The Theological Forum of the Church of Scotland has produced a report, An Approach to the Theology of Same-Sex Marriage, in advance of next month’s General Assembly. The report examines three overlapping kinds of argument in some detail:
- arguments based on understandings of human rights;
- analogical arguments which try to build outwards from traditional understandings of marriage; and
- fully theological arguments for the admissibility of same-sex marriage.
On the first, the Forum states that
“although we fully appreciate the vitality of the tradition of human rights and the shield it has provided to the defenceless, we have not based our report solely in that perspective. This tradition provides one layer of an argument and from it we become more aware of discrimination and our failure to treat each other even-handedly. We recognise that as a Church we have often failed to recognise and protect the identity and Christian vocation of gay people and believe that the Church as a whole should acknowledge its faults” [2.2.7].
On the argument from analogy – “from extending what we know of marriage and its long history as a human institution” – the Forum concludes that
“There are those who would rule out such an analogical extension to same sex couples on the ground that they are engaging in a sexual activity which is intrinsically sterile (one which has no possibility of conception). But exactly the same argument may be brought against heterosexual couples who use today’s very effective contraception [2.3.26].
There are those who are reluctant to extend use of the term “marriage” to same sex couples on the grounds that what they do is intrinsically unnatural and a violation of the oft-claimed complementarity of a man and a woman. The counter argument is evidently that it is natural to them (homosexuality is more common in nature than may be realised). A further argument is that if our understandings of masculinity and femininity themselves are shaped by our centuries-long experience of two- gender marriage, then we cannot without circularity argue that marriage is the only legitimate union between a man and a woman because it is “marriage” which has shaped our understanding of gender roles” [2.3.27].
On the theological issues – and in particular the work of Professor Robert Song – the Forum suggests that:
“In this argument which has lasted at least two decades, at times ‘progressive’ thinkers have accused ‘traditional’ thinkers of inconsistency in their handling of scripture. ‘If this is how you read scripture’, they say, ‘then you are inconsistent in allowing women to be elders and ministers since you set aside the advice of St Paul’ [2.4.16].
The normal response is that there are ‘seeds’ in scripture which allow for a fuller leadership by women, but that there are no ‘seeds’ in scripture which show hospitality to gay people [2.4.17]. Perhaps the significance of Robert Song’s recent work is to show that some ‘seeds’ are discernible. It cannot be denied that the coming of Jesus inaugurates a new age, in that growth of the kingdom is found through union with him, not in multiplication of the chosen people through procreation [2.4.18].
That in turn moves the question from ‘homosexual vs heterosexual’ to ‘procreative vs non-procreative’ and allows for an eschatological understanding of non-procreative unions which in their own way reflect the faithfulness of God” [2.4.19].
The Forum concludes at  as follows:
“(a) We understand that theological reflection has moved on since the report Believing in Marriage which was presented to the General Assembly in 2012 and we have tried to take account of that thinking.
(b) The Theological Forum continues to work within the perspective of ‘Constrained Difference’ which seeks for an area of allowable disagreement within the tradition of the Church as a whole while upholding the fundamental doctrines of the Church. For example, we do not believe that extension of marriage to two persons of the same gender opens the door to a rights-based argument that marriage should be extended to polyamorous unions. Nor, for example, do we think the door should be open to marriage with robots. Consent within a covenanted relationship between two persons remains at the heart of our understanding.
(c) The Forum does not believe there are sufficient theological grounds to deny nominated individual ministers and deacons the authority to preside at same- sex marriages.(d) However, the Forum does not believe that such permission should be granted until there is assurance that the conscientious refusal of other ministers and deacons to preside at such marriages is protected.
(d) However, the Forum does not believe that such permission should be granted until there is assurance that the conscientious refusal of other ministers and deacons to preside at such marriages is protected.”
The Forum proposes the following Deliverance to the Assembly:
“The General Assembly
- Receive the Report.
- Note the Forum’s range of activities and support given to the Church. (Section 2)
- Receive the report “An Approach to the Theology of Same-Sex Marriage” as a resource to the Church and commend it as a basis for study and discussion. (Section 3 and Appendix)
- Invite the Church to take stock of its history of discrimination at different levels and in different ways against gay people and to apologise individually and corporately and seek to do better.
- Instruct the Legal Questions Committee to undertake a study of the matters which would require to be addressed in any new legislation permitting Ministers and Deacons to officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies, with a view to presenting a Report to the 2018 General Assembly.”
If the Assembly agree the Deliverance, the matter will presumably be back on the agenda in May 2018.