Tomorrow (Saturday) in Edinburgh, the ceremonies will take place that traditionally open the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
It could be argued that the Assembly is increasingly irrelevant to a Scotland that is becoming more secular by the day, but that would be to ignore the fact that the Kirk has played a massive role in Scottish history and it is still seen as the authentic voice of Reformed Christianity in this country.
In which case its deliberations on ‘Same Sex Relations and The Ministry’ must be worthy of consideration, not least because the subject will dominate those areas of the media which give any attention to religious affairs over this weekend and next week.
On Monday, the Assembly will consider a report by a Special Commission set up to consider principally whether openly gay and lesbian Christians should be ordained to the ministry, and whether same sex relationships should be formally recognised by the Kirk.
It is a remarkable report, full of the wisdom which the Kirk often displays when examining issues of the human condition, but it is also maddeningly true-to-type, in that the Commission is recommending that a final decision on the issue be delayed to next year or 2013 to allow further consideration of what is a major theological as well as civil law issue.
The Commission also states that Kirk committees and organisations are “not to issue press statements or otherwise talk to the media in relation to contentious matters of human sexuality.”
In other words, the debate must go on behind closed doors, even though the report itself is openly available and can be read on the Church of Scotland’s website.
It may be that silence is requested in order to avoid offence being given to gay and lesbian people. Statistics in the report show that a sizeable minority within the Kirk consider homosexuality to be a disorder and homosexual behaviour as sinful – this despite a ringing declaration by the Commission that it considers homophobia itself to be sinful.
What is possibly surprising is that one poll of individual members of Kirk Sessions – the local ‘committees’ of elders – found that 43.8 per cent of those who were polled agreed that homosexual orientation should NOT be a bar for people to take ‘leadership roles’ in the Church of Scotland.
The report also contains the views of other churches, including that of the Roman Catholic church which, as usual, sticks to its strong line on the ‘uniqueness of marriage,’ i.e. no same sex relationships allowed.
Movingly, the report explains that some Christians interviewed by the Commission were racked by painful feelings – for instance why did God make them homosexual?
The report is long and complex in parts, but well worth reading, as it is a massively important subject, not just for the Kirk and other churches but for modern Scotland.
After all, how can Scots build a nation of inclusiveness and equality if one part of the population cannot play a full part in the life of that nation, or its churches?