It can’t have escaped your attention that there’s a serious row brewing for this year’s General Assembly. It concerns the Rev. Scott Rennie, an openly gay minister living with his partner. He has been called by a congregation in Aberdeen. Pesbytery have upheld the call, but a significant minority raised an official objection and the case is being heard by GA.
This has all the makings of a row big enough to seriously split the church, for all sorts of reasons. There’s the homosexuality issue; there’s the right of call of a congregation to be considered; there are issues of marriage, and what it is. And the big problem seems to be that there are entrenched views which cannot see past their own agenda – and, as usual, it is the vocal minority, on either side, which makes the headlines.
I’ve just listened to the Radio Scotland phone-in, Morning Extra, and it was fascinating how it seemed (in general) to be the laity who saw in black and white and the ministers who were on being honest about how much of a struggle this was. That said, one lady, a minister’s wife, was most eloquent and patiently explained how we read a translation and we simply don’t fully understand the cultural baggage that underpins the very few verses that speak about homosexuality and so we cannot know, in that balack and white sense, what was being said. To echo some of the ministers who were on, we seek to follow Christ in our imperfect understanding of God’s Word.
I originally intended posting about Biblical interpretation, or about an overarching moral and ethical framework we discover in Christ, but I’m not sure that rehearsing the same old arguments here will further the discussion at all. Suffice it to say that I don’t think the issue is black and white. The ‘plain meaning of scripture’ is a cop-out that precludes study. Why should this one issue be so clear when virtually everything else taught in scripture results in a tension between different things.
Even if this debate stays at the level of the ‘legalities’ – the right of call or an unmarried couple in the manse – it’s going to be messy. The fallout from it is going to ripple through the entire church and, from what I can see, the wider relationships the CofS has with other denominations. Is this going to be another ‘Anglican Communion’ split issue? I really hope that it can be resolved in a far more amicable and gracious way than it seems to be heading.
Creating online petitions is the entirely wrong way to go about this debate. It simply polarises the issues and creates artificial division. It undermines the authority and purpose of the General Assembly. It says, openly, that the petitioners do not believe that the Assembly can deal with the issue in a balanced, prayerful and gracious manner. It sends the message that they who shout loudest get their way. The tactics of the vocal minority have been morally dubious and legally questionable. Forward Together had to issue an apology for seriously misrepresenting Scott Rennie’s personal history.
This debate has been put off for too long, I believe. The ‘period of reflection’ has been stretched out too far. I think it is time for the discussion, following refelection, to happen. But it needs to be just that – a discussion, not a bullying tirade that seeks to undermine the structures of the church or the work of the majority who struggle daily with how to represent Christ to those to whom they seek to minister.