Is a trajectory enough?

Today, at the Kirk’s General Assembly, a pretty hefty debate took place over the Kirk’s future direction in its relationship with partnered homosexuals in ordained leadership. Unfortunately, due to ‘real’ church business, I was unable to sit through the entire debate, but caught the gist of it and the key vote.

The GA was presented with two ‘trajectories’. One kept to the traditionalist position and extended the moratorium on ordination of partnered homosexuals for an indefinite period. The other set out on a revisionist path which aims to lead to reconciliation with the LGBT community and to open leadership doors to those who are in a same-sex relationship.

It’s not quite the liberal triumph some may be suggesting (nor, for that matter, is it the road to doom and destruction others are suggesting). It simply sets out a possible path towards that reconciliation and opening up of leadership.

The decision allows for a theological commission to explore the issues around what this decision means. From the beginning of this phase of the debate I’ve always advocated the need for the Kirk to set in order its understanding of marriage and partnership as a prerequisite for any decision. If heterosexual marriage and same-sex partnerships can be brought to an equitable footing then there is no further debate to be had. This, I think, was the understanding behind the former Principal Clerk’s amendment to the ‘trajectory choice’ deliverance. I would have been happy for this to have been approved – it would satisfy the systematic theologian in me and help lay the theological foundations for further progress. Just to be clear – it has always been on this point that I have objected to same-sex partnerships in the manse, just as I would object to an unmarried heterosexual couple in the manse. Marriage is the defining structure within which we place committed partnerships. It’s not scriptural – it’s a legal issue. So, unless the Kirk was to make a serious u-turn on its approach to marriage then I always saw this as the primary issue to be addressed.

However, I also note that such a delay would have been entirely unsatisfactory on a number of fronts. Any opportunity to move away from discrimination and oppression ought to be taken at the earliest opportunity. The choice made today doesn’t quite meet that need either, but there is at least a glimmer of hope where there was little or nothing before. And certainly the other choice would pretty much have snuffed it out entirely.

One bigger candle of hope from today was the affirmation of sexual orientation not being a bar to ordination and training. Although it does raise interesting issues on what should happen if a subsequent partnership were to form. Do I detect the rattle of small pebbles precipitating an avalanche?

My biggest fear though is the threat of schism. There have already been rumblings that a vote for the revisionist trajectory would prompt some departures from the Church of Scotland. I’m not sure that a ‘trajectory’ really justifies that and would far prefer to see those voices stay with the Kirk, participate in the ongoing debates which need to happen and hopefully, along with everyone else, grow in grace. I don’t mean that to be ‘Christian-ese’ for ‘agree with me or you’re not a real Christian’, but rather work out how we can agree to disagree yet remain one. I know that there will be some who would say ‘good riddance’, but I think it would be very sad if any sort of schism were to happen.

So, back to the title. Is the trajectory set out upon today enough to satisfy those of a revisionist persuasion? Will there be patience to see through the next couple of years. working towards a more harmonious goal? And will a trajectory be enough to maintain a degree of unity in the Kirk?

11 responses to “Is a trajectory enough?”

  1. Like you John I’ve always thought this debate would come down to how the church would reconcile the status of marriage and same-sex relationships. It will be interesting to see where the trajectory leads…

  2. Good post John – gotta to agree with the need for patience. We are on a road but its gonna have twists and turns, hills to be negotiated. But yeah – a move in the right direction.

  3. The fact that you say it is a move in the right direction only confirms the fear that the church will eventually ordain gay clergy. The church cannot agree to disagree as what is at stake is a foundational doctrine – the authority of scripture ANC yes that may need to bring about more debate where the church has taken for granted to not follow certain things. However, that is in actual fact the right direction – being a more biblically based church.

  4. John,
    Like you, I have thought for a while that lifting the moratorium without having first given status to same sex partnerships or, dare I say marriage, would be a fairly pointless exercise. I know my situation was a wee bit precarious for a bit but I always said that I would not seek ordination until we were married as I think the Manse family come under enough scrutiny without adding the whole issue of wedlock status and, i always try not to be a hypocrite. You can perform weddings and yet not have one yourself.
    Some very good speeches today at least.

  5. As someone on the traditionalist side of the debate, I am left worried. I am already aware of colleagues who don’t know where they stand, (whether they can remain in the Kirk)and they are already dealing with people demanding their lines.
    Technically, nothing was decided today, but the whole tone of the first few days were clearly orchestrated to bring about this result. (No, I’m not looking for conspiracies…)
    I’m finding this really hard to reconcile what is an exclusive religion (which Christianity truly is (statements like Jesus’s own I am the Way, Truth and Life, for example) – in spite of the all encompassing love of God argument) and a spirit of inclusion which is clearly derived from the secular agenda of the times we live in.
    I would be a lot happier if anyone can show me any passage of Scripture, ANY passage, that condones homosexual behaviour. I am not aware of any such text as yet. To say that God loves us unconditionally is undoubtedly true, but that takes no cognisance of the justice and holiness side of God.
    This is a truly difficult position form the traditionalist side of the Kirk.

  6. I’m interested in the nature of the tradition at stake? I’ve blogged a bit about the tension between a church which has as its motto ‘always reforming’ and ‘tradition’ and I wonder which biblical principles ‘traditionalists’ feel are being abandoned?  My question stems from an understanding that the bible is not God’s final word, that Jesus is the Word, that God still speaks through the Holy Spirit and that we don’t adhere to many biblical principles because our understanding of both God and the world has deepened.  I’m also concerned that any of us can claim certainty of meaning.  The bible is many things but clear isn’t one of them.  Where does that leave us?

  7. We clergy sign up for the Word of God as it is contained in the Old and New Testaments. That’s the tradition that seems to being abandoned. There are many parts of it that are obscure and difficult to work out and that is an ongoing process. The problem here is that the report stated that most folk did not want change from the current position, and yet the GA voted to bring the change.
    Always reforming is certainly the motto of the church but always under God’s Word. The major issue here is that there are plenty of Scriptural passages that talk loudly against the position the Kirk has now taken.

  8. Great post, John. Like you, the whole marriage question has to be dealt with. As part of the examination of the life and doctrine of a minister (or someone seeking ordination), this would be examined in a heterosexual couple. I wouldn’t approve of the minister living with his girlfriend in the manse with no intention of getting married. If a theology of ordination of people in same-sex relationship did happen, this issue would have to be dealt with.
    There’s a bit of me wonders what the feelings of the “traditionalists” (sorry, I don’t like labels) was when the GA allowed women to be ordained? At the end of the day, a congregation still can call it’s own minister. We all know of congregations all over Scotland who will never call a woman, as the bible says women are subservient to men and should not speak in church.

  9. Mrs G…please..your last comment was a bit below the belt. We ‘trads’ are really struggling here, and besides, the woman thing has been explained long ago. Have a look at Michael Green’s book To Corinth with Love, for example.

  10. Sorry David, no offense intended. I know, if the vote had gone the other way I would have been struggling myself. I pray the Kirk can look at what we agree on more than disagree.

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