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The Trustees have prepared a briefing paper to help with the overture being discussed by each Presbytery in the coming months. The Text is copied below and there is also a link to download it as a PDF document for you to keep and to share (the link is at the bottom of this article). This we hope will be an encouragement and a help to many.

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Covenant Fellowship Scotland
Overture: Act 1 2015 - Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnerships


In 2015 the General Assembly passed “Act 1 2015 - Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnerships” affirmed the historic doctrine and practice of the Church of Scotland in relation to sexuality. However, the Act specifically granted right to Kirk Sessions to opt out of that traditional understanding of sexuality during a time of vacancy. This “opting out” would give that congregation the right to call a minister or deacon in a Civil Partnership.

Later in the same General Assembly of 2015, a joint report of the Theological Forum and Legal Questions Committee sought to amend that Act 1 2015 just passed, extending the legislation to include ministers and deacons in Same-Sex-Marriages.

It was argued that the amendment was needed because Scots Law had created the possibility of Same-Sex-Marriage. Presenting the joint report Prof Iain Torrance argued that the amendments were merely about “benefits” and simply tidying up the legislation. It is this set of amendments which forms the Overture for debate at Presbyteries.

To make this point in a simple and homely way, Professor Torrance used an analogy of two couples living next to each other in New Town, Edinburgh. So the analogy said, one couple (in Civil Partnership) has the right to on-street parking. The question is, should their neighbour (in Same-Sex-Marriage) not also then have the same right to on-street parking?

Although this analogy seems to make the point neatly. It is an inaccurate reflection of the issue because it makes a key unstated assumption. Following the flow of the analogy it makes the assumption that “the neighbours” (the couple in Same-Sex-Marriage) actually have a legitimate tenancy agreement - thus the right to live there. It is only once the legitimacy of the tenancy agreement has been confirmed that any benefits (like on-street parking) could be granted.

Pointers For Debate

1. The Church of Scotland has never accepted that marriage can be entered into by two people of the same sex. In the analogy above, a “legitimate tenancy agreement” has never been established and so the matter is not simply about “benefits”.
Put in normal terms, the Church has never established morally or theologically what a Same-Sex-Marriage is. We shall be agreeing to something without knowing what we are agreeing to.

2. The Overture will (de-facto) have the effect of introducing Same-Sex-Marriage into the Church of Scotland without prior biblical or doctrinal agreement that this is theologically acceptable. And, in doing so, will contradict various reports accepted by the General Assembly in recent years (e.g. The Mission and Discipleship Council, on Human Sexuality, GA in 2012,) and recent presentations to the Scottish Government on same sex marriage (e.g. Dec 2012 Legal Questions Committee Convenor submission to Scottish government).
In 2012 the Mission and Discipleship report while arguing for a traditional view of marriage stated succinctly that marriage between two people of the same sex would be a “…major break with Scripture and church practice through the ages.” (5/54, 8.2)
The Overture will not tidy up legislation but create that major break.

3. The historic and current practice of the Church is that marriage is between one man and one woman. This fundamental biblical belief is reflected in the biblical story, the opening words of Chapter XXIV of the Westminster Confession of Faith (“Marriage is to be between one man and one woman…”) and integral to the liturgy of marriage ceremonies.

4. On occasion when Jesus was drawn to speak on marriage (re: its breakdown, Matthew 19.1-12 and parallels) His comments are based on Genesis 2 – the joining together of the man and woman. Jesus clearly believed that Genesis 2 was foundational for understanding marriage.

5. When, “Act 1, 2015” was debated and passed, it had limited scope because it referred only to those engaging in the secular construct of a “Civil Partnership”. The scope and content of the debate would have been necessarily different had “marriage” been part of the discussion.

6. Sexuality and marriage are certainly related but they are not the same. The Assembly debated Act 1, 2015 in the context of sexuality, not in the context of marriage.

7. That the content of this Overture has not been debated and thought through adequately is seen in (at least) three substantial inconsistencies which would immediately follow.

