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Many Presbyteries have expressed their concern over the Overture.  One Presbytery highlighted the following points in their opposition to the Overture:

1.    As a Christian Church, we believe that we should have a high view of the Scriptures, which are entirely united in their description of homosexual acts as sinful.  For example, Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; and 1 Timothy 1:8-11.  Quite apart from these references, the whole of Scripture speaks to us of a God who is holy and calls us to be holy.  We are called to live godly, holy, moral and righteous lives, exercising self-denial and self-control.  Above all, we are called to live sanctified lives, in the power of the Holy Spirit who is re-making us in the image of God and producing spiritual fruit in our lives.

2.    As a Reformed Church, we believe that the Overture stands contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Principal Subordinate Standard of the Church, the chapter on marriage (chapter 24) being very clear that sexual relations belong only between one man and one woman joined in marriage.  We also believe that the Overture is contrary to the Declaratory Articles, the constitutional document of the Church of Scotland, since Article 5 says that the Church has the right to amend its doctrine, ‘but always in agreement with the Word of God and the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith contained in the said Confession.’  Clearly this amendment meets neither of these criteria.  The Overture also stands in marked contrast to the three reports on Human Sexuality, already approved by the General Assembly between 2007 and 2012

3.    As a Presbyterian Church, we believe that to speak of the Church having ‘a position’, from which Kirk Sessions can depart, is a congregationalist method of church government and decidedly un-Presbyterian.  The proposed Overture will also weaken the Presbyterian government of the Church by allowing Ministers and Elders to be drafted in from other Presbyteries to carry out ordinations and inductions which a Presbytery refuses to enact.

4.    As an Ecumenical Church, we believe that to act in this unilateral way, contrary to the views of the vast majority of Reformed churches worldwide would seriously damage our ecumenical relationships as it has already begun to do even within Scotland.

5.    If this Overture is passed, it could place many Ministers in a very difficult position in relation to Equalities legislation.  The current legislation gives exemptions from the Equalities Act to religious bodies whose doctrine prohibits them from acting in certain ways.   For example, the Roman Catholic Church cannot be forced to ordain women to the priesthood, because it is a doctrine of their Church that only men may serve as priests.  In the same way, the Church of Scotland currently has a doctrine that it does not ordain, induct or appoint those in same-sex relations to positions in ministry.  This means that no Minister or Elder can be prosecuted under Equalities legislation for failing to participate in the ordination or induction of those in same-sex relationships.  If the Overture passes and this is no longer a doctrine of the Church (the Church having adopted the so-called ‘mixed economy’) then there is no guarantee of protection under the Equalities Act for those who refuse to participate in such ordinations and inductions.  

6.    In short, as Ministers and Elders who have vowed to seek the unity and peace of the Church, as part of our ordination vows, we believe that this proposed Overture has already greatly damaged the unity and peace of the Church and will do much greater damage if it is enacted.  The Theological Forum report says that the proposed ‘mixed economy’ is a ‘temporary holding measure’ (p.52) because the Church has not reached a settled position on the issue.  This being the case, we do not believe that the Church should be rushing to establish this ‘mixed economy’ as the law of the Church.  This apparently conciliatory strategy is in effect divisive.

Overture anent Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnerships


In order to understand the Overture which has come down to Presbyteries from the General Assembly, some background may be helpful.  

In 2008, a minister was called to Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen.  He intimated in advance to the congregation that, if elected, his intention was to live in the Manse with his same-sex partner.  He was duly elected as Minister.  The Presbytery of Aberdeen agreed by a majority to sustain the call but a minority within Presbytery objected and appealed to the General Assembly.  The ‘case’ came to the General Assembly of 2009.  The General Assembly stated that the Presbytery of Aberdeen had acted according to the law of the Church and so permitted the induction to go ahead.  Recognising the seriousness of the situation and its possible implications, however, the General Assembly stated that this was not to be regarded as a precedent and set up a Special Commission, under the chairmanship of Lord Hodge, to carry out a survey in order to establish the mind of the Church on this issue.

That Special Commission reported to the General Assembly of 2011 and offered it two options (or ‘trajectories’).  The Assembly chose a ‘trajectory’ towards the eventual ordination and induction of ministers living in same-sex relationships.  Lord Hodge noted that his commission had neither the time nor the expertise to consider all the biblical and theological arguments related to these issues, which he regarded as vital, and he argued that this work must be done before any final and binding decision was made by the Church.  He moved that a Theological Commission be appointed to do this work.  

The General Assembly approved this motion and a seven person Theological Commission was appointed to consider the biblical and theological arguments relating to issues of homosexual practice.  The General Assembly made it clear that nothing in the practice of the Church could change until the General Assembly of 2013 heard the report of the Theological Commission.  The remit of the Theological Commission was to provide the biblical and theological arguments in relation to the trajectory chosen by the General Assembly of 2011.

The Theological Commission duly reported to the General Assembly in May 2013, providing the biblical and theological arguments both for and against the trajectory chosen in 2011.  During the course of the debate, however, a compromise motion was moved and ultimately adopted by the General Assembly.  On the one hand, this motion reaffirmed the traditional biblically accountable position of the Church, namely, that we do not ordain, induct or appoint, ministers or deacons who are living in same-sex relationships.  On the other hand, it gave congregations the right to depart from the Church’s position and to call a minister in a same-sex civil partnership.

In order for that motion to become the law of the Church, a piece of legislation (called an ‘Overture’) had to be prepared and approved by the General Assembly.  The Legal Questions Committee duly presented an Overture to the General Assembly of 2014.  The General Assembly approved the Overture and it was then sent down to the Presbyteries.

The ‘Barrier Act’ of the Church of Scotland ensures that any decision of the General Assembly which seeks to change the doctrine, worship, discipline or government of the Church must go down to all Presbyteries for approval.  If an Overture going down under the Barrier Act does not obtain the support of 50% of the Presbyteries, then it falls.  Even if it does obtain the necessary support, then the following General Assembly (in this case the General Assembly of 2015) must also approve the decision.

In this case, having received the approval of a majority of Presbyteries, the Overture will be presented to the General Assembly on Saturday 16th May 2015.  If approved, it becomes an Act of the General Assembly.