Church of Scotland – Same-Sex Relationships and Ministry

Church of Scotland LogoThe Church of Scotland (Presbyterian – not to be confused with the Scottish Episcopal Church) has released the report of its Theological Commission on Same-Sex Relationships and Ministry. You can download a copy here.

The report (which is extensive) offers in the “Deliverance” two options for the Kirk General Assembly to vote on. One is to essentially permit any minister from the 31st May 2014 to be in a same-sex relationship, the other is to not approve that change (and to explore what that implies for those clergy already in same-sex relationships). This means that the Church of Scotland is clearly set for a defining landmark vote on the issue.

The document itself is a model of how to present the arguments in this area (Pilling please take note). It begins by exploring what it means for the Kirk to be part of the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic” Church and then explores issues of the authority of Scripture. This is followed by an incredibly fair treatment of both sides of the discussion with both the “Revisionist” and “Traditional” positions put forward with clarity and grace. Indeed, one might go as far as to suggest that this is a model for approaching the debate in other environments.

The positions can best be summed up by the summaries. Here is an extract from the Revisionist chapter,

It is our contention that everyone who reads the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments does so through some hermeneutical lens, or indeed a complex set of lenses, and that this is dangerous only if unacknowledged. Our chosen lens, with good historical and Scriptural precedent, is the lens of love, understood not in some weak, sentimental way, but as part of the essential nature of God, the Divine Trinity. Human beings, we believe, were created, in God’s own image, in such a way that we become most fully ourselves in loving relationship with God and with each other. Our reading of Scripture, taken as a whole, leads us to affirm the primacy of relationships, both within the Godhead, and in our moral evaluation of human behaviour. In the area of sexuality, relational qualities of mutuality, trust, respect, faithfulness, commitment and forgiveness matter far more than whether or not genital activity has taken place.

We are in full agreement with our Traditionalist colleagues that God’s love is inseparable from God’s justice, but whereas they see justice in terms of divine condemnation of sinful behaviour, we focus on God’s bias to the poor, the inclusion of the marginalised, the overturning of structures of oppression and the special judgement reserved for those who are so busy worrying about the speck in their sister or brother’s eye that they fail to notice the plank in their own. There is also an important issue of justice with regard to the imposition of celibacy on some, but not upon all, of those called to ministry in the Church.

God speaks to us powerfully in the ancient texts of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, but God’s Word is not confined to the pages of Scripture, however sacred. In its three dimensions – incarnate, written and proclaimed – the Word of God seems to us to have been leading God’s people over the centuries on a journey through ever-increasing circles of inclusion and acceptance. The trajectory chosen by the General Assembly of 2011 for the Church of Scotland to pursue may be seen as the next stage in that journey of grace.

and here the Traditionalist,

In the light of the Biblical, Theological and Ecumenical Bases, and in the light of a consideration of the Unity and Peace of the Church of Scotland, and given that the Theological Commission is not persuaded, unanimously or by a majority, that the Church ought to depart from the Traditionalist position in relation to matters of human sexuality, we therefore conclude that the General Assembly of 2013 ought to depart from the Revisionist trajectory.

If I had one criticism of the Traditionalist section in this document is that it doesn’t really engage much with wider issues beyond Scripture – causation, sexual identity fluidity and more generic identity issues. That said, the Biblical passages are well handled and the position is robust, even if it is in need of expansion.

One aspect of the Revisionist section is that it presents a sample blessing liturgy to consider. In a future blog post I will explore that in more detail and in particular look at the theology that it presents (as I have done previously with other such liturgies).

In summary, the document is a good example of how to do the debate well. Of course, it’s very likely that many who will vote in the final decision making process on this matter in the Kirk will already have made up their minds and won’t be swayed by the good arguments (on both sides). Regardless, the Kirk is now set for a very stormy few months as it awaits the final critical decision by its General Assembly.

2 Comments on “Church of Scotland – Same-Sex Relationships and Ministry

  1. The Scottish Episcopal Church hasn’t been called the Episcopal Church in Scotland for many, many years. As far as I can tell from the sources I have, it was never called the Episcopal Church of Scotland.

    In fact you’ve just made me very curious to find out when the name was changed. It appears to have been sometime in the 1950s. I have a book published in 1951 called “A short history of the Episcopal Church in Scotland” but only a few years later in 1957 the church published a number of small historical studies in a series called “Scottish Episcopal Church booklets”

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