  1. Ministers and deacons in Same-Sex-Marriage would serve in Christ’s Church (The Church of Scotland) which still holds to the view that marriage is between one man and one woman.
  2. While they themselves were able to marry in a civil ceremony they could not do so in their own denomination because the Church of Scotland has never agreed to the biblical legitimacy of Same-Sex-Marriage.
  3. While they themselves are able to marry, they cannot solemnise the marriages of other same-sex-couples because the Church of Scotland has never agreed to the biblical legitimacy of Same-Sex-Marriage.

These inconsistencies would arise because the Church has not dealt with this matter adequately.

  1. In fact, Prof Torrance indicated that this matter would have to be addressed in a report to a later Assembly.
  2.  And, as shown in the Remits Booklet (section 3, page 21, Act 1 2015) in an attempt to safeguard some who may have entered into a Same-Sex-Marriage, the telling words were included about marriage, “until such time as this issue is considered by a future Assembly” (Act 1, 2015 section 3 - page 21 of the Remits Booklet).

8. If this overture passes, the future discussions mentioned above (7.c.ii) will no doubt be prejudiced by what will (de-facto) have become the practice of the Church. The question might legitimately be asked at that later time, why debate that which has already been permitted?

9. This overture rushes Same-Sex-Marriage into the Church of Scotland before all the facts and implications have been considered.

FileDescriptionFile size
Download this file (Overture_To_Presbytery_2015.pdf)CFS Briefing Paper on Overture: Act 1 2015Briefing Paper to help with the overture being discussed by each Presbytery in the coming months281 kB

Covenant Fellowship Scotland deeply regrets the decision taken by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to permit those in same-sex civil partnerships to serve as ministers and deacons within the Church.  In doing so, the Church is contravening both Scripture and our Confession of Faith, as was made clear by many speakers who spoke clearly and graciously during the debate.  We recognise the core issue is one of the authority of scripture and not the presenting issue.  We call on the Church of Scotland to repent of this sinful decision and to seek forgiveness from God, who alone sets moral standards and whose voice on this matter is clearly heard in the Scriptures.

We know that this decision has caused great pain and sorrow throughout the Church and that many people are prayerfully considering how to respond.  Some feel that the only way to protest is to leave the Church of Scotland.  Some ministers, elders, members and adherents have done so already and more will follow.  While respecting that position, our hearts’ desire is to remain within the Church, in order to seek its reformation from within.

It is important, however, that we remain without compromising our integrity.  We refuse to be complicit in any act of disobedience to the Lord’s Word taken by the Church and we do not accept this decision.  We believe that it is our prophetic duty to challenge it, to protest and to call the Church to repentance.  The trustees of Covenant Fellowship Scotland will be meeting on 8th-9th June to discuss how we will do this.
Covenant Fellowship Scotland is not being formed simply to protest on one issue.  We long to see our nation won for Christ and commit ourselves with renewed and prayerful zeal to being involved in the outworking of the mission of God in our own day and into the future, by every God-honouring means, however traditional or imaginative and radically innovative.  We fully support the ‘Tomorrow’s Calling’ initiative launched at General Assembly and we pray that God will continue to call out from His people ministers of the gospel to serve Him in this Church.

We look forward to working with all who are committed to the renewal and reformation of the Church of Scotland.  With that in mind, we would like to take this opportunity to encourage attendance at the Church of Scotland Evangelical Network (COSEN) event at St George’s Tron Church in Glasgow on 5th June, with the apt title ‘Very Messy Church’.  More details are available here:

We are grateful for the support and encouragement of many in other denominations within Scotland and in our sister churches around the world who are rightly appalled by this decision.  We covet your prayers and value our partnership in the gospel as we seek to stand for the truth within the Church of Scotland.

We hope that for some, the creation of Covenant Fellowship Scotland will provide an opportunity to remain with integrity.  Many members of the Church have had no opportunity to register their dissent or to call for the Church to return to the truth revealed in Scripture.  Expressing your support for the Covenant Fellowship provides this opportunity.  

Already, MANY hundreds of members of the Church have indicated their support for Covenant Fellowship Scotland.  You can do so on our website:

or by writing to Covenant Fellowship Scotland, Church Office, Margaret Street, Inverness, IV1 1LU. 

You can also download forms from the website which we would invite you to share with others in your congregation.

