Posted: 21 May 2013 04:03 AM PDT
It has been a pretty confusing 24 hours for the Church of Scotland. My prediction yesterday morning that the news would be reported inaccurately was bang on. There have been very many reports in the media about the Church of Scotland that have been inaccurate. And you know what? The media are not the ones to blame.
Yesterday afternoon after a very long debate the Church of Scotland thanked the Special Theological Commission that it had set up to examine whether blessings of gay couples could be permitted and issues around the ordination of gay clergy in relationships. Rather than accepting either of the proposals from that Commission, they adopted a hastily cobbled together deliverance which I think seemed to the Commissioners to be a compromise.
Then the press got hold of the wrong end of the stick, led by the BBC which reported the news entirely inaccurately. Robert Piggott was on the TV all last night saying that the Church of Scotland had changed its policy on gay ministers but that some congregations could opt not to have them. In fact it was the reverse – they accepted a proposal to bring plans to a subsequent 2 Assemblies to maintain the view that the Church of Scotland does not accept gay relationships but that individual Kirk Sessions (ie the elders in a congregation) could have a minister in a gay relationship anyway if they really wanted one.
I think it is one of the greatest attempts at Doublethink since the Church of England allowed women to be ordained but allowed some people in the Church to think they hadn’t been ordained.
This kind of thing does the churches no good. When decisions like this are made it seems like a compromise, which appeals to people who don’t want to hurt or upset anyone and who think that the fundamental thing that needs to be done is to keep the church together.
Yesterday the Church of Scotland decided to follow a path towards crucifying its own internal integrity. You can’t expect to flourish if you say that something is doctrinally wrong but that you’ll turn a blind eye to congregations doing it anyway. It means you’ve lost sight of what truth is. And that isn’t really suppose to be an option for God’s people.
As an Anglican, I obviously don’t say that from a position of any superiority. Indeed, we tolerate things in the Anglican Churches which are just as bad and worse.
The question was asked yesterday as to what happens if a congregation want a minister who happens to be gay but a presbytery doesn’t want a person who happens to be gay. The answer came from the top table that the presbytery could not overule a kirk session. I find it almost impossible to understand how this will work in practise. A friend gave me the example that currently a presbytery cannot refuse to ordain a woman – being female is not grounds for refusing to ordain or induct according to the highest court of that church so therefore such an ordination cannot be presented. I simply don’t see how a General Assembly can affirm a “traditionalist” anti-gay position and then insist that a presbytery has to ordain someone because a local kirk session demands it.
It is certainly the case that yesterday the Church of Scotland accepted that some people are gay. However, it didn’t really deal with it. It accepted that some people affirm gay people but still affirmed a position which condemns that affirmation.
The Moderator of the General Assembly, Lorna Hood is being quoted as saying “This is a massive vote for the peace and unity of the Church.”
It seems to this outsider looking in on the General Assembly that its own moderator hasn’t understood what it was she was presiding over yesterday. This is a decision that will be challenged next year, challenged at every presbytery through the subsequent year and challenged and fought over at the following Assembly. Then, even if it succeeds, it will be challenged inevitably through cases brought to further Assemblies. This isn’t peace, it is a vote to enshrine the war in the life of the church for the forseeable future.
Fr. Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St. Mary‘s Episcopal (Anglican) Cathedral, Glasgow, gives here his up-dated version of the debacle that has ensued after recent debates on Sexuality in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland (S.P.C.). The outcome is puzzling, to say the least. While delivering the statement that the theology of the Scottish Presbyterian Church remains – that Marriage is only for one man to one woman – there may be an opportunity for liberal congregations to elect a gay minister in a same-sex relationship.
This is the same sort of ‘double-think’ employed by the Church of England, when it treated the ordination of women perhaps the opposite way around – theologically accommodating the ordination of women as clergy, but allowing congregations to opt out and providing them with P.E.V.s -Provisional Episcopal Oversight by Bishops who did/do not ‘believe in Women’s Ordination.
If anything, the C.of E.’s departure from what might be called ‘catholic order’ – allowing for structured departure from canonical, ecclesial, theology and order on the collegiality of its bishops, could be considered a more serious departure from tradition than the fact that the Church now allowed for the ordination of women. No longer were/are the Bishops in the Church of England united in theology and praxis on this important issue.
That be as it may, The Presbyterians in Scotland appear to be set in the same twin-track – maintaining a particular theology of Marriage, while yet allowing for a departure from that stance on the issue of Gay clergy. It is in such dichotomies that Christians are open to the accusation of ‘double-standards’, something that fits ill with cohesive polity in the Church. What is really needed is an up-to-date cohesive understanding on the moral authenticity of monogamous same-sex relationships – not least in the ministry of the Church.
Both the Church of Scotland and the Church of England seem to be be moving towards what once was called ‘Congregationalism’ – as opposed to being centrally governed. This seems particularly odd, when considering the initial push of the Church of England towards the imposition of the once touted ‘Covenant’ Relationship. Seemingly, what needs to be unified within the Church is its inclusive application of the Gospel to ALL.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand