Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Voice from the gods says 'fudge'

Fudge. Fudgetastic. Fudgalicious. Only an institution as innocent and unworldly as the Church of Scotland could end 17 years of debate on homosexuality with a victory acclaimed by the winners as “fudge”.

In the corridors of New College, Edinburgh, as midnight loomed, smiling liberals grinned at the very notion of it; minsters in earrings slapped each other’s backs and lauded its very creation. And on the floor of the Assembly Hall, where the appointment was approved of Scott Rennie an openly-gay minister, to Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen, Rev George Whyte wallowed in the sticky sweetness of it all.

“Moderator” concluded Mr Whyte, after more than four hours of debate, “it’s been said I’m proposing ‘a fudge’. I don’t regard that as a great insult …” and on he rattled in his sugary tongue, to glory.

From the rousing chords of Spirit of Truth and Grace Come to us in this Place, which opened proceedings, it was plain that this would be a passionate encounter. It was by turns eloquent and polite, revelatory and occasionally emotional. And always, appearances were deceptive.

A muscular pastor, unwittingly sporting a pink tie, spoke out against Mr Rennie’s appointment. From the other side, a white haired gentlemen in a tweed suit, every inch, it seemed, the social conservative, spoke up for the gay minister. Rev Derek Browning – a card-carrying tree-hugger on any other evening of the year - seemed ready to start a fight. “The church does stand at a crossroads tonight,” growled Mr Browning, “God is calling us to break new ground,” and a few evangelical foreheads, he almost added. His liberal allies soon drowned him in fudge.

In truth, the vote had been tipped against the evangelicals by a procedural manoeuvre on Thursday, when the Assembly voted to hear Mr Rennie’s case ahead of an overture proposed by conservative Lochcarron and Skye Presbytery, which would have banned “two men in a manse”.

In the event, the evangelicals were forced to deal first with the whys and wherefores of the decision of Aberdeen Presbytery to appoint their new minister. Here they were on difficult legal ground, attempting to persuade commissioners that Rev George Cowie, the apparently saintly presbytery clerk, was in fact Beelzebub in disguise. Mr Cowie hair stands on end, but nothing about his imperturbable demeanour suggested that his astonishing wind-blown barnet concealed horns.

The structure of the debate also required another Aberdonian, Ian Aitken, to lead for the evangelicals.. Mr Atiken is a good preacher, but not a brilliant preacher, a master of the pernickety legal details of the case, but apt to slip when he stumbled into areas where bodily fluids flowed.

A question from the gods floored him. Rev James L Wilson leant over the first floor balcony to enquire: “There’s a whole gamut in marriage beyond sex – what do you mean by homosexual practice?” The moderator smiled. Homosexual practice? Mr Aitken stood up, burbled, grunted and sat down again. It didn’t sound good. In theological debate, like life, practice makes perfect

There was a strong news piece out of this debate, which you can read here: Evangelicals vow to hold back cash after Scott Rennie defeat.

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