The report of the Church of Scotland’s Theological Commission on same-sex relationships and the ministry is soon to be debated at the General Assembly.
Commissioners (delegates) will be responsible for resolving whether the Kirk will allow one or both partners in a same-sex relationship to be accepted into ministry training.
The issue is of huge importance in its own right. But whatever decision is reached, the down-stream consequences are likely to overshadow it. Despite a long and justified preamble in the report on unity in the Church, the commission itself has polarised the debate by providing two minority reports labelled “Revisionist” and “Traditionalist”.
When the dust settles after the Assembly, what will be the outcome? If successful, the Revisionists may rejoice in what they regard as an “inclusive” decision, but the denomination will be even more fragmented and withering. What is it about celibacy in Christian service, which was the lifestyle of the three key founders of the faith (John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and our Lord Jesus himself), that is unacceptable?
On the other hand, while “success” for the Traditionalist position may offer integrity through continuity and consistency with the Kirk’s foundations in the authority of Scripture, by choosing same-sex relationships as a touchstone for the greater issue, the perception that it is a smokescreen for homophobia will grow. How unwise is that? Revisionists and Traditionalists alike now carry grave responsibilities far beyond what they ever expected. Vision for the Christian cause in Scotland is being distorted by both sides. The greater matter is how the Kirk is to be equipped for its mission to a broken, Christ-needy Scotland.
Making the Kirk fit for purpose has functional as well as spiritual components. This requires affirmation of robust orthodox (as opposed to merely traditional) beliefs and doctrines. But, just as crucially, it requires a root and branch reform of the Kirk’s ineffectual archaic establishment structures and – in not a few instances – its wasteful, self-serving practices.
This needs a “Vatican 2” for the Kirk and not a crisis debate. It needs leadership above and beyond commissions, committees and convenors.
D R Taylor