Today is the day that the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly has set aside to debate the report of the Theological Commission on Same-Sex Relationships and the Ministry. Many of our friends in Scotland have much at stake in this debate. Many are hoping and praying that the Church of Scotland will take a step towards greater equality. Some will be fearing that the Kirk might put up new barriers to some people who have discerned a call to serve God, barriers which will reduce equality and make the Church less welcoming. Some will be dreading the prospect of the admittance of irreconcilable differences within the Church of Scotland, one which will cause the denomination to fracture and split as has been the sorrowful tendency so many times in the history of Reformed Protestant churches.
Regular readers of this blog will be able to guess what we are hoping to see. We would love to see a ringing endorsement of justice, equality, and the unfathomable generosity of God. We would love to hear a debate which gives evidence of sound theological thinking and solid Biblical exegesis, a debate in which no group is denigrated because of sexuality or religious affiliation (it would be nice if no one tried to use Jews, for instance, as a bad example). We would love to know that none of our friends in Scotland will find themselves battered in spirit and broken-hearted at the end of the day.
At this point, I am not going to give a close analysis of the report. I do wish that the people who fear for the unity of the Church would remember that, for Christian theology, Christian unity does not in the end rest with the thoughts and decisions of human beings alone, or even primarily, but in the relational work of God. The mystery of relationships among those of diverse beliefs and devotional practices—even of relationships crossing from one faith tradition to another—can be fully untangled and knitted together only by divine effort. However, this does not mean that human beings do not have to answer the call to join in building up a world of peace for all that is. We have been given talents and time for this endeavour; we need to try. There can be no unity without justice, and no justice without mercy.
One last personal plea to the Church of Scotland: how can a report that talks about church unity in terms of the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church’ formula of the Nicene Creed be so lacking in references to actual churches—at least to churches which have made this decision already? Yes, the “traditionalist” option mentions denominations that its side believes would be upset by the General Assembly choosing the “revisionist” path, but the “revisionist” side never mentions churches like the United Church of Canada which has opted to allow the ordination of ministers in same-sex relationships for quite a while now. I know that because I am a minister of The Presbyterian Church of Canada, some might expect me to ignore my own denomination’s historical nemesis, but credit should go where credit is due. (And, to be honest, I am hoping that a decision towards equality in Scotland today might push my own denomination in a similar direction.)
In closing, I pray for God’s Spirit to guard and guide the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, today and always, and to shelter all those vulnerable to harm.
And for courage and consolation: