The Awakening of George Darroch is a 1995 novel by Robin Jenkins. It is no longer in print, though secondhand editions are still available. It is based on “a momentous event in Scottish history – the Great Disruption of 1843, when a group of ministers took on the establishment in a bitter conflict which split the Church of Scotland down the middle.” Basically, it was about a congregation’s right to choose their own minister; at its heart though, it was to do with “right teaching” evangelical versus reformed or liberal. In other words, did you believe the words of the Bible in a literal sense.
Does it sound familiar? It certainly felt so to me as I was reading it through. Incidentally, it is well worth a read if you can get hold of a copy, as the hero is a likeable yet seemingly ineffectual type of minister……. and I won’t tell you what he does in the end, just in case you want to read it.
When the news broke last week about the Synod of the Church of England saying No to women bishops I felt as if I had been kicked in the stomach. A most unexpected reaction on my part; after all, I am from a Presbyterian tradition that goes for so-called democracy rather than the episcopate. And, I am retired from the coal face – though sometimes it feels not. I fumed for a couple of days and then sat down at the computer and wrote a tirade about stupidity, inequality, justice, common-sense, education, the Holy Spirit…… and other such gems. The language was strong and unequivocal, leaving no doubt that I was sick to death of what the churches are doing to themselves. Then, I left it to cook for a while in draft mode, came back to it and hit the delete key.
Who am I to be so judgemental? Why get in such a fuss? The Church of Scotland has ordained women since 1968 and nominally at least, there is equality between the sexes. But what I realised was that this matter is more about the way one views scripture than anything else. And in time it became clear that the voting process had been hijacked by a small but fiercely vocal group of lay-people. The vote for women bishops had been lost by an anomaly.
My anger, was marginally defused. But then I realised that the CofS and many other churches are facing a similar question over equality and justice for gay people. It is couched in arguments surrounding the truth or literacy of the Bible. And is not too far from bordering on the homophobic in some cases. At our next General Assembly in May 2013 there is to be a report on the whole issue of sexuality and gender in the church. The issue is so serious as to threaten the stability and unity of the CofS. We may be on the cusp of another Disruption. Already, there is a group of churches who are aligning themselves firmly on a “God says no gays” type of agenda, and at least one prominent church has left the Church of Scotland. I want my church to stay united, but I no longer am prepared to stand by and see what flawed thinking and inadequate interpretation of scripture does to our gay sisters and brothers. I believe that God accepts and loves all of us…… no matter what. I’ve preached the universal love of God for many years and the need to keep assuring people of that love is something deep in my psyche.
There – I’ve got that off my chest. I know I have friends who stand on the other side of the gender debate and I have always respected their right to hold whatever view their conscience leads them to. It’s just that sometimes I wonder if we will be able to stay in the same church. There are others, far wiser than me who are working to try and ensure that unity prevails, I can only hope that somehow or other, by God’s grace, we can share the assurance of God’s love together.
Sorry if all that sounds like a sermon. Do let me know if you have any strong views. I know that my usual readers are friendly and polite, so to anyone else, please note I shall delete comments that are tirades or hurtful or unjust.