Following on from Rev Mike Goss's Daily News Reports from the General Assembly 2015, Mike expands on the Civil Partnerships Debates.


Given the complexity of this issue and the challenge of gleaning accurate information from the media coverage, here are the facts of what was decided at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnerships

On Saturday 16th May, the General Assembly voted in favour of permitting people in Civil Partnerships to serve as ministers and deacons within the Church of Scotland, by 309 votes to 182.  This decision follows the decision of the General Assembly of 2014, which was approved by a majority of Presbyteries (31 for, 14 against) under the terms of the Barrier Act.
The Church has adopted a position which maintains a traditional view of marriage between a man and a woman, but allows individual Kirk Sessions to decide if they wish to 'opt out' of that traditional position and to call a minister or a deacon who is in a same sex civil partnership.

Same sex Marriage

The wider issue of what Same Sex Marriage means in the church was also mentioned in the reports on Saturday.  However, there were no moves to allow Ministers and Deacons to solemnise Marriages of Same Sex couples.  Further exploration of this particular issue will be reported on in two or three years’ time.

Ministers and Deacons in Same sex Marriage

On Thursday 21st May, the General Assembly debated whether to extend the provision covering minister and deacons in civil partnerships to those who are in a same sex marriage.  
After a long debate, Commissioners voted by 213 votes to 205 against deferring a decision on this until the Church’s Theological Forum had presented a report on the subject of same sex marriage.
However, Commissioners then voted, by 215 votes to 195, to defer the final decision until Presbyteries have been consulted under the terms of the Barrier Act.  Presbyteries will now debate this question and return their votes by the end of this year.
Special provisions were agreed which protect any minister or deacon ordained before 31st May 2009 who is now in a same sex marriage, as is the case for at least one serving Church of Scotland minister.


As a result of the decisions taken at this year’s General Assembly, the Church of Scotland continues to affirm that it stands by its historic and current doctrine and practice in relation to marriage and human sexuality; while at the same time permitting individual congregations, by decision of the Kirk Session, to depart from this position and therefore be able to call a minister or deacon in a Civil Partnership.
This permission does not extend to ministers and deacons who have entered into a same sex marriage (other than the special provisions mentioned above), until Presbyteries have voted prior to the end of this year and the 2016 General Assembly has given final approval.

This morning had a good report from the Mission & Discipleship Council with some excellent work and resources being made available. I hope to report in more detail later tonight, but in this first report the focus on this afternoon’s debate on the proposed amendment to the Civil Partnerships Act that took up several hours.

The headlines are that the Motion to add Ministers and Deacons in Same Sex Marriage to the same protections as Civil Partnerships narrowly won over the Countermotion to refer the matter to the Theological Forum and report in 2017, the vote being 213 For the Motion and 205 For the Countermotion in the name of the Very Rev Albert Bogle. An addendum was approved (by 215 to 195) to send this down under the Barrier Act, and then a continued Moratorium provision to protect existing Ministers in Same Sex Marriages was agreed by standing vote.

The Joint Report of the Theological Forum and the Legal Questions Committee had been commissioned by last year’s General Assembly at the end of the debate on the Overture on Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnerships. They had been asked to consider what the Assembly might do with the Overture if it was approved by the Presbyteries and the General Assembly and the then proposed civil legislation on Same Sex Marriages was approved.

The Report had brought a draft Act amending the Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnerships Act (approved last Saturday) to extend the provisions to Ministers and Deacons in Same Sex Marriages. The draft Act itself stressed that this would not change the historic and current doctrine of marriage, nor permit ministers or deacons to register civil partnerships or solemnise same sex marriages. The Rev Prof Iain Torrance, Convener of the Theological Forum made a great deal of these assurance, but was to continue providing the space for ‘Constrained Difference’.

The Convener of Legal Questions, Rev Dr Alan Hamilton, put much stress on this being a theological decision, and that the drafting of the legislation was only done to give the Assembly the choice of what to do, not suggesting that the Assembly should approve it. Professor Torrance kept referring to the benefits conferred on Civil Partners being enjoyed by those in Same Sex Marriages, and this caused a little confusion with pension and similar benefits, rather than benefits of office.

