This presentation seeks to consider the conduct
of the 2009 General Assembly in respect of
the Scott Rennie case and related issues.
Rev Dr Robert Anderson
Blackburn & Seafield Church
The 2009 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
1. Bad Practice
1.1 At the 2009 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland the conduct of the Scott Rennie case and related issues was an example of bad practice seriously damaging to the whole Church.
1.2 The Moderator, the Acting Principal Clerk and the Convener of the Assembly Arrangements Committee failed in their duties.
1.2.1 They did not act in the best interests of the General Assembly Commissioners.
1.2.2 They did not uphold the constitution and practice of the Church.
1.2.3 They strategically and deliberately avoided, ignored and broke the spirit and intention of Christian life as understood in the Church of Scotland.
1.3 The bad practice of the 2009 General Assembly was caused by:
1.3.1 Dissociation of a small group of self-appointed decision makers at 121 George Street from the checks and balances of this Presbyterian Church.
1.3.2 A predetermination by the Moderator, the Acting Principal Clerk and the Convener of the Assembly Arrangements Committee to manipulate an individual’s agenda through the General Assembly.
1.3.3 Placing the interest of a particular case before the logical requirement to formulate a policy agreed and accepted by the whole Church.
1.3.4 Exclusion by the Moderator of the possibility of alternative means of proceeding.
1.3.5 Strategic determination to exclude the interest and role of constituent courts and members of the Church of Scotland.
1.3.6 Misleading of the General Assembly by the Acting Principal Clerk in:
18.104.22.168 Not advising that the Presbytery of Angus had acted incorrectly in having failed to consider the case as a ‘fama’.
22.214.171.124 Saying that the Presbytery of Aberdeen had acted correctly when it had not taken into account ministerial lifestyle, personal conduct, code of behaviour and Vows of Induction as the given practice of the Church of Scotland.
126.96.36.199 Misdirecting the General Assembly by falsely defining a separation between ministerial translation and ministerial conduct which the Church has never agreed to or decided upon.
1.3.7 Maintaining that “this decision does not alter the Church’s standards of ministerial conduct” which was a cynical, duplicitous and Orwellian use of language without basis in Church policy.
1.3.8 Diminution of the status of a published Presbytery Overture in favour of an ‘ad hoc’ motion to appoint a Commission.
1.3.9 Abrogation of the basic right of free speech, free discussion and free publication of Christian opinion.
1.3.10 Arrogation to nine people of the right to formulate a policy without a guarantee of proper Church wide consultation.
1.3.11 Betrayal of the core purpose of the Church of Scotland as presently constituted.
1.3.12 Reckless squandering of the spiritual capital won for humanity by Jesus Christ over nearly 2000 years and as invested in the Church of Scotland for 450 years and also in the world-wide contemporary Christian community.2. What should have happened
2.1 Scott Rennie having made his public declaration should have been investigated by the Presbytery of Angus and suspended from duty meantime.
2.2 The Presbytery of Angus or the Presbytery of Aberdeen could have referred the matter to the General Assembly for a policy to be formulated and agreed by the whole Church or Scott Rennie could have appealed against any decision of the Presbytery of Angus or of the Presbytery of Aberdeen to the General Assembly to have a policy decided for people in his position.
2.3 Having regard to his Vows of Ordination and to the history and unity of the Church, Scott Rennie could have remained in his position until such a policy was formulated and agreed by the Church in the proper manner.
2.4 The General Assembly could have debated the issue and arrived at a policy or it could have appointed a Commission to report back on the understanding that thereafter Presbyteries would have their proper role in agreeing policy.3. Why did this not happen?
3.1 Unilateral action at Presbytery level which ignored the life of the whole Church of Scotland.
3.2 Subservience to secular political correctness at Presbytery level.
3.3 The culture at 121 George Street of extreme liberalism.
3.4 Weak and incompetent Moderator.
3.5 Incompetent and confused leading from the Acting Principal Clerk.
3.6 Incompetent planning and organisation by the Assembly Arrangements Committee.
3.7 Lack of accountability by the Moderator, Acting Principal Clerk and Convener of the Assembly Arrangements Committee.4. Acknowledgement
4.1 The Church of Scotland must do the following.
4.1.1 Acknowledge that bad practice did occur at the 2009 General Assembly.
4.1.2 Make accountable those responsible.
4.1.3 Seek to ensure that such bad practice can never happen again.
4.2 Who is to take responsibility for doing this? No-one so far has acknowledged that in this case the 2009 General Assembly was fundamentally flawed in its practice. It is possible that the Moderator, the Acting Principal Clerk and the Convener of the Assembly Arrangements Committee do not actually think that it was fundamentally flawed. They may be pleased with their work. This culture of unaccountability has brought discredit and damage to the Church of Scotland. New forms of scrutiny are required for the future well being of the Church. 5. Recent Secular Examples
5.1 There are parallels to be drawn between the conduct of the 2009 General Assembly and recent scandals in the banking and financial sector and in Westminster politics.
