Men and women in marriage, and the Church of Scotland

Following the publication of documents on men and women in marriage by the Church of England and the Church in Wales, reviewed here and here, the Church of Scotland has published its report, Theological Commission on Same-Sex Relationships and Ministry, hereThe report was in response to a decision of the General Assembly of 2011 which appointed a Theological Commission to bring a Report to the General Assembly of 2013, which was to provide:

  • ‘a theological discussion of issues around same-sex relationships, civil partnerships and marriage’;
  • an examination of whether the Church should permit ministers to bless same-sex relationships ‘involving life-long commitments’, and to provide a ‘form of a blessing’, or liturgy, if so agreed, and;
  • ‘an examination of whether persons, who have entered into a civil partnership… should be eligible for…ordination… as ministers of Word and Sacrament or deacons in the context that no member of Presbytery will be required to take part in such ordination or induction against his or her conscience’.

The report considers issues of human sexuality from two opposing points of view:

  • The “Revisionist position” that the Church ought to regard as eligible for ordination as ministers of Word and Sacrament or deacons those who have entered into a civil partnership; and
  • “The Traditionalist position” that the Church ought not to regard as eligible for ordination as ministers of Word and Sacrament or deacons those who have entered into a civil partnership.

The seven members of the Theological Commission represented a broad spectrum of the views within the Church of Scotland, with those supporting Revisionist and Traditional points of view being equally represented. The report is 94 pages in length and considers in detail:

  • the Contemporary Debate
  • the identity of the Church of Scotland as a Church within the communion of the ‘One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’;
  • the ministry of Word and Sacrament and the ministry of the Diaconate within the Church of Scotland, understood as expressions of ministry within the ‘One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’;
  • the authority of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments within the Church of Scotland, interpreted within the context of the ‘One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’;
  • the identity of the Church of Scotland within the communion of the ‘One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’: Addressing Issues of Human Sexuality;
  • addressing Issues of Human Sexuality within the communion of the ‘One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’:
    • the Revisionist Case;
    • the Traditionalist Case.
    • the identity of the Church of Scotland within the communion of the ‘One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’: Towards a Conclusion on Issues of Human Sexuality.

The Report puts forward two views. Alan Falconer, Mary Henderson and Marjory MacLean put forward the Revisionist case, including a draft Service of Recognition and Blessing for same-sex relationships. Gordon Kennedy, Jane McArthur and Andrew McGowan put forward the case for the Traditionalists and conclude that

“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.”

The Report does not offer a definitive recommendation in favour of one case or the other but

“invites the General Assembly to weigh carefully all of the matters before it conscious of the extent to which the decision to be made will shape the identity of the Church of Scotland within the communion of the ‘One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’.”

The Commissioners conclude (para 8.3) that, whatever the General Assembly concludes on the matter

“the prevailing view of the majority within the Theological Commission is that it would be good for the health of the Church if a decision, in principle, were to be taken now and not further delayed”.

The Church of Scotland’s accompanying press release emphasises that

“Neither the report in its entirety nor any individual proposal represents the considered view of the Church of Scotland. The report and the diverse proposals have been put forward by the seven members of the Commission who have a broad spectrum of views”.

In confirmation of that statement, the Commission has offered alternative draft Deliverances in support of the two opposed views for consideration by the General Assembly at its meeting in May.

Comment

The Reports of the Church of England, the Church in Wales, and the Church of Scotland differ in their remit and the scope of the same-sex issues addressed. However, they are all driven by a common same-sex marriage agenda as it is being pursued in the respective governments in Westminster and Holyrood.  As the Church of Scotland report notes:

“the backdrop against which the Report has been prepared is a fluid one in which there is a real prospect that the Civil Law with respect to issues of human sexuality will change. In May 2011, there existed no commitment on the part of the Scottish Government or the United Kingdom Government to make provision for the marriage of those in same-sex relationships.

In a very short period of time the backdrop has changed such that, even as this Report is being submitted, the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government have proposed Bills which, if enacted, would make such a provision.  Both of these Bills include clauses which are intended to safeguard any individual religious celebrant who does not wish to officiate at the marriage of persons in a same-sex relationship.”

Consequently, a primary aim of each of the Churches has been the inclusion of safeguards within the legislation for either the Church as a whole, or for individual clergy, who do not wish to perform same-sex ceremonies.  Further detailed comparative analysis is limited since the church-state relationships are different in each case, as are their current positions and planned future trajectories.  Each of the organizations has been active in its contact with government, here, here, and here, but it is likely that in each case, the legislation will be put in place before the membership has given the matter detailed consideration.  In this respect, however, the Church in Wales has been effective in both safeguarding its clergy and securing a clause in the current version which would introduce a procedure specific to the C in W under which, if the Governing Body were to resolve in future to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in its churches, the Lord Chancellor could make that possible by laying an Order before Parliament.  This has been achieved despite an unpromising starting point, and apparent government ignorance of the legislative issues specific to the C in W.

In terms of presenting the position to its members, it might appear that the C in W has provided a clearer and more concise picture that the wordy Church of Scotland report or the woolly Church of England attempt. That said, however, it should be remembered that the report of the Church of Scotland’s Theological Commission is intended as a formal part of the Church’s own law-making process – a position which neither the Church of England nor the Church in Wales has yet reached. But be that as it may, in each Church the issue is likely to generate lively debate as the secular legislation progresses and its implications are considered.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Men and women in marriage, and the Church of Scotland" in Law & Religion UK, 22 April 2013, http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2013/04/22/men-and-women-in-marriage-and-the-church-of-scotland/

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