In order to understand the Overture which came down to Presbyteries from the General Assembly of 2014, 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