5.2 In the past year these two major issues have dominated Britain’s public life. The first was the economic crisis brought on by unaccountable practices in banking and financial enterprise. The second was the scandal of Members of Parliament’s expenses resulting from unaccountable practices in the political system.
5.3 Significant reforms have been introduced in the banking and financial sector to try to ensure that nothing like the 2008 crash happens again. Reforms are to be introduced in Parliament to ensure that the 2009 expenses scandal cannot be repeated.6. Banking and Finance
6.1 The events of 2008 were caused by a number of factors:
6.1.1 Dissociation of policy-making from the basic duties of banking which is to guarantee the security of funds entrusted.
6.1.2 Dissociation of executive decision-making from the interests of customers by moving disproportionately from secure banking to venture capitalism.
6.1.3 Lack of transparency in management decision-making.
6.1.4 Lack of accountability at director level for executive decision-making.
6.1.5 Lack of communication with the customer base.
6.1.6 Reckless arrogance in prosecuting wealth seeking.
6.1.7 Disproportionate executive salaries and bonuses.
6.1.8 Acting without shareholders consent.
6.1.9 Acting opportunistically and illegally in risking customer’s funds.
6.2 The results of this were:
6.2.1 Large scale financial losses.
6.2.3 Loss of credibility and trust and reputation.
6.2.4 Loss of independent control.
6.2.5 Indebtedness to Government for major investment through nationalisation.7. Westminster Politics
7.1 The Members of Parliament expenses scandal was caused by:
7.1.1 Dissociation of policy-making from the lives of voters.
7.1.2 Dissociation of lifestyle from that of voters.
7.1.3 Bad practice unchallenged.
7.1.4 Lack of accountability.
7.1.5 Individual greed.
7.1.6 Moral wrong doing and actual law-breaking.
7.2 The results of this were :
7.2.1 Large scale loss of respect for and trust of Members of Parliament.
7.2.2 Serious damage to democratic politics.
7.2.3 Disengagement by many from the political process.8. The Future of the Church of Scotland
8.1 The consequences of the 2009 General Assembly will last long in the Church of Scotland and beyond. Much damage has been done and continues to be done. There is a widespread perception that this Assembly was corruptly managed. What is required is the Christian humility to deal with the consequences.
8.2 If the stewardships of money and of the democratic process merit admission of wrong-doing and intention to reform, how much more it is incumbent upon the Church of Jesus Christ to admit wrong-doing and seek reform since it deals with eternal and spiritual and divine treasures and graces and since it is often concerned to criticise governments and other social agencies.
8.3 It is necessary for the Church of Scotland to act with transparent integrity at all times as its primary calling by and witness to Jesus Christ. Its heritage of faith, understanding and practice cannot be gambled recklessly and with impunity as happened at the 2009 General Assembly.9. Office Of The Scottish Charity Regulator - OSCR
9.1 OSCR regulations allow for investigation of doubtful / suspect / corrupt management of institutions with charitable status. Meeting the Charity Test (p9) reads as follows:
9.2 “A charity’s activities must be in furtherance of the purposes as set out in its constitution…If….it appears to OSCR that the applicant’s (or charity’s) activities diverge significantly from its stated charitable purposes, we will bring this to the applicant’s or charity’s attention”.
9.3 The conduct of the 2009 General Assembly breached this regulation in respect of Article IV and VIII of the Church of Scotland’s Constitution in processing an individual case before agreeing a Church policy and in disrespecting the Church’s continuity and corporate life in relation to Article I.
9.3.1 IV. This Church as part of the Universal Church wherein the Lord Jesus Christ has appointed a government in the hands of Church office-bearers, receives from Him, its Divine King and Head, and From Him alone, the right and power subject to no civil authority to legislate, and to adjudicate finally, in all matters of doctrine, worship, government, and discipline in the Church, including the right to determine all questions concerning membership and office in the Church, the constitution and membership of its Courts, and the mode of election of its office-bearers, and to define the boundaries of the spheres of labour of its ministers and other office-bearers.
9.3.2 VIII. The Church has the right to interpret these Articles, and, subject to the safeguards for deliberate action and legislation provided by the Church itself, to modify or add to them; but always consistently with the provisions of the first Article hereof, adherence to which, as interpreted by the Church, is essential to its continuity and corporate life.