Albert sought to give the Church time to get there in peace and made a similar appeal to that he had made to the Assembly in 2013 when he successfully argued for the drafting of the original Overture, though perhaps not all were convinced by his claim to be a ‘simple minister’! He stressed how some would misunderstand the position being taken by the Assembly as the condoning of Same Sex Marriage if the Act was approved, a point helpfully affirmed by one of the delegates from the PCI, who was clearly very concerned about the damage this would make to relationships with his own and other churches across the world.

In the end, the electronic vote was taken and the Counter-motion was defeated. When an amendment proposing that the measure be sent down under the Barrier Act, there was significant debate, but interesting support from some on the other side of the debate from ourselves, who clearly wanted to give space for the decision, perhaps particularly in the light of the closeness of the vote, and also in the light of the pain it would cause many of us.

The moratorium provisions were then proposed by the Very Rev John Chalmers and seconded by Rev Gordon Kennedy, helpfully stressing the need for natural justice to apply, and reinforcing the fact that a witch hunt was on no-one’s agenda. Once tidied up, it was passed overwhelmingly.

The Ministries Council reported for the whole of the morning, managing to conclude all their business by ten minutes into lunchtime, which led to an earlier finish to the day around 3.30 pm.

Vocations Champions were highlighted early on, as part of the overall theme of ‘Tomorrow’s Calling’ which had included a brief Youtube advertisement during the convener’s speech. Rev Alan Cartwright, at one time a regular at Assembly during his tenure as a Presbytery Clerk, was back with his ‘burning bush’ woolly jumper extolling the evangelistic virtues of wearing a clerical collar. I remain to be convinced that it is anything other than a clerical hindrance (with apologies to Very Rev Albert Bogle who is thoroughly persuaded) but the Assembly rapidly approved an addendum urging ministers to think about wearing clerical collars more frequently.

On Pioneer Ministry, we were encouraged to realise that pioneering can often be better done through a congregation sending out a whole team with a Pioneer Minister. Albert spoke strongly here in favour of the Church identifying and promoting evangelists within our congregations, which helpfully reminded the Assembly of our great need to reach out to new members.

On financial support for Candidates in training, Professor David Fergusson made a plea to find ways of preventing students entering the Parish Ministry with large student loans hanging around their necks, and some commitment was made by the Convener to looking at how significant grants or bursaries might be put in place.

New regulations on Remuneration and Reimbursement (replacing ‘listed expenses’) were approved relatively easily, now providing for an additional Sunday off at the end of a break (not envisaging an extra week, but this is not prescribed), along with payment for pastoral support where cover from neighbouring colleagues is not available, and also computer software and hardware. While the latter may be subject to some local negotiations, the Convener said that council staff would be willing to give advice to congregations and ministers to help find a way to ensure this support was adequately resourced.

The new email system for Church of Scotland ministers (we all have an email address now) was discussed, with an instruction to use these where possible being approved by the Assembly. The Council agreed to replace the now defunct Ministers’ Forum publication with a monthly email circulation listing the latest vacancies. It was noted that bulk emails to this system are all screened by Ministries Council staff for approval prior to being sent on.
Rev Mary Whittaker, Minister for the Deaf in Aberdeen, made a plea to revise the now seriously outdated Act on Deaf Ministry (XXIII 1969) through her sign language being clearly interpreted for the benefit of the Assembly, and her articulate communication was warmly approved.

Various Acts relating to Training and Selection, and to the Ordained Local Ministry in particular, were revised to remove some anomalies; and a shared parental leave policy will be prepared for next year.

After lunch the Social Care Council reported. An instruction to Presbyteries and local congregations to engage with Crossreach was helpfully toned down to an urging, and Andrew Barrie (jr) gave a brief commendation of the recommendation for Prayer for this work.

Financial issues continue to be a major concern, not least in seeking to fulfil previous resolutions to pay staff the Living Wage – complicated by the need to maintain differentials. Helpfully we were encouraged to speak of “Church of Scotland Crossreach” in referring to this agency, in order to raise the profile of this as part of the Church’s work.

The afternoon concluded with the Guild report, which again highlighted the excellent work and witness the Guild encourages throughout the Church. An instruction was given to presbyteries and congregations to discuss the new Guild Action Plan.

