(1) The Church does a HUGE amount of good work in communities all over Scotland and with vulnerable groups. It is really thrilling at the Assembly to hear the reports of all the work going on, and I am immensely proud to be part of an organisation doing so much for the disadvantaged and needy. Are the press interested in those things? Do they get reported? Not really, considering how much there is to admire. "Crossreach", the social care arm of the Church of Scotland does a lot of truly wonderful stuff. So does the "Guild" (formerly "Womens Guild"). So does the Department of World Mission, the HIV/Aids project, and so much else at a national level. On top of this, in every city, town and village all over Scotland, local congregations are doing a phenomenal amount of good in terms of social care and community projects. These things are done in the name of Jesus, and are all ways in which Christians communicate in very practical ways the unconditional love of God for everyone. It is not really our fault as a denomination if the media are not sufficiently interested in these activities.
(2) The main message of the Church is not a message about sex, or indeed about any other moral or legal or lifestyle issue. The main message of the Church, often called the Gospel (which means "good news") is this: God loves the world so much that, rather than allowing people to receive the punishment that their sins deserve (and make no mistake we are ALL sin-full), he allowed his own son, Jesus, to take the punishment for us on the cross. Jesus became a once-and-for-all sacrifice so that WHOEVER (including prisoners of course) believes in him will not die (though their body does) but have wonderful eternal life. In Prisonworld, prisoners will interpret the word "sin" to mean their index offence; I sometimes find myself at services in prison having to break the bad news that there's a lot more to their sin than their crimes. Jesus said, for example that the most important two commandments were to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbour (our fellow human being) as much as we love ourselves. We ALL break them, and probably several times a day. We all need to hear the Gospel and our sex lives are marginal to that.
Having begun with that preamble I want to say something about the issue that has attracted the media attention because it IS an important one.
The traditional point of view in my denomination and many others has been that (a) God loves every human being unconditionally, (b) God sees heterosexual marriage as the only appropriate place for sexual activity, (c) God loves heterosexuals, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transexuals equally, and (d) it is in no way a sin to be homosexual in orientation. In view of (a) to (d), therefore, ministers were traditionally expected to be either in a heterosexual marriage or else celibate.
Last week, the Church of Scotland General Assembly voted to consider the possible theological, ecclesiological and legal implications of moving away from this position towards allowing non-celibate gay people to become clergy.
What do I think of this?
To be honest, I am very sad. This will probably shock my many LGBT friends and relatives because, I trust, you always have found (and I promise always will find) me to be unconditionally accepting of you. I love you as much as I did. I love you unconditionally. However, I also love the Lord.
When I read the Bible it is abundantly clear to me that, whatever I personally may feel, GOD himself disapproves of homosexual practice (as well as heterosexual sin such as adultery etc too of course). So what I think is irrelevant. I'm a sinner myself, as all who know me will testify. Therefore I am a poor judge of what is sin and what isn't. Just because something doesn't particuarly offend me doesn't mean it's not a sin. God is holy. God made the world. Wee boys playing football will sometimes claim "It's my ball" and that will give them extra say in what the rules are. The world, shaped like a ball, is God's ball and he makes the rules. We don't need to love them immediately but need to accept them and work towards understanding why God wants things that way.
The debate at the General Assembly a week ago today resulted in a decision to move in a "trajectory" in the direction of allowing practising homosexuals to be ministers. This is against the will of the membership as surveyed by a Special Commission questionnaire. This is against the will of the majority of the worldwide church with whom we do want to retain a real sense of unity. But more importantly it is clearly against Scripture.
It is this departure from Scripture that is really what upsets many of us. I cannot begin to put into words how grieved I am that people genuinely think that people in my position are homophobic. That is SO not true. For a living, I love people in spite of their lifestyles. For the avoidance of doubt let me be clear that I am not comparing homosexual behaviour with a life of crime. My point is that I love people in spite of their lifestyles. If I love the criminal then obviously I love the non-criminal. I know my heart and I know that I love everyone unconditionally and that clearly and definitely includes my LGBT friends and family. My greatest fear, indeed, in posting this blog (which has been a decision reached after a lot of thought) is that you guys will be hurt and misunderstand where I am coming from as a rejection of you.
I'm aware that some readers may want to say, "But, AnneDroid, are you saying that only ministers who are without sin at all can be ministers?" No! Of course I'm not saying that. No one is without sin, least of all me. Ministers are human. However, there is a higher standard expected of them than of others and that is just the way it is. Were I to carry on a series of extra-marital affairs (I'm not planning to - I like what I've got) I would not have committed an offence against the law of the land but I would expect the church to take a negative view of it. Even the least observant among you wouldn't need to look at me long to be suspicious that I am guilty of the sin of gluttony. I am, and I fight it with varying degrees of earnestness, but what I wouldn't ever do is try to persuade others that gluttony was not a sin but in fact a great blessing. That's an important distinction.
Some of my fellow clergy who share my understanding of God's will have already decided to leave the Church of Scotland. Others are still thinking they may well do so. I'm not going anywhere. My dad, his brother, my mum's uncle and his uncle before him were CofS ministers. Perhaps that's got something to do with my desire to stay, I don't know. But I don't feel God's leading to leave. Nor does Him Indoors. So we're staying.