Tuesday, 24 May 2011

What happened at the General Assembly?

Yesterday, the General Assembly met to discuss the report of the Special Commission on Same-Sex Relationships and the Ministry. We contributed to their deliberations last year by answering their questionnaire.

There were 2 key decisions that the Assembly was being asked to make. First of all, it was asked to allow ministers ordained before 2009 and living in same-sex relationships to be inducted into charges within the Church. The Assembly voted by 393 to 252 to allow that to happen. The second choice before the commissioners was whether to stand with the traditional position of the Church to say that people in same-sex relationships should not be ministers of the church or to allow in principle people in same-sex relationships to be eligible for selection and training as ministers; the Assembly voted by 351 to 294 for the second option. The Church is now in the process of setting up a Theological Commission to begin to make it possible for people in same-sex relationships to become ministers and deacons in the Church of Scotland and to examine the implications of that decision, reporting to the General Assembly of 2013.

These are the facts; what they mean is much harder to understand and describe. For the first time, the Church of Scotland has taken a decision that seems to me to be a direct departure from the teaching of the Bible. Others will argue with that statement and will interpret the Bible in different ways, but that is my personal view. I am disappointed by the Assembly decision, but not necessarily surprised.

There is talk of people leaving the Church over this. I know of one Church that has recently removed any mention of the Church of Scotland from its noticeboard. However, I do not anticipate a great exodus of people from the Church over this; some congregations will leave, some individuals might leave. I am going nowhere. Part of me refuses to be defined simply by my attitude to homosexuality; I still love the Church and honestly believe that God has a plan and a place for me in its ministry.

The Spirit of God is still at work in our community; He is still at work in and through our Church; I hope and pray that the Spirit will continue to sustain my ministry and bless our worship and mission. We have work to do and I plan to be getting on with it, although today I do that with a heavier heart.

Sometimes God has allowed His people to make bad choices to teach them important lessons. In the Old Testament, the people wanted a king "to be like everyone else"; reluctantly God gave them what they wanted. (1 Samuel 8) While there were good moments, by and large the kings that followed led the people astray. Maybe this is God's painful way of showing the Church that "to be like everyone else" doesn't work, or that a radical, liberal agenda will kill the Church.