the bible.

  7. Sinful brokenness is probably a great place to start with this debate. Likewise, to use the words of the GLBT communities equality. Everyone is the same before God and all should be subject to His word.

    The qualifications of an Elder, including our “teaching” elders, are set out in scriptures, 1 Tim 3:1-7 would be a good starting point:

    “the overseer (elder) is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.. etc”

    The key question must be asked, are these standards adhered to – in all cases. Are all candidates, regardless of sexuality, asked, before God, to examine themselves and answer do they meet this standard? If they cannot affirm this before God then they cannot be an elder. Likewise if any candidate for the “eldership” is known to be living a life contrary to these standards then the church, should not allow them to be ordained.

    These are not straight or gay standards they are God’s standards, they are not open to interpretation they are clear, above reproach, faithful to his wife.

    My view is that these standards may, and I stress may, have already slipped, and therefore removing the churches moral authority to deal with issue of GLBT communicants seeking ordination. If the moral standards are not fully applied to “straight” potential elders, why should they be applied to “gay” potential elders?

    In relation to the former point and worth considering in this overall context is Carl Truman’s piece “Why I Believe in the One Great Heresy”


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