9.3.3 I. The Church of Scotland is part of the Holy Catholic or Universal Church; worshipping one God, Almighty, all-wise, and all-loving, in the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the same in substance, equal in power and glory; adoring the Father, infinite in Majesty, of whom are all things; confessing our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son, made very man for our salvation; glorying in His Cross and Resurrection, and owning obedience to Him as the Head over all things to His Church; trusting in the promised renewal and guidance of the Holy Spirit; proclaiming the forgiveness of sins and acceptance with God through faith in Christ, and the gift of Eternal Life; and labouring for the advancement of the Kingdom of God throughout the world. The Church of Scotland adheres to the Scottish Reformation; receives the Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as its supreme rule of faith and life; and avows the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic faith founded thereupon.
9.4 There are three areas where the conduct of the 2009 General Assembly breached OSCR regulations in respect of the Church’s constitution.
9.4.1 In denying Presbyteries consultation before processing the case in question.
9.4.2 In failing to take into account the ‘continuity and corporate life’ of the Church.
9.4.3 In denying freedom of speech, discussion and publication on the issue to all members of the Church.
9.4.4 The conventions of the Church of Scotland must be reviewed. Assembly Moderators, Principal Clerks and Assembly Arrangements Committee Conveners are above evaluation, criticism and accountability. These are supposedly honourable people doing their best. But the 2009 General Assembly represented a quantum leap in bad practice. A full investigation is required. It cannot be said that the General Assembly is over and nothing can be done. Much needs to be done.
9.5 The Moderator must give an account of his conduct of the General Assembly. In particular he must explain his predetermination to get the particular agenda in question through.
9.6 The Convener of the Assembly Arrangements Committee must explain his role before and during the General Assembly.
9.7 The conduct of the Acting Principal Clerk before and during the General Assembly requires to be critically evaluated since this is a highly paid and professional position. It cannot be said that the personal opinions and leading of the Acting Principal Clerk at the 2009 General Assembly cannot be challenged as there is no means to do so. It cannot be that every minister is accountable except the Acting Principal Clerk of Assembly. This is tyranny by any other name. What damage is to be done to the Church of Scotland in the future if the 2009 General Assembly can pass into history without learning lessons and taking appropriate action?10. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Juvenal)
10.1 Who is to do this? This is where people can be let off the hook and where nothing ever happens. It is for the most decent people to agree that something needs to be done and do it. Who are they? The Council of Assembly? The General Assembly Arrangements Committee? An ‘ad hoc’ Committee appointed by the Nominations Committee? Can a Commission of Assembly be called? Unprecedented wrong-doing requires unprecedented means of correction. Can the 2010 General Assembly express regret for the conduct of the 2009 General Assembly and reverse the ban on freedom of speech, discussion and publication?11. Some Ideas and Recommendations
11.1 The General Assembly Arrangements Committee must accept responsibility for what happened at the 2009 General Assembly, conduct a critical review what happened, offer a detailed apology and determine to make amends by thinking more strategically about the responsibilities of General Assemblies to the Church membership. This Committee can take recommendations to the 2010 General Assembly to approve significant changes in the way General Assemblies are conducted.
11.2 The Council of Assembly must terminate the appointment of the Acting Principal Clerk.
11.3 Practical reforms should be introduced.
11.3.1 Moderators should be appointed only in the interests of the whole Church and not in the interests of 121 George Street and they should moderate only in the interests of the whole Church and not in the interests of 121 George Street.
11.3.2 A Code of Practice for Moderators should be agreed.
11.3.3 Declarations of interest by Moderators and Principal Clerks in respect their own views and opinions should be required.
11.3.4 An explanation of the rights of Commissioners at the start of General Assemblies should be given.
11.3.5 Daily reviews of conduct of General Assemblies during Assemblies should take place.
11.3.6 A Complaints Committee should be formed to meet daily allowing aggrieved Commissioners to be heard and correction to be made where required.
11.3.7 Principal Clerks should not enter debate and discussion without invitation
11.3.8 Acceptance that General Assemblies are not apart from the membership of the Church but a part of the membership of the Church.
11.3.9 Agreement should be sought that General Assemblies are accountable to the membership for their conduct and decisions.
11.3.10 Enhancement of the role of General Assemblies to scrutinise and call to account and evaluate all officers who work at 121 George Street should be agreed.
