Thinking Anglicans

Church of Scotland apologises and moves towards same-sex marriage

The (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland has issued this press release: Assembly agrees apology to gay people and accepts same sex marriage report.

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has approved an apology to gay people for the history of discrimination they have faced in the Church.

Commissioners also approved a report which could pave the way to allow some ministers to conduct same sex marriages in the future.

The text of this press release is copied in full below the fold.

Some press coverage of this:

Guardian Harriet Sherwood Church of Scotland in step towards conducting same-sex marriages

BBC Kirk’s General Assembly moves towards allowing gay marriage

The Herald Kirk backs same sex marriage in church, and formal apology to LGBT people and a leader column: Kirk takes step in the right direction

The Scotsman Kirk agrees to apologise for failing to recognise gay people and Leader comment: Kirk is right to apologise

Christian Today Church of Scotland apologises for discrimination against gay people, moves toward accepting gay marriage

Assembly agrees apology to gay people and accepts same sex marriage report

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has approved an apology to gay people for the history of discrimination they have faced in the Church.

Commissioners also approved a report which could pave the way to allow some ministers to conduct same sex marriages in the future.

The Assembly voted in favour of instructing the Legal Questions Committee to conduct new research into the availability of legal protection for any Minister or Deacon who refuse to officiate ceremonies as a matter of conscience.

A report of the committee’s findings will be presented to the General Assembly next year for further discussion.

Commissioners also agreed that the Church should take stock of its history of discrimination against gay people, at different levels and in different ways, and apologise “individually, corporately and seek to do better.”

Conscience

An amendment to recognise the Church’s doctrine and practice in matters of human sexuality and marriage was accepted by the General Assembly.

The decisions were taken after three hours of impassioned debate over options presented by the Theological Forum.

The debate was carried out in a spirit of grace and humility, but there was no mistaking the strength of feeling expressed in the Hall.

Some commissioners on the traditionalist wing of the Church claimed the report was “biased” and “one-sided” but their arguments failed to carry the majority with them.

A majority agreed that the Theological Forum, in consultation with other councils of the Church, should investigate theologically, the theme of reconciliation to address divisions between churches and wider society.

Presenting the report, Theological Forum convener, Very Rev Professor Iain Torrance, said he and his colleagues could see “no sufficient theological reason for the Church not to authorise specific ministers to officiate at same-sex weddings”.

He added that this would be possible “if doing so does not prejudice the position of those who decline to do so for reasons of conscience”.

Professor Torrance told commissioners that the Church’s journey on the issue had parallels with the one it has taken on the ordination of women in the 1960s.

He said the debate was initially won by ‘justice arguments’, reluctantly accepted by traditionalists,
Professor Torrance said opponents later gave way to a new theological understanding which made room for women’s ministry.

Professor Torrance added said that the Forum was trying to frame the argument on same-sex marriage in a new way, drawing on the work of theologian Robert Song:

“Song suggests that rather than the old fraught polarisation of heterosexual versus homosexual, where the notion of homosexuality is demonised as disobedient to a creation expectation to pro-create, it needs to be reframed,” he added.

Apology

Speaking after the debate, Rev Scott Rennie, minister at Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen, said he was “delighted” that the General Assembly had decided to move forward on the issue.

“There was a real feeling that we have to find space for everyone in the Church and I hope it is not too many years before I am able to marry people of the same gender,” he added.

But Rev Mike Goss, clerk of Angus Presbytery who has been representing the traditionalist wing of the Church in media interviews this week, said he and his colleagues were “frustrated” that the Church was not coming together over the issue.

“Although there were things in the report that myself and friends felt could have been better expressed, it has not altered where things are with this debate,” he added.

“I hope that by having it today, we have highlighted that we do not feel that our position has been well reflected in the report itself and that will help the Church know where we are coming from.”

Mr Goss said he had “no difficulty apologising” to the gay community.

“If I have caused hurt to other folk unintentionally then I am more than happy to do it,” he added.

