The Recent Decision of the Church of Scotland Written by a Minister of that Denomination

May 23, 2013
Dr. Andrew McGowan

Dr. Andrew McGowan is a member of the WRF and the Chair of the WRF Theology Commission.  Dr. McGowan currently serves as Senior Minister at Inverness East Church, a congregation of the Church of Scotland.

Last night, Dr. McGowan presented to his congregation the letter below.  Dr. McGowan has given us permission to post this letter and he may be contacted at atbmcgowan@gmail.com.

 


Dr. McGowan Statement to the Congregation of Inverness East:

I write this with a heavy heart.  The report of the Theological Commission on Same-Sex Relationships and the Ministry (on which I served) was presented to the General Assembly on Monday 20th May.  We had been asked to look at all the biblical and theological arguments which had a bearing on the subject before us.

Our report contained the biblical and theological arguments in favour of the orthodox biblical position, which the Church has always held.  This was described as the ‘traditionalist’ view and was written by Gordon Kennedy, Jane McArthur and myself.

Our report also contained the arguments for the ‘revisionist’ position, which advocated the acceptance of the ordination and induction of those in same-sex civil partnerships.  This was written by Alan Falconer, Mary Henderson and Marjory MacLean

The General Assembly was invited to choose between a motion supporting the ‘traditionalist’ position and a motion supporting the ‘revisionist’ position. 

At the last minute, however, in the middle of the debate, a new motion was presented by the Very Rev Albert Bogle, who had just completed his term as Moderator of the General Assembly.  This was a compromise motion.  On the one hand, it reaffirmed the traditional biblical position of the Church.  On the other hand, it gave congregations the right to ‘opt out’ of the Church’s position and to agree to call a minister in a same-sex civil partnership.

The General Assembly now had three options before it and voting began.  After the first vote, the motion supporting the ‘traditionalist’ position dropped out, having attracted the least number of votes.  The Assembly then had a second vote, between the ‘revisionist’ motion and Mr Bogle’s motion.  Mr Bogle’s motion carried.  The full text of what the General Assembly agreed is immediately after this letter.

The matter, however, is not finished.  In order for Mr Bogle’s motion to become the law of the Church, a piece of legislation (called an ‘overture’) is needed.  That will be prepared and presented to next year’s General Assembly by the Legal Questions Committee.  If approved by the General Assembly of 2014, it will go down to Presbyteries for their approval.  If it is approved by the Presbyteries it will come back for final approval by the General Assembly of 2015.

At the same time, the new Theological Forum of the Church of Scotland has been asked to consider the ‘ecclesiological issues’ which this proposal raises and to report to the General Assembly of 2014.  In other words, how will all this work in practice?

As you can see, there is a great deal still to be done and much more time and energy to be spent on this issue.

After two long, hard years of detailed and thorough work by the Theological Commission, the General Assembly was offered two carefully considered options.  Instead, it chose to accept a motion which was ‘cobbled together’ at lunchtime on the day of the debate and which will take another two years to come into effect. 

I cannot sufficiently express how deeply disappointed I am by this result.  In particular, I am disappointed that so many evangelicals chose to vote for a compromise motion, which allows those living in same-sex relationships to be ordained and inducted, instead of the clearly biblical position which they were offered.

Some of them will say that the end result is better than if the revisionist position had been affirmed, while others will say that they voted tactically to avoid defeat, saying that at least the ‘orthodox position’ has been affirmed as the position of the Church.  I have little patience for such politicking and manoeuvring.  Monday was a day for those who believe that the Bible is the infallible Word of God to stand together for truth.  That did not happen and it grieves my heart.

None of this has changed my conviction that we ought to stay in the Church of Scotland and work for its reformation and renewal but this decision of the General Assembly means that the journey towards that objective will be longer and harder.

In all of this, I would affirm what Derek said when our elders met to discuss the situation, namely, that we must not allow this issue to divert our attention from our primary purpose of worshipping and serving the living God and proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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