Friday, 16 May 2014

Moderator Gives a Word of Warning


The Moderator Designate of the Church of Scotland has spoken of the forthcoming GA, and the contentious issue of ministers in same sex partnerships and members or office-bearers actively engaged in homosexual activities:

“What chance, however, of the Church acting as a model of Respectful Dialogue in the nation if it cannot conduct its own internal affairs in the same way? So, when we approach the point of decision making on the question of the ordination of ministers in same-sex relationships I anticipate that, while there will be strong views expressed on both sides of this issue, the discussion will be on people’s understanding of the substantial matters of theology which are at stake and contributions to the debate will be gracious and respectful of the individuals who take part.

This is a matter which appears to be a simple choice between two opinions; however, it is more complex than that. Even those with settled views on this matter have to consider the impact that their view has on the peace and unity of the Church and they have to consider the range of views of more than 400,000 members who belong to the Church of Scotland. Even left to the heavy weight champion theologians this contest might be a split decision, so Respectful Dialogue is the best way to prepare for the Church’s continued life beyond such a momentous debate.

Where passions run high and people are heavily invested in their desired outcome they must be prepared to be benevolent in victory or magnanimous in defeat. Respectful Dialogue acknowledges that others may have a valid point of view and that our own point of view is never furthered by disparaging our rivals. When we stage our debates on such principles we are better prepared to live with one another whatever the outcomes.
Peace and unity within the Church, healing and reconciliation in the nation will be themes that I return to time and time again during this Moderatorial year.”

“Respectful dialogue” seems to be the watchword.  I am not in favour of being rude, aggressive or unnecessarily belligerent.  But this proposed “niceness” has hidden assumptions.

Firstly, it is suggested that this is a matter of great complexity, one that may be so complex that it has no easy solution.  Fermat’s Last Theorem is complex; it had no easy solution.  2 + 2 is simple and its solution is patently obvious.  Muddy the waters, suggest complexity, dismiss simple solutions – that is a rhetorical device to confuse the issue, not to reach a definite decision.  Would the Moderator suggest that “Do not commit adultery”, for example, is complex and does not admit of a simple understanding. If something is horribly complex then you need to defer to the experts; it is beyond the ordinary Christian reading his own Bible to come to a settled conclusion.

Secondly, almost in opposition to the first point, there are 400,000 (paper) members of the Kirk.  They represent a range of views whose opinions must be taken into consideration.  Elsewhere the Moderator claims that a third of the Scottish population identify with the Church of Scotland – why not defer to their opinion?

Thirdly “Peace and Unity” are overwhelmingly important.  The suggestion is that they trump Truth.  What is important is what makes for peace, not what is true.  Indeed, if Truth is always relative it must always defer to Peace and Unity.

Fourthly, this issue will be decided by theology, God-talk, and “people’s opinions”.  Given the suggested complexity of the issue it would be viewed as arrogance in the extreme to say that it is to be decided by the clear and unequivocal teaching of Scripture.  Everyone has a “valid point of view”.  Truth is relative.  It would be dismissed as arrogance in the extreme to suggest “You hold your point of view; I hold to God’s point of view as clearly taught in Scripture.”  Indeed, I notice that there is no reference whatsoever to Scripture and its controlling authority in anything the Moderator says.

Fifthly, when the remnant of Evangelicals loose, they must be “magnanimous in defeat”.  No protest, no decision to realign with a biblical denomination, no ongoing campaign after the sealing of this decision by presbyteries under the Barrier Act, no speaking to the Press and breaking the moratorium on public campaigning.  Lie down and accept defeat.  Of course the Kirk has shown an example of healing and reconciliation and magnanimity just before the start of Assembly by depriving two congregations in Edinburgh of their property because they dared to stand by Scripture and have departed from the denomination.


Liberals speak of peace and unity and toleration.  In truth they only tolerate lapdog evangelicals who buy into the idea that a broad church has room for all shades of opinion and practice.