Yesterday the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted in principle to allow men and women in civil partnerships to be ordained to the ministry and/or inducted as parish ministers.
There were various options before the Assembly:
- the Revisionist option, which would allow ministers in civil partnerships to be appointed to churches and gay couples in civil partnerships to be allowed to have their partnerships blessed – but would allow individual kirk sessions to opt out of the arrangement;
- the Traditionalist option, under which no new minister in a civil partnership could be ordained or inducted; and
- a countermotion to section 2 of the proposed Deliverance by the immediate past Moderator of the Assembly, The Very Revd Albert Bogle, which reaffirmed the Kirk’s traditional view on the issue but would allow an individual Kirk Session to choose to call a minister in a civil partnership if it so wished.
After what the subsequent press release described as “a full but gracious debate” (briefly reported here), the General Assembly supported the countermotion – which included a statement of principles on further proceedings by the Committee on Legal Questions – as follows:
“The General Assembly:
1. Receive the Report of the Theological Commission and the Legal Appendix.
2. In the event of the General Assembly agreeing to transmit to Presbyteries either of the Overtures referred to in the Deliverance of the Theological Commission or any other Overture, agree:
i. To instruct the Principal Clerk, the Procurator and the Solicitor of the Church to prepare a modified version of the Legal Appendix explaining the implications of approval or disapproval of the successful Overture, such background information to accompany the Overture in the “Remits to Presbyteries”;
ii. In line with the procedure used by the Special Commission in consulting with Presbyteries and in keeping with the voting procedure used by the General Assembly, instruct that a ballot paper be produced to accompany the Overture in the “Remits to Presbyteries” and instruct every Presbytery to establish their response to the successful Overture by use of such a ballot paper.
3(i). Affirm the Church’s historic and current doctrine and practice in relation to human sexuality nonetheless permit those Kirk sessions who wish to depart from that doctrine and practice to do so.
(ii) Instruct the Legal Questions Committee to bring an Overture to the General Assembly of 2014 which the following principles of 3. above:
Principles of the Overture:
1. Would not require the Church to abandon its traditional position.
2. But would allow individual congregations – by decisions of their Kirk Sessions – to depart from the Church’s traditional position.
3. Would allow ministers and deacons (current and prospective) who are in civil partnerships to be selected for training and to be trained. Would also allow them to be ordained/inducted into a charge the Kirk Session of which had decided to depart from the Church’s traditional position.
4. Would cover inducted ministers and ministers and deacons working in other roles in congregations.
5. Would not enable one congregation to depart from traditional position where others in a linking do not wish to do so.
6. Would enable a Kirk Session to change its mind. But a minister or deacon who had been appointed to a congregation whose Kirk Session had decided to depart from the traditional position would not be prejudiced by a change of mind by the Kirk Session.
7. Would preserve liberty of opinion and responsible expression. Would not permit harassing or bullying.
8. Preserves right of members of presbyteries – whatever views – to engage or not in ordinations/inductions.
(iii) Instruct the Theological Forum to explore the relevant ecclesiological issues informing the principles of the “mixed economy” as set out in the Report of the Theological Commission and report to the General Assembly of 2014.
(iv) Instruct all Courts, Councils and Committees of the Church not to make decisions in accordance with section 3(i) above until the position in relation to the proposed Overture has been finally determined by a future General Assembly.
4. Thank and discharge the Theological Commission.”.
JOHN P. CHALMERS
Cl Eccl Scot
The result of the Deliverance as amended by the countermotion is that instead of the change of position with an opt-out for “Traditionalists”, the Assembly have voted to maintain the status quo but with an opt-in for “Revisionists” – a very subtle shift of emphasis in the hope, no doubt, that it will keep the Church together.
As to further proceedings, if I understand the position correctly the next move is for the Committee on Legal Questions to draft an Overture to be considered by the General Assembly of 2014 which, if approved, will be sent down to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act 1697 because the terms of the Overture will engage an issue of “doctrine or worship or discipline”. If my assumption is correct (and if I’m wrong and there’s a Scots church lawyer who can correct me, please, please don’t hesitate to do so) the change will only be implemented if a majority of presbyteries approve the proposal and the General Assembly confirm it in 2015.