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Scotland, Ireland and 'the Aberdeen Case'

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William Crawley | 09:14 UK time, Monday, 18 May 2009

pglogoscofsemblem.jpg.jpegThe Church of Scotland's debate about the inclusion of gay and lesbian church members will heat up considerably this week, as the denomination approaches its annual General Assembly. The Assembly will not only consider an appeal against the appointment of an openly gay minister, but will also vote on a resolution that would have very serious implications for gay people throughout Scotland's national church. The resolution reads: "This Church shall not accept for training, ordain, admit, re-admit, induct or introduce to any ministry of the Church anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of faithful marriage between a man and a woman".

You will notice that this resolution, unless amended at the Assembly, would apply not only to ordained ministers and elders of the church, but to any person working in any denominational ministry. I tested this point on yesterday's Sunday Sequence with two ministers from the Church of Scotland, on either side of the debate. The Reverend Peter Johnston, chair of OneKirk, which works for an inclusive church, and the Reverend David Randall of the Forward Together, a conservative evangelical group within the Church of Scotland, were agreed that the resolution, as it stands, would apply to non-ministers and non-eleders. The example we considered was of a qualified social worker who applies to the church's Board of Social Responsibility to work in a church-run hostel. If that social worker is gay or lesbian, this resolution would require the board to exclude him or her from employment. In fact, the resolution could be read to mean that church boards shoudl sack any gay personel they currently employ in 'ministries'.

I suspect that this extended application of the resolution will raise alarms for even some conservatives within the Kirk who are opposed to the ordination of gay and lesbian ministers and elders. There could be an amendment to limit the resolution to ordained clergy and elders, which could carry more support in the Assembly. Another possible outcome -- perhaps the most likely outcome -- is that the house will regard the whole resolution as draconian and rush away from any policy of exclusion. One contact in the Church of Scotland suggested to me that a widely-respected senior minister may step forward at the outset of the debate on Saturday to propose that the Assembly 'pass from the matter'. If the Assembly voted to do that, then the appointment of Scott Rennie would stand.

Whatever happens in Edinburgh next Saturday will have wide-ranging implications for the Church of Scotland. If the Assembly upholds the Presbytery of Aberdeen's decision in the matter of Scott Rennie's appointment, it will have signalled very clearly that the appointment of openly gay and partnered ministers is consistent with the church's law. That outcome will be too much for some conservatives, who may feel the need to consider their own position within the denomination. If the Assembly votes to strike down the Aberdeen decision, it will have struck a blow against the inclusive church movement within its ranks, and, in the judgement of some, the denomination would be locked into an annual debate about sexuality for quite some time (as was the case in the Presbyterian Church USA).

There are issues here for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, too. Irish Presbyterianism was established by the Church of Scotland and, to that extent, PCI is the daughter-church of the Scottish Church. But the relationship between the two has changed significantly over the past few years. The Scottish church has become increasingly 'liberal' (or 'progressive', depending on your perspective), while PCI has remained more traditionally conservative -- indeed, some would say, it has moved in an even more defensively conservative direction in the past two decades. All of which tends to produce a rather odd relationship between the two denominations. The Church of Scotland once processed PCI ministers as candidates for vacant pulpits as though they were Church of Scotland ministers; this is no longer the case. The two churches appear to speak different theological languages, are concerned with quite different social and moral questions, and look across the Irish Sea (or the North Channel) at each other with some suspicion. It's clear from this most recent episode ('The Aberdeen Case', as it's being called), that the Scottish church has a significant conservative minority who are equally concerned about the direction their church is taking. If the Scottish Assembly takes another step in a pro-gay direction, we can expect that some conservatives in PCI will feel it necessary to introduce a their own resolution to prevent a similar 'drift', as they would see it, within the Irish Presbyterian Church.


  • Comment number 1.

    Of course if they were passing a resolution to say ministers or workers could not be members of the British National Party liberals would all be thinking that was great.

    Any organisation is entitled to expect that people working for it are not engaged in activities which undermine it.

