General Assembly continuing on path towards ordaining gay ministers

The minister writes-

The General Assembly today voted 369 to 189 to accept a proposal from its Legal Questions Committee on a possible way forward in the ‘gay ministers’ debate.

Last year’s assembly had accepted a proposal from former Moderator the Very Rev Albert Bogle which, while affirming a traditional view of sexual relationships as the norm in the church, sought to allow Kirk Sessions to ‘depart’ from tradition if they were willing to induct a minister in a civil partnership.

A report was accepted from the Theological Forum which spoke of the possibility of a ‘mixed economy’, in which a church might accept exceptions from normal practice in the case of issues which are not central to the Christian faith. They pointed to examples from the early church, the reformation and in recent years where congregations and individuals were given the freedom to deviate from the majority of the church. A fascinating debate, in which the Very Rev Professor Iain Torrance fielded complex theological questions with grace and thoughtfulness on behalf of his Panel, prepared the way for the Legal Questions debate after lunch.

Moderator John Chalmers led the assembly through three amendments and a countermotion, as well as the original’ ‘Overture’. The final vote, following prayer brought to an end hours of sometimes painful and passionate debate, from which the Overture survived unchanged.

The Overture now goes to presbyteries across the country to vote on over the next year. If a majority of presbyteries vote in favour, the legislation will come back to next Year’s assembly for final approval. Presbytery approval is no means guaranteed. However, the size of today’s majority, and the support the Overture has received from across the theological breadth of the church, may mean it has a good chance of receiving the presbytery approval, perhaps making it into law as early as next year.

Since the Overture deals only with civil partnerships, the Acting Principal Clerk, the Rev George Whyte, asked and received approval for the Theological Forum and the Legal Questions Committee to also consider whether the provisions of the Overture should also apply to ministers in same-sex marriages, which should become legal in Scotland in the course of the next 12 months.

Reports on today, as usual, are available from Life and Work and Douglas Aitken. There is also press release from the Church.

The big report tomorrow is from the Church and Society Council, of which I have been a member for the last year.

Tuesday at the General Assembly

The minister writes-

The assembly began on Tuesday with prayers for the family of the Rev Tom Sinclair, Clerk of the Presbytery Lewis, who had tragically died in a road accident following the previous day’s sitting.

The Mission and Discipleship brought a report which included a survey from the Highlands of of non-churchgoers who consider themselves Christians, and the first major report on interfaith matters for many years. I was happy to speak in support of a successful motion from the floor instructing the council to provide materials supporting ministers running new members’ courses. We also heard of the work of the National Youth Assembly, and of the Guild.

On the World Mission report, we heard that the plight of the Christians of Pakistan continues to be a major concern. The Very Rev David Lunan spoke powerfully about people trafficking, which he said was modern-day day slavery, encompassing hundreds of women in Scotland victims, not of prostitution, but multiple rape. And there was a moving moment as the Assembly remembered, with prayer, Jane Haining from Dunscore, who defied an instruction to leave the Jewish children she cared for children in Hungary and died in Auswitch with them 70 years ago.

Finally, there was a special, session, billed as a ‘respectful dialogue’ on the questions raised by the independence referendum. Douglas Alexander MP and the Rev Dr Doug Gay gave the opening speeches for a session which was thoughtful and lived up to its billing. We were reminded that there is no them and us, only us. For anyone who believes that religion brings only conflict and division, this example of the church at its best would have been an eye-opener! It was certainly the best debate on the subject I’ve ever heard.

Hopefully there will continue to be respectful dialogue today as we take up the issue of gay clergy.

Douglas Aitken’s excellent reports can be read or listened to here.

The Life and Work reports on the Assembly are here.