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To discipline or not: that is the question

St. Andrew's Presbytery of the Church of Scotland, and the Kirk itself has been put into a difficult position following the actions of a woman minister in Fife: it is potentially a no-win situation.
 


The Presbytery of St. Andrews seems to be finding itself on the front pages of our daily newspapers over the issue of adultery and same-sex liaisons. It will be interesting to watch the comparisons on how discipline has been and might be exercised respectively with relation to the following cases.
 
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Male Minister in adultery         Female minister in same-sex relationship
Craill churchA Church of Scotland minister who was described by his local Commmunity Council leader as "the best parish minister we ever had" during his 25 years of interacting with the local community was suspended by the Church of Scotland and removed from his parish. The initial suspension for two years was reduced by half after an appeal.

At the time of the initial disciplinary action by St. Andrew's Presbytery in 2010, one of Rev. Michael Erskine's colleagues Rev. Dr. John Cameron presented a case for leniency with regard to Erskine's relationship with a local widow.

According the newspaper reports, Dr. Cameron claimed that pressure had been put on the Presbytery by the Church of Scotland higher authorities "which effectively said that they wanted him fired". Cameron judged that the Presbytery "caved in" and "did not stand up to" the pressure from the Church's HQ.

It could well have been the case that the Church was very concious of the treatment it had meted out some years ago to a woman minister who had an adulterous relationship with one of her parishioners; and not stand accused of double standards.

After a long series of disciplinary and legal procedures the Kirk made an out-ot-court settlement to Helen Percy who was sacked from her position and ministry. [Ms. Percy has just published an account of her experiences in a book entitled 'Scandalous, Immoral and Improper' – words used by the Church to describe her behaviour.]
NewburghA lesbian woman minister has recently admitted that that she would like to enter a civil partnership. Prior to an emergency meeting to discuss the situation Rev. Lynn Brady of the north-east parish of Newburgh in Fife failed to take the Sunday service (28/08/11). She has now disappeared from the manse and effectively 'gone AWOL'.

Brady's actions fly directly into the face of the Church of Scotland's appeal to all of its ministers, elders and congregations to do nothing contentious which would re-ignite the controversy following the induction of homosexual minister Rev. Scott Rennie into an Aberdeen parish in 2007.

At the General Assembly in May this year the Church set up a theological commission to look at the subject of civil partnerships, while also voting to allow openly-gay ministers who were ordained prior to 2009 to remain in post. Given that Brady has just 'come out' she does not fit into that category.

The Church has thus far declined to issue any statement other than to say that it relates to a 'private matter'. The 47-year-old minister served as Moderator for the presbytery of St. Andrews in 2008.

It is widely believed that there are other Church of Scotland ministers whose situations extend beyond the Church's traditional views on marriage and sexual relationships.
The theological commission is not due to report until 2013. Meanwhile the Church is in turmoil with ministers and congregations threatening to quit.

Between the devil and the deep blue sea.


Following the recent revelations in Fife, the Church of Scotland now finds itself in a very difficult and embarrassing position. If it takes no action in the case of Rev. Brady then it will be seen as operating double-standards with relation to the treatment meted out to Revs. Erskine and Percy.

However if disciplinary procedure is brought to bear then the question that could be legitimately asked is why the Church took no action in the case of Rev. Scott Rennie's appointment to Queen's Cross Church.

The world will be watching; but it's not just the world that is watching.


Footnote: See Special Report of the situation in the Church of Scotland since the May General Assembly.

Christians Together, 01/09/2011

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