After worship the Report of the Church and Society Council was received, with a tight schedule in place to control managing the debates on the different sections of the Deliverance. As a result, some items perhaps did not receive as much time as Commissioners may have wished for, and the Assembly managed to lose ten minutes with an early break for lunch, but in the whole it meant that all proposed amendments were debated rather than being lost in a guillotine as last year’s debate had so unsatisfactorily ended.

Many worthy issues were discussed and resolved upon. Although evangelicals and indeed even the Covenant Fellowship Scotland trustees would not be of one mind on political matters, it was good to see evangelicals engaging positively with the debate. A reaffirmation of opposition to trident passed without demur, but the wider issue of nuclear weapons saw an interesting discussion on whether the weapons themselves were evil or if it was the use and ownership of them that was evil – the latter view eventually rescued by an intervention from the former Moderator Dr Alison Elliot.

Alistair May successfully added a motion calling on HM Government to set up a Global Envoy on Religious Freedom reporting directly to the Foreign Secretary, a post that looked to have been lost with the election of a Conservative majority government, but which the former Shadow Secretary, Douglas Alexander, had been keen to champion.

Dr John McPake successfully moved an addendum calling for a constitutional convention, and further calling on the national churches to engage in these debates, as a result of the changing political scene in recent years. It is my own personal view that it is vital that we encourage Christians of all the main political views in Scotland to engage with their respective political parties at this time of significant change for the now minority parties in Scotland, and in the currently ascendant SNP – that the reforming of these parties might be informed by Christian engagement within them.

The Joint Report on Tenure passed without significant comment or challenge, and was followed by the report of the Iona Community Board. Their leader was invited to address the Assembly and felt he had to welcome the result of Saturday’s vote and was looking forward to being able to solemnise people in same-sex marriages in the not too distant future.

The day’s business concluded with the Safeguarding Committee, which noted the need to ensure that the PVG arrangements were concluded in Kirk Sessions and properly overseen by Presbyteries. These are essential but not controversial matters, and the Assembly was able to finish with an hour to spare before a presentation on John Knox linked to a major new book that has been published.

Yesterday’s events included services in St Giles, and then the Heart and Soul event in Princes Street Gardens which has been a feature of the General Assembly for the last few years, replacing the dreary Saturday afternoon Garden Party whose demise is little lamented. Lots of stalls from Councils and church organisations of various sorts, though I felt that there were fewer individual congregations represented – possibly a sign of the weariness of gearing up to the event each year. Yet it is a good way of ‘meeting and greeting’ folk throughout the Church, and of a significant presence in the heart of the capital city. Currently under review, Heart and Soul is planned to return next year, but I suspect the format will need some kind of revamp if it is not to become a little tired.

Monday morning began with the usual traditional celebration of the Lord’s Supper, led by Moderator, Clerks and Moderator’s Chaplains. Dr Morrison expounded on Peter’s declaration of the Lord Jesus Christ as the stone rejected by the builders but made the chief corner-stone.
The World Mission Council’s report was then given by the Convener. Mention was helpfully given of the work of the Vine Trust by Jim Stewart, showing that evangelical interest in the Assembly was not just on one issue or solely on matters of criticism. Much was said about the anti-Human Trafficking work of the Scottish Churches, but I was sorry not to hear mention of the similar and current Tear Fund campaign, ‘No Child Taken’.

There was good mention of the suffering of Christian martyrs, with a section of the deliverance on the subject being strengthened and testimony being given from overseas delegates; however many of the contributions thereafter on other subjects began to get unnecessarily long, not least the promotion of Hadeel that seemed to be missing an end-of-time bell.

As the afternoon continued, the report of the Committee on Ecumenical Relations was given, which struck me as being riddled with clichés – ‘what we hold in common is greater that what divides us’. Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well was given as an example of ecumenical conversations and mutual respect, in a poor display of forcing a text away from its central meaning.

Mention of new and welcome moves towards mutual recognition of the Church of England highlighted some of the difficulties of the form of legal establishment that that church is under, as full recognition would have to await legislation in Westminster – Parliament not Abbey. Problems in relationships with other denominations arising from the decisions of the Assembly on same-sex matters were mentioned but not highlighted.

