Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Faithfulness, frustration and fear

We are now in the middle of this General Assembly, I am already exhausted!

I do not usually feel this way at this stage of Assembly. Indeed, through the (all too many) years of my attendance at Assembly I have tended to enjoy it. The break from the normal routine, the cut and thrust of debate and the meeting of many friends have – in the past – been stimulating and enjoyable.

There have been aspects of this Assembly that I have enjoyed and especially the meeting with friends, the coffees and lunches and drinks with different folks and the post Assembly gatherings and so on.
But it has also been very intense. VERY intense!

One question in my mind throughout is that of faithfulness, and what that means. I am called to be faithful as a commissioner, and I have made every effort to be so. In fact I cannot recall a General Assembly when I have been so attentive and engaged.

But there are the deeper issues of faithfulness to the Gospel, faithfulness to one’s ‘conscience’ and faithfulness to one’s sisters and brothers. And in all this there has been a tension.

My frustration has been with attitudes, processes and labels. While my view is that the contentious debate on ministers and same-sex relationships was in the main carried out in a spirit of grace and love yet there have been other undercurrents around in conversations, blogs and facebook postings from both sides of the sexuality debate.

And that is a further frustration. Are there simply two ‘sides’ to this? I do not think so.

What about those who are not yet sure what they think?

Or those who take a ‘traditionalist’ view but do not see this as an issue that should divide us?

Or those who regard themselves as evangelicals in every respect but in terms of this issue of same sex relationships, but who are scared to put their heads above the parapet?

And that is where the fear comes in. I know this to be the case because of the many, many folks who have contacted me in response to previous blogs. But they have done so privately and anonymously. They are (understandably) afraid to publicly declare their views. Thank God for the privacy of the electronic voting system) These are people who are questioning the traditionalist line on this issue but who would not then wish to identify themselves as ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ or whatever. They believe that the scriptures are authoritative; they affirm the need for a personal response to Jesus and are committed to proclaiming the faith. These are folks who (like me) gladly affirm the historic faith of the church and who owe their own Christian commitment and engagement to the evangelical witness of faithful folks.

But if they go ‘public’ with their doubts or questions then what? They may lose their sense of belonging and fellowship and allegiance. They may even lose their friends. And as one whose previous comments and declarations have led to receiving some pretty bruising comments, I can sympathise.

And that brings me back to frustration.  

.. and fear...

For I think that the ‘two sides’ approach has done the church a disservice. I am angry that the Theological Commission ‘enshrined’ polarisation. And that brings me back to my fear; that we are unable to really dialogue about our differences in a spirit of openness and mutual respect.

I did not vote for my friend Albert Bogle’s motion, but I think given where he and others are coming from he has displayed great courage in it. Rather than seeing it as fudge, I regard it as a real act of grace, humility and courage.

As I said in a previous blog ‘there will be a time when true courage in revealed in compromise’.
And two final thoughts:

I think Lorna Hood is doing a wonderful job as Moderator in the midst of very difficult Assembly.

And, if the view that I have now moved towards is to be more widely accepted by the large group of the uncertain then I think that there is a very real need for revisionists to present their arguments with a much more rigorous, disciplined, biblical and theological rigor than has thus far been evident. See the comment of URC minister Nick Brindley whose blogs I follow and whose comments are always full of thoughtful reflection.

You may disagree with me. If you do I hope you will say so. But please be gracious in your comments. 


  1. I think the Kirk is entering a very difficult period and you do well to be aware of the problems that lie ahead. The "compromise" position that has been agreed is highly unsatisfactory for a number of reasons but above all because it has too much the flavour of a political trade-off without real theological basis.

    I think a theological basis for a position that holds the Kirk together is possible but it has to be rooted in real reflection about what you are, as a denomination, which will involve thinking through what it is to be a national church in the post-Christendom world.

  2. Nick, I agree that the compromise is unsatisfactory, but I think it may have been the only decision we could have made in the circumstances and that it was proposed honestly and courageously. Amongst the problems (in my view) were the failure of the Theological Commission a) to come anywhere near agreement amongst themselves b) the failure of the theological commission to offer any theological analysis other than for the tow extreme positions and c) the failure of the revisionists to offer a satisfactory theological argument in favour of their position (as you argue in your own blog). Yes, we are entering a very difficult period and I fully agree that the Church fundamentally needs to engage in a time of theological reflection not just on this issue but on many others (you mention the role of a national church in a post-Christendom world. I also think we need to reflect on the meaning of ordination before we keep 'inventing' all kinds of new forms of ministry, and I think we need a wider theological discussion on the application of NT ethics in general). But I fear the church will avoid this theological reflection and thinking and will come to decisions on this matter (as on so many others) without the theological underpinning required.