Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Why I Need to Still Go to Church - Two Years On

It doesn't seem like almost two years since I stood on the Mound in Edinburgh outside the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to show my support for my friend Rev. Scott Rennie. However, although the vote that day went in favour of Scott's calling to Queen's Cross in Aberdeen there was a later discussion that put a moritorium on openly gay trainees for the ministry and appointing openly gay ministers. News today that the Special Commission on Same Sex Relationships and the Ministry* is to report to next month's Assembly signals an end of that process and a period when those within the church weren't to discuss this further.

What the commission has come up with in its recommendations are two trajectories.The first of which is to implement a ban on homosexuals training to be ministers — despite such discrimination being illegal — while the second is to allow people in a same-sex relationship to train for the ministry but set up a theological commission to come up with a definitive answer in 2013. Therefore one is a full stop to any progress, the other is to allow another 2 years of thinking time.

I've written in the past that my own personal journey and struggle to reconcile my faith with my sexuality took over a decade, "so I don't expect the Church to totally come to terms with things overnight. Although they have had 2000 or so years to get to grips with these issues." Therefore I'm wondering why the need for another two year commission to look at the theological questions. When the commision was established it knew it was facing a two-year moritorium on the issue, they would know that people would expectantly waiting to hear their findings, not only within the church but further afield. So the fact that one trajectory is a clear no and the other is a cloudy maybe is not good enough.

One thing the commission did say is that the church needs to acknowledge that homophobia is a sin, that the church should not be hostile to homosexuality. Also it should not deny those who are homosexual by orientation from being members or taking up positions of leadership.

Why is that a big deal you may ask? As my friend Caron wrote two years ago about her days at University:

"It was clear that [my gay friends] weren't welcome [within the Christian Union] just on the basis of their sexuality. That seemed fundamentally unfair to me and I ultimately decided that if you had to be like that to be in the Church, then I wasn't going to bother, thank you very much."

It was something I myself faced up to earlier this year.Whilst the church I grew up in and am attending again is happy that I play bass in the praise band (and I often get complimented for the sympathetic way that I do after services) I'm not a full member. Despite having become a member there in my teens on my profession of faith, that is no longer good enough. When I went for my membership interview, I was told that my blog had been read, and I was asked as question one, would I consider myself to be homosexual. Of course I would, I see part of what I have to do now as to help those young (and not so young) people who struggle with faith and sexuality issues, sometimes to the point of suicide, or contemplating it. 

At the ned of that interview it seemed to me that it would be far easier as a gay Christian to lie to yourself and to others. To bear false witness and pass all the comments about girlfriends or future wives off as not yet. Rather that allowing me the chance to carry on being happy accepting me as who I am rather than the misery that came with hiding my feelings for so long through my teens and twenties. I'm just glad that the place I was at in my forties enabled me to deal with such rejection, a teenage me might not have still been around after such rejection from the Church family that he had known all his life.

I wait to see what the Church of Scotland decide next month. There is a maybe option, and that is an option of hope for people like me within the Church who Christian and Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual.

* I note that the name of the commission has changed in the two years from one on Human Sexuality an inclusive title to only looking at Same-Sex relationships and the Ministry (lessening the scope).


  1. We clearly have a lot in common that I hadn't previously appreciated, Stephen! I would like to see a more inclusive church that can give hope to those of us who are gay or bisexual. I've written in the past about the commission which for me simply seems anxious to postpone making a decision for as long as possible.

    I'm with the great Archbishop Desmond Tutu on this one: "Why should we want homosexuals not to give expression to their sexuality in loving acts? The Jesus I worship is not likely to collaborate with those who persecute an already opressed minority."

    I'm taking part in a Church of Scotland hustings tomorrow; if given the opportunity I will clearly spell out my vision for a tolerant, inclusive church.

  2. Cheers for that Andrew. Here in Ireland the pastoral guidance for people with same-sex attractions had a seven point action plan of which I thin only half of one point has been implemented. May have to look into that after May 6th.

    All the best in the hustings tomorrow, I did just that in one last year, and got praised by several people in the room for not giving the answer that I thought the majority of the people would live with but a reasoned response on a number of issues.