  • Comment number 2.

    mccamley, you should ask yourself why the Presbyterian church and church of scotland has NOT passed a resolution banning members of the BNP. Some of these churches are more worried about gay people in their midst than racism.

    As for your basic analogy, it makes no sense. Gay Christians are not engaged in activities that undermine the work of the church. In the case of Scott Rennie, he is a well-regarded preacher and minister who is engaged in Christian ministry, not anti-Christian ministry.

  • Comment number 3.

    Christians struggling with homosexual sins are not undermining the church, anymore than Christians struggling with other sins - but the term "Gay Christians" implies those who think it is not a sin. "Gay" is ideology, and not compatable with Christianity. Christianity teaches that homosexual acts are sinful; gay ideology says not only are they not sinful but are positively good, something to be proud of. People are free to believe that, but they can't believe both.

  • Comment number 4.


    "Any organisation is entitled to expect that people working for it are not engaged in activities that undermine it."

    It is clear from the Church's experience in America, England and Africa
    that many Christians do not see it that way. (You've already used the pejorative word "undermine" when "challenge" would have been a less morally condemnatory word.)

    Everyone is entitled to challenge the organisations to which they belong. They are entitled to give shape and form to the thing which shaped and formed them. Its called evolution or reformation.

    Far more disturbing than a parish being able to appoint who it wants for its minister, is reading the list of "Christians" who have signed this petition. What sorry, sorry reading it makes.

    Every person who has signed that petition has broken a fundamental tenet of their own Bibles - Do not judge. And according to their Bible, they have now put themselves in the position of being judged themselves. Their own lives had better be squeaky clean, because if not, the severest of judgements await them.

    I think Christ is quite entitled to expect that people allegedly working for him in the name of love, compassion and forgiveness actually try to be compassionate, forgiving and loving in their own lives.

  • Comment number 5.

    FAO Augustine_of_Clippo

    So the church will decide who and waht political parties a member can join? Shame on you sir. St Augustine himeself believed that the church should be seperated from temporal politics.

    Back on topic again.

    It is the members of the congregation that the kirk needs to talk to. They voted him in and to be frank I always thought Presbyterians to be democratic and not under a dictatorship like our Roman Coreligionists.
    So it should be our fellow Christians that are either admonished or congratulated not the individual.

  • Comment number 6.

    Yeah, jellybean cos that reformation really worked out well the last time, didn't it. But I suppose that at least Luther and co had the good grace to leave and form their own ecclesial communion. If people want to "challenge" fundamental tenets of the faith they should leave. It's like a member of the Sandy Row Rangers Club deciding he'd really rather support Celtic - should he stay and attempt to turn the club green and white or be shown the door?

  • Comment number 7.


    My point is that these people who are signing the petition ARE breaking a fundamental tenet of their faith. They are judging one man on a matter which is highly debatable while disobeying a command which is not in the least debatable.

  • Comment number 8.

    Sounds like sexual sin-scrimination to me. What about people who have committed other types of sins not related to sex...like murder, stealing, bearing false witness? They're OK? Of all the sexual acts in this resolution, the ten commandments only lists adultery among them. Doesn't say anything about homosexuality in it from what I can tell. Frankly, if every man who committed adultery and lied about it under oath taken with his right hand raised and his left hand on the bible in divorce court were put in jail in my country, the entire nation would grind to a halt from lack people at liberty to do its work.

  • Comment number 9.


    See my comment on another thread.

    (And I advise you to get to bed a bit earlier!!)

  • Comment number 10.


    I refer the right honorable pastor to the reply I gave some moments ago to his posting on the other thread.

  • Comment number 11.

    mccamley -

    Gay is not an ideology. It is a sexual orientation that, I think, people are generally born with. Its not like facism. I don't believe people will decide to 'take up' being Gay because a Presby Minister in Scotland is.

  • Comment number 12.

    There was an interesting article on the BBC about sexual orientation, saying that it seems to be decided from the womb https://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/5120004.stm

    If that is sustained by more studies, what do we do with bits of the bible like "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you." Or would we want to ditch this with other bits like the ones dealing with slavery, the place of women in the church, or how we treat our children?