The day concluded with the report from the Panel on Review and Reform, which had some worthy suggestions to make but little of real substance, and debates seemed wearisome to many of the commissioners. The use of ancient light-bulb jokes provided little relief.

All in all, there was a sense of wariness among evangelicals, as the impact of Saturday’s vote began to sink in. A paper of dissent had been made available over the weekend and some 70 or 80 had signed before it was concluded. Some, I suspect, hadn’t bothered to sign due to a sense of futility in a gesture that would make no difference to the legislation, but many commissioners felt it was important to register their deep and fundamental unhappiness with the decision of the Assembly.

The big news of the day was that the Overture on Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnerships was approved and converted into an Act of Assembly by 309 votes for and 182 votes against.

However, the raw numbers and result don’t tell the full story.  The debate began around noon on Saturday morning, as Rev Gordon Kennedy gave a clear and strong rationale for rejecting the Overture.  Gordon said there was no Biblical or Theological affirmation at the heart of the Overture, that it was the result of appeals for reconciliation and unity but had resulted in disharmony and division, and that it would not achieve the aim of inclusion, resulting instead in the formation of ‘ghettos’.

A number of other commissioners joined in with effective and graceful contributions agreeing with Gordon, and then the Assembly broke for lunch, with around a dozen waiting to be called. After lunch various speakers took part in the debate; people like Rev Bryan Kerr arguing for the mixed economy and the need to live with our differences.  Some very graceful and well-argued points were made by evangelicals, and some telling blows were landed on the other side of the debate.

The Convener of the Legal Questions Committee, Rev Dr Alan Hamilton, then responded to debate and took some time to argue for a mediating position in the mixed economy of the church, for a ‘constrained departure’ to allow for liberty of opinion and the chance to bring healing to the Church.  He said that this would not be the last word, a point which had been noted by folk on both sides of the debate and surely a warning to us all.

I felt that the evangelical viewpoint had been put across very well and had probably won the debate in logical terms, however, there was a sense that people had already made up their minds and perhaps just wanted an end to the debate.

A bizarre feature of the vote was the introduction – without warning – of a thirty second time-limit to the electronic vote.  The timer had already begun before the vote was announced (and after the initial eager voters had been deleted), and votes were still coming in at speed as the timer reached the end.  While it seems clear that this would not have changed the result, it was not a happy point at which to close the vote.
Dissent was moved by a Commissioner and the provision of dissent papers in a room off the South corridor was announced, which provision will continue until Monday morning.  Only Commissioners can sign a dissent paper but as many as possible should take up the opportunity.

After the vote I was interviewed by the BBC, representing Covenant Fellowship Scotland, as was Rev Bryan Kerr and Very Rev Lorna Hood, and this was carried on the early evening news.  Reporters also interviewed us as a panel and we can expect comment to appear in the papers.

The Rest of the Day

The day began with the usual formalities, including the installation of the Rev Dr Angus Morrison as Moderator of the 2015 General Assembly.  An early debate was made on the subject of Long-Service Certificates, and then Elaine Duncan gave her usual excellent report from the Scottish Bible Society, with emphasis on hunger for Scripture, the power of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and changed lives.
The Council of Assembly reported on the budgetary needs of the Church and the challenge of Stewardship, and the Legal Questions Committee gave its report.  A joint report on the solemnisation of marriages which looked at the questions of withdrawing from the statutory element of marriage or introducing approval for solemnising same-sex marriage concluded with sticking to the status quo.  The report was received without any attempts to change the church’s position.


It will be important for us to engage with the local issues that arise out of the Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnerships Act, not simply to ‘roll over’.  But we need to continue to do this with grace, and above all to look at the bigger picture – this is the product of a mind-set that has majored on the plurality of Biblical interpretation and the post-modern fixation on personal narratives as opposed to the absolute truths of the revealed Gospel.

It is God’s Word, God’s Son and God’s Salvation that are the central issues that need to be reclaimed in the courts of the Church: confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ, His all- and only-sufficient death and resurrection, and in the Scriptures as the full and sufficient revelation of God.  Without these, we cannot expect to win the debate on human sexuality.  With these, everything else follows.