Church Of Scotland 2013 General Assembly -- Special Commission On Same Sex Relationships

General Assembly 2013 of the Church of Scotland convened yesterday and on the first day we got a bit of animated discussion about keeping the pension plan solvent and providing retired church workers an amount that is reasonable for a retirement income. I have heard that somewhere before but I have a bit more research to do if I am going to write on that.

The topic for the moment is the discussion that will begin in just a few hours. Monday at the Assembly is set aside for the consideration of the work of the Theological Commission on Same-sex Relationships and the Ministry. This group was created two years ago when that Assembly chose to move towards allowing those in same-sex relationships to become ministers in the church and to permit those in the church to preform same-sex marriages. One of the interesting, and in my opinion reasonable and good, moves that the Kirk has made is to consider all the issues related to same-sex relationships together and in a theological context.

To follow along with this debate you need to be aware of not just the Commission's 94 page report, but the Supplement with the Legal Appendix Consequent Upon the Report of the Theological Commission on Same-Sex Relationships and the Ministry that begins on page 52. In addition, the Daily Papers covering tomorrow have notice of three motions (begins on page 28).

As I indicated above, the primary Report is an extensive document at 94 pages long. The Deliverance is sort-of straight forward with #1 to receive the report and #3 to dismiss the commission. In between the commission does not make a recommendation but offers a choice between two options - and I will return to that in a minute.

The report itself is structured around what it means to be "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" and develops that theme for the Church of Scotland in general. It then provides extensive discussions of what the report calls the revisionist and the traditionalist case for "Addressing issues of human sexuality." I have not read through these sections in detail yet but from what I have read both provide very good development and background to each position.

The report is supposed to be neutral and so provides both of these discussions. In addition, even though a trajectory was chosen two years ago the Deliverance provides this Assembly an opportunity to revisit that decision and chose between two sets of recommendations based on approving the revisionist or traditionalist case.

If the revisionist option is approved an overture would be sent down to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act to approve the necessary changes to implement the new rules. In addition, liturgies would be approved for same-sex ceremonies. The ordination process for new ministers and deacons would remain on hold for another year to allow time for presbytery approval. Those ministers in same-sex relationships who are already in place would continue. And the block on discussing this outside of official business - i.e. talking to the media - would remain in place as well.

If the traditionalist option prevails in the Assembly it would reaffirm the present stance of the Kirk including the statements about homophobia being a sin, remind the members of the church of the particular burden of "homosexual Christians striving to maintain celibacy," and "recognize that homosexual orientation in itself is not a barrier to leadership." It would also have the Ministries Council and the Legal Questions Committee examine the implications of the decision.

As I mentioned above there are three motions of which notice has been given. The first asks that the Legal Appendix be revised to include the implications of approval and disapproval of the changes and that paper ballots be used by presbyteries in voting on the change. The third would provide another option that has stronger and simplified language of the revisionist option.

[UPDATE: My attention has been drawn to a correction to the article I discuss below. I have decided to let this stand but please see below this for the correction.]

There has been considerable concern that adoption of the revisionist option could precipitate a major departure of congregations from the Church of Scotland. The second motion from The Rev Prof David A S Fergusson is hoping to find a "third way." Here are some excerpts from a Scotsman article that tries to explain what he hopes to accomplish:

Prof David Fergusson, principal of Edinburgh University’s divinity school, New College, said that unless the Kirk’s General Assembly agreed on a compromise it could take the Church a “generation to resolve” differences between traditionalist and revisionist sides of the debate.

Insisting that it was important that neither side should “enforce a victory” over the other, the academic has tabled an amendment for the debate that attempts to navigate a middle way between the two options put forward in a Kirk committee report.


Fergusson said that this “mixed economy” approach would give the Kirk space in which to discuss the issue further without causing a major divide: “What I think we’re lacking so far is further reflection on the nature of the Church as a community in which we can manage disagreement while maintaining unity with one another, and I’d like to see further work carried out, which would be crucial to consideration of these matters.”

UPDATE: The Rev Prof Fergusson has issued a correction to the Scotsman article. He first wanted to make it clear that the "mixed economy" is not his idea but is in the Theological Commission's report. His amendment simply asks to build on that approach and continue working on the nature of the church. He also points out that his motion does nothing to change the wording in the report that would allow churches but not presbyteries to opt out.

That appears to be the lay of the land. Let us see how the Assembly discerns the way forward in the midst of it. Prayers for the Assembly as the commissioners approach this task very shortly.
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