  • Comment number 13.

    cynical-pinacle - homeosexuality may be a sexual orientation, "gay" isn't. I was making the point that "gay" is more (or less) than that - it's a chosen lifestyle and expression and world view. Someone may have little choice in their sexual orientation but plenty of choice with what they do with it. All of us commit sins, it's when we rationalise them, and celebrate them, seek to enshrine them in law, try to force others to accept our sins - that's when it becomes ideology. If people want to do that, that's fine - I believe in lots of human freedom. BUT when they try to do it in my church, that's a different matter. What did Jesus say to the woman taken in adultery - "neither do I condemn you" - and of course liberals tend to stop there and say - "look, no judgment, no condemnations". They forget the next line from Jesus "Go and sin no more".

  • Comment number 14.


    Not that old chestnut again. "Go and sin no more." OT uses it, Pastor P uses it. In fact, over the last twenty years I've heard it used ad nauseam by those who wish to justify their own prejudices against perceived sexual sinners. You are placing an emphasis on a sentence which simply isnt there.

    Tell me this, what is the thrust of Jesus' message in that gospel episode. Is it to attack the woman? Is he trying to make a public example of her for all the world to hear? No, never!!

    Jesus is attacking the hypocrites who would, without mercy, put her to death without blinking a plank-filled eye, while conveniently ignoring the fact that they themselves commit adultery - but they have the legal excuse of using a writ of dismissal to dump their own wives!!

    Tell me also, does Jesus say to the woman, "Go and sin no more, you whitened sepulchur?" Does he call her a "brood of vipers?" Does he say to her "You are white on the outside, but inside you are full of decay and corruption?" No he doesnt.

    His attitude to her is one of total compassion, his anger reserved for the self-righteous snobs who would judge and condemn her.

    So please stop corrupting the Gospel. You people love to come across as so accepting of gay peoples' choices and freedoms.(OT recently stated that he wouldnt mind if a gay couple lived next door to him - how Christian.) The truth is, when it comes to the crunch, when it really matters, as you state, you would kill them stone dead when it comes to involvement in the church at any level apart from cowering out of sight in the back pew of your comfortable churches. You would exclude. Christ wouldnt.

    "BUT when they try to do it in my church", says it all. Its Christ's church, not yours! You, like OT, like Pastor P, like every person who put their name to that petition, are a modern day Pharisee. You are judgemental, blind, morally superior, self righteous and most importantly, you are saying things about God which are not true. (That was something that really annoyed Christ!!)

    You claim to speak for God - wow! You had better get it right then or you are in big, big trouble.

  • Comment number 15.

    So when Jesus said "go and sin no more" he actually meant keep on doing what you like, indeed be proud of it, why not form a group and organise an Adultery Pride March. Jesus loved sinners who knew they were sinners and he repudiated those who thought they weren't. that's why he praised the publican and not the pharisee.

  • Comment number 16.

    "Someone may have little choice in their sexual orientation but plenty of choice with what they do with it."

    Would we expect people to live a lie? Would God make us that way to do that? People who commit adultry lie a lie, hurt people and many other things. Two people living together in a loving relationship? Sin?

    But the main problem I have with this whole debate is that there are large parts of the Bible that we don't follow, indeed bits we would find downright offensive in this day and age. Slavery for example. How we treat children.

    How did we reach a point where we decided not to follow teaching on thses?

  • Comment number 17.

    It should read live a lie. I must spell check!!

  • Comment number 18.

    We reached that point when Christ came and established a Church and gave it authority.

    What do we say to people who are born child molesters, or kleptomaniacs, or arsonists, or psychopathic serial killers? Do we support them, commend them, take pride in their activities, encourage them to form little groups and have special liturgies for them? What gives you the right to decide that homosexuality is a normal mode of sexuality but paedophilia isn't? What's the basis for your judgments?

  • Comment number 19.


    You are clearly choosing to emphasise things which Jesus didnt emphasise, while ignoring things which he was vehement about. You are choosing to make the Bible say what you want it to say. To place an emphsis on one teaching while ignoring a myriad of others.