11.4 There must be in the Church of Scotland some people of such Christian sincerity that they are willing to act at this time to try to repair the damage done at the 2009 General Assembly and seek the unity of the Church for whatever future it now may have in Scotland.12. Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill
(Shakespeare : Macbeth)
12.1 The restriction on public discussion should be revoked immediately as unconstitutional and not Christian.
12.2 Why is it that the issues in the Scott Rennie case have provoked such an extreme and unprecedented censorship which undermines the origins, purpose, constitution and evangelical purpose of the Church of Scotland?
12.3 This case does not merit such a totalitarian restriction of Christian liberty and calling. Why did it happen? If something is intrinsically wrong is it then necessary to compound the spiritual crime by multiplying the wrong that has been done? Throughout history wrongs have been done but the covering up of these wrongs has been considered more serious than the wrongs themselves.
12.4 The Principal Officers of General Assembly (Moderator, Acting Principal Clerk and Convener of Assembly Arrangements Committee) are responsible for this. It is so bad that they should apologise and resign. In comparable secular scandals resignations and dismissals have been seen to be essential. Unprecedented action is required. 13. 121 George Street
13.1 In sections 5, 6 and 7 above points are made about misuse of positions in banking, finance and in Westminster politics. In section 8 it is argued that General Assemblies must operate spiritually with the highest possible integrity.
13.2 The points in section 5, 6 and 7 also apply to the way 121 George Street is organised and managed. It is as much in need of reform as are General Assemblies. The two are interlinked. The debacle at the 2009 General Assembly was the culmination of a process of lack of accountability by officers at 121 George Street which has existed for decades. This has allowed the ‘executive’ to reduce the status and role of General Assemblies to the status of rubber stamping and to assume the right to manipulate particular agendas through the formalities of General Assemblies.
13.3 In particular the following issues require to be addressed.
13.3.1 Some staff at 121 George Street have become estranged from the membership of the Church.
13.3.2 In thinking, attitude, policy making and in financial practice the culture of 121 George Street has become separated from the members of the Church.
13.3.3 There is strategic defensiveness and an exclusion of differing points of view and rejection of criticism.
13.3.4 There is no requirement for employees at ‘the central Church’ to be Christians unlike memberships of Congregations and Presbyteries which involve professions of Christian faith and Christian commitment.
13.3.5 There has been an unjustifiable increase in the number of well paid positions disproportionate to the need of the Church of Scotland.
13.3.6 Salaries of most employees at 121 George Street are not clearly indicated in published accounts. Members do not know how many are paid £30,000+, £40,000+, £50,000+.
13.3.7 Pensions, expenses, benefits and other additions to income of 121 George Street employees are not clearly indicated in published accounts.
13.3.8 There is extravagance, wastefulness, inefficiency and luxury and lack of transparent, full and detailed disclosure of all items of expenditure.
13.3.9 Christian offerings, prayed over and sanctified, should be used more carefully. They are voraciously consumed by a disproportionately large bureaucracy.
13.3.10 Some staff members have taken power to themselves beyond the offices they hold and have assumed an executive style of conduct although they are primarily employed in a service role.
13.3.11 There is a culture of sycophancy and of aggrandised sense of importance and of arrogance among some staff.
13.3.12 Personal fiefdoms and power playing have increased exponentially at 121 George Street.14. Summary
14.1 Reasonable and rational aspects of Reform Christianity were excluded from the conduct of the 2009 General Assembly.
14.2 The conduct of the 2009 General Assembly showed clearly how 121 George Street has damaged the Church of Scotland and has hastened its destruction as a coherent Christian organisation.
14.2 No local congregation would survive if Kirk Sessions were conducted in this way. Presbyteries would be unworkable.
14.3 Hubris is the normative 121 George Street response to criticism. Changes in Spiritual Freedom in the Church of Scotland 1980 - 2005 offers detailed evidence to support this.
14.4 Reforms to banking and politics have not come voluntarily but as a result of publicity and public pressure. Reform in the Church of Scotland must begin with the spiritual graces of confession, repentance and humility and end with real action.
Rev Dr Robert Alexander Anderson
Blackburn and Seafield Church of Scotland
5 MacDonald Gardens
Blackburn EH47 7RE
Tel : 01506 652825 firstname.lastname@example.org
There is widespread feeling with the denomination that the headquarters unit at 121 George Street, Edinburgh is bureaucratic, high-handed, politically-correct, theologically liberal and unaccountable. What should – at the centre – be a 'good servant' is very generally viewed as having become a 'bad master'.
The dilemma for many leaders within the Church of Scotland is that the great (increasing) difficulty of living/coping with the HQ (as it has become) is matched only by the difficulty of contemplating life without it.The issue (and the apparent degeneration) puts the whole question of ecclesiology within latter-day presbyterianism into sharp relief.