Speaking after the debate, Professor Torrance said he felt that the Church as a whole understood that the Theological Forum was trying to move it out of a “culture of mutual denunciation into a non-binary situation”.

“A non-binary situation is the only one in which we can honour each other and enable mutual flourishing,” he added.

In a world where political and social issues are becoming increasingly polarised, the spirit of respectful dialogue in the Assembly Hall today is a welcome reminder that debate is still possible without resorting to ever more divisive rhetoric.

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Andrew Lightbown
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Speaking after the debate, Professor Torrance said he felt that the Church as a whole understood that the Theological Forum was trying to move it out of a “culture of mutual denunciation into a non-binary situation”.

“A non-binary situation is the only one in which we can honour each other and enable mutual flourishing,” he added. Quite: so let’s hope the C of E’s leadership is able to get to the same conclusion.

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

Is it just my over-sensitivity, or is the use of the word “folks” demeaning and dismissive? “People” is a better word, wouldn’t you say?

Sister Mary
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Sister Mary

I believe something similar has already been operative in URC (Presbyterian) in England. Since January 2017 my local URC has been considering as a congregation whether to celebrate same sex marriages in church. The church is licensed for marriages, but the local church can choose or refuse to offer the SSM option. They set up a congregational study course with separate clear talks by 2 URC ministers, one pro and one against. Each talk was followed by Q&A and a full transcript of both talks was circulated. After a time of prayer and pondering, a discussion meeting for the church… Read more »

Richard
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Richard

I agree that “folks” is dismissive, but most folks do not.

Stanley Monkhouse
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IO: it’s not just you. Cringeworthy. However, I can hear my Scottish grandmother using the word in a formal context without intention to demean or belittle. Maybe Scottish idiom is the explanation.

Father Ron Smith
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Scotland, the Brave! Bravo!

Priscilla White
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Priscilla White

Re “folks” I remember thinking exactly that when George Dubya said “We’ll get the folks that did this” after 9/11. I wonder if it is national idiom thing.
Finding a good inclusive word can be tricky, people is obvious in many contexts but to my ears sounds odd as in “Hi People!”

Jo
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Jo

I can confirm that widespread use of “folk” where standard English might use “people” is very common in Scottish English. A remnant of Norse influence, perhaps?

JCF
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JCF

Mr Goss said he had “no difficulty apologising” to the gay community. “If I have caused hurt to other folk unintentionally then I am more than happy to do it,” he added.

Nevermind the word “folk”—that’s simply NOT an apology. “If”? “unintentionally”? Does Mr Goss not understand what an apology is?

Pat O'Neill
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Pat O'Neill

JCF:

That is what is known in American politics as a “non-apology apology”. In its most egregious form, if can even seem to put the onus on the other party, for being so touchy as to have been offended.

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

Quite, Pat. He says “If I have caused hurt to other folk unintentionally, then I am more than happy to do it”. But he didn’t cause hurt unintentionally, he – like all homophobes in the church – knew precisely what he was doing and caused hurt deliberately. Modus Ponens is “if P, then Q, P is true, so Q is true”. For a consistent set of axioms, “if P, then Q, P is false, so Q is false” also holds (as does modus tolens, “if P, then Q, Q is false, so P is false” – he quite clearly isn’t… Read more »

Pam
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Pam

There’s a song about “sorry” being the hardest word. And it is. It must be perceived as genuine and heartfelt, no matter the words used. If it is not then it’s not worth tuppence. When the hurt runs deep, as in homophobia in the church, soul-searching and right words are paramount and they need to come from the leadership as example.

Pat O'Neill
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Pat O'Neill

“It does strike me that all these Christians who hurt people unintentionally (Justin Welby has been doing a lot of it of late) should be more careful, and perhaps try to regulate their behaviour a bit so they _don’t_ hurt people unintentionally. Intentional or unintentional, people still get hurt, and lying (because of course it’s intentional) is bad for the conscience as well.” If I step on your foot, in all probability it was unintentional…but still I offer a sincere apology because I was, at the least, a clumsy oaf. If you use your words so clumsily as to cause… Read more »