    "Jesus loved sinners who knew they were sinners and repudiated those who thought they werent."

    Thankyou, thankyou, God!! Mcc, do you think that yourself and others merely stating that you are sinners is "knowing" that you are a sinner?!!

    Here is a definite way of deciding whether a person has truly acknowledged their sinfulness i.e. a genuinely repentant sinner. And you can judge yourself and your state of repentance absolutely accurately by this method:

    The way to tell whether a person is truly aware of their sinfulness is, at the moment that person realises their own sin, from that moment forward you will never, ever hear them again-

    1. Pointing a finger at someone elses sin.
    2. Excluding them from 'their' church, their circle of friends or from their place of employment because of their sin.

    Such a person would have such a profound awareness of their own brokenness and such a depth of realisation of God's love and compassion and forgiveness, that they could never do such things.

    Still sure about your perceived state of grace, Mcc?

  • Comment number 20.

    I wonder how Christ meant the apostles to exercise the authority he gave them, to bind and lose and to forgive sins, if they weren't, you know, supposed to recognise sin except in themselves and then it was supposed to make them curl up in a little introverted ball.

    St Teresa of Avila described humility as acknowledgment of the truth.

  • Comment number 21.

    "Mcc, do you think that yourself and others merely stating that you are sinners is "knowing" that you are a sinner?!!"

    I think you might be a little harsh on McC here, but you've made a very good point RJB. You've pointed out another flaw in "Evangelical-ese".

    "1. Pointing a finger at someone elses sin.
    2. Excluding them from 'their' church, their circle of friends or from their place of employment because of their sin."

    Okay, I agree with everything apart from "Church", and as long as we're talking about sexual misconduct. Not mass-murder. (I think the latter might merit a little tough love).
    On serious sexual misconduct (consensual incest) Paul wanted church discipline. But the long term aim was to restore the individual to the fellowhip. (These were small house churches.) Unrepentant adultery would probably merit similar treatment. And so forth.
    But as you say, it isn't "our" Church. We didn't die for it. So it isn't really up to us to rewrite the rules on sexuality. So I can't see a case for permitting some of the more lax sexual ethics that you endorse. (Sorry).
    However, I'm not really sure if you're saying evangelicals are horrible because they say these things. Or that evangelicals are horrible due to the *manner* they have when they say these things.
    And in fairness, I think OT has taken a lot of your points on the latter on board. That's a first, to my knowledge. I've never seen anyone move him in quite the manner you have, although I've only been around a year. So folk are listening to you.


  • Comment number 22.

    Aaaah respect for authority, the last refuge of the person who cant justify their stance.

    Ahemm, respect should be merited not assumed!!

  • Comment number 23.


    I feel like I'm talking about OT behind his back here (but I know you'll read this, OT.)

    At the exact same moment as OT was writing that Creed on the fundamentalist thread, I was writing a post on this thread still calling him a Pharisee.

    The irony of that didnt escape me. At the exact same moment as OT was exercising humility, I WAS behaving like the Pharisee!!

    Fair play to OT and a deserved boot up the bahooky for me.

    And I certainly noticed a metanoia in OT over the last few posts.

    GV congratulations on your scripture skills, I've learned a bundle from you. To try an explain where I'm coming from I'll use the analogy of my driving lesson about reverse parking.

    The instructor told me to turn the steering wheel one turn, then one and a half, then another three quarters. I put the car up on the pavement.

    She told me to try again, but this time she told me just to 'feel' my way, and forget counting. I parked up a treat, no problem.

    I approach the gospel (not the Old Testament or Paul, admittedly) and try and get a feel for this man Jesus. I try and sense how he would react in a given situation. Although I realise that we do have to approach the gospel from a more 'technical' viewpoint as well, to inform that 'sense/feeling' of Jesus and who he was.

    My 'sense' is that Jesus would not be as harsh on homosexuals or sexual 'sinners' as many church people are. Infact, I think he would be extremely disappointed in these church goers,.... infact, I think he'd be angry at them

  • Comment number 24.

