Former Moderator the Very Rev Dr Finlay Macdonald has drawn on 25 years of experience in parishes and 14 years as principal clerk, the Church of Scotland’s top official, to write a story which follows the encounters and reflections of a minister in the run-up to last year’s big General Assembly debate on the issue.
The debate ended in a vote to set up a theological commission to consider the matter, but with a steer in favour of accepting gay ministers.
This year’s Assembly, which starts on Saturday, sees a lull before the commission reports back next year. But Dr Macdonald, who retired two years ago, insists he is not trying to fan the flames of controversy in what might otherwise be a quiet year.
“I’m not a natural controversialist,” he said. “I’m not intending to rock the boat. I think it’s quite a gentle book which I hope is going to douse the flames. I incline to the liberal side of the argument, but the book gives voice to all sides through the people my hero meets.”
He calls his central character Luke Paul, choosing two biblical names to reflect the debate: “Paul is often regarded as quite dogmatic and conservative, Luke is seen as very inclusive.”
Dr Macdonald believes in the end, the Kirk will decide to accept gay ministers. He argues previous issues which caused division– such as women’s ordination and remarrying divorced people – were eventually resolved by adopting the more liberal approach.
“Experience suggests the Church of Scotland is a progressive organisation,” he said.
But Dr Macdonald’s main plea is that the Kirk should not allow the issue to spark a repeat of the 1843 Disruption, when more than a third of the General Assembly walked out to form the Free Church of Scotland in protest at the system of landowners appointing parish ministers. The rift was only healed in 1929.
Dr Macdonald said: “If you look at the history of the Church of Scotland since the Reformation, it was splits and schisms. Finally in 1929, it more or less all came back together and from then until the 1970s were years of a strong church, doing a lot. We still have a degree of strength.”
“We need to think very carefully before we split. The Disruption was a disaster in many ways and this could be a disaster too.”
But he believes it can be averted. “I think there is a will not to let the church split over this.”
He says there is already a lot which people disagree about within the church, including different forms of worship and different ways of interprering the Bible. “We do already accommodate differences,” he said. “Is there not a way of accommodating this one?”
ARCHBISHOP TO ADDRESS ASSEMBLY
Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams is expected to address the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly next week.
He is due to attend on Wednesday after staying at the Palace of Holyroodhouse as the guest of the Lord High Commissioner, the Queen’s official representative to the Assembly.
Dr Williams will step down from his role in December.
Kirk Moderator the Rt Rev David Arnott said: “We are grateful for the Archbishop’s work in fostering relations with the Church of Scotland and other denominations.”