    Hi Mcc

    "Two people living together in a loving relationship? Sin?" I don't think I was condoning any forms of the things you came back at me with.

    Also, how do you answer my second point?

    "But the main problem I have with this whole debate is that there are large parts of the Bible that we don't follow, indeed bits we would find downright offensive in this day and age. Slavery for example. How we treat children."

    How did we reach the decision that slavery is offensive, or hitting children? Or any other number of things that the bible advises us on.

  • Comment number 25.

    RJB, may I ask, who do you think Jesus is?

    I mean, do think he is God, man, both neither? alive? dead?

    Might be helpful to understand where you are coming from....


  • Comment number 26.


    A very helpful analogy.

    And I think that without the *feelings* all the interpretative skills in the world get you nowhere.

    And without a change in feeling, a person probably hasn't interpreted the text correctly.
    I think that's what I find difficult in this sort of debate. I know what I think is wrong. But how should I feel about such a Church controversy? The temptation is to enjoy the debate - which is awful given how much this affects people.
    And then, how should I change? Paul in Romans 1 sets up a trap. A lot of people don't recognise this. Letters were meant to be read aloud in the ancient world, and a trained orator would have delivered Romans like a sermon.
    So when Paul attacks idolatry (Jews all opposed idolatry, Stoics and Epicureans were meant to) his audience goes "yeah, that's awful." And then he attacks homsexuality. And again, the Jewish church members, (and those who recognise the gentile critique) agree "yep, a terrible thing". Paul says "God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness..."

    The audience agrees -

    And Paul describes the wickedness as "envy, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips,slanderers, insolent, arrogant and boastful... they disobey their parents, they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless." Not idolatry and sexual immorality.

    I think that gets just about everyone doesn't it? (I left out "murderous" and "God-haters". "Murderers" seems harsh - but then we can't pop down to the local arena to watch the latest Gladitorial clash, or see the charioteers run each other over.)

    It's a very clever rhetorical trick. Paul has you nodding and agreeing to the condemnation of the wicked before you realise "hey, that's me!"

    I left that out of my explanation of Romans 1. The context is very important. Paul's target was the Church, not polytheists or those practising homosexuality. So I have to take the sting of the rebuke.


  • Comment number 27.


    Thanks, mate!! Lol! You've just asked me a question which has been written about, discussed, argued over, killed for, committed genocide for, for 2000 years!!

    How can I outline Trinitarian Theology in a two minute post?

    My answer is I dont know. However, here's my 'feeling.' Jesus died and was somehow present to people after his death - we are told that they did not recognise him on various occasions. What his relationship to the Father and the Spirit is, I couldn't say - and no one can for sure. What kind of "entity" Jesus is, and for that matter, the Father and the Spirit, I dont know.

    But I believe in the Father, the Son and the Spirit. I believe that Christ is powerfully present in our world - and powerfully absent too. But I think you need to address the question, for a more credible answer, to a woman in Darfur who is holding her dead baby in her arms. Or to a man lying in his own vomit in the city centre. Or to any number of people who are living in hell and who might have something to say to our cosy conclusions about Jesus.

    However, just for the record, I dont believe in a physical resurrection as in resucitation of a corpse. Any afterlife will be of a spiritual nature - but I'm not going to use thumb screws on anyone who doesnt agree with that.

    Neither do I believe in hell as in burning fire, worms and maggots etc.. Such a place just doesnt sit with a God of total love. And if heaven is total happiness and hell the opposite, how could anyone be totally happy if they knew that someone - anyone - was languishing in torment?

    However, my 'theories' are irrelevant as regards this debate, which to my mind comes down to, would Jesus - not the OT or St Paul - would Jesus accept a homosexual man as his follower? Absolutely!

    Would Jesus broach the subject of the man's homosexuality with him. Very probably. What would he have to say to him about it? I genuinely dont know. What would he have to say to someone who condemned the man for his homosexuality? This I feel I do know. He would tell him to STFU and concentrate on his own salvation. I also think that if there were a crowd condemning the homosexual man, signing petitions about him, he would probably and cleverly use the man's situation to expose the crowd for their hypocrisy.


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