The Church of Scotland General Assembly has called for a ‘just peace’ in Israel/Palestine, and condemned the expansion of illegal settlements on Palestinian land.
However, it stopped short of endorsing economic sanctions against Israel, after one of the Church’s ministers in Jerusalem said that would amount to ‘reckless endangerment’ of its institutions and activities in the Holy Land.
The Assembly was discussing the joint report by the World Mission and Church and Society Councils on the centenary of the Balfour Report – the letter sent by then British Foreign Secretary (and Church of Scotland elder) Lord Balfour which stated that the British Government favoured the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
The Secretary of the World Mission Council, the Rev Iain Cunningham, said that the report, which calls for sensitivity in marking the declaration and commends non-violent means of resolving the difficulties in the Holy Land, a ‘suitably balanced response’ and urged the Church ‘to engage prayerfully and practically in the pursuit of a just peace for all’.
He added that ‘it is never real justice unless it is justice for all who are involved; and it is not real peace until it is peace for all involved… replacing one injustice with a different one does not establish justice’.
Changes to the deliverance which hardened the language of condemnation of illegal Israeli actions and recognised the suffering of the Palestinian people were accepted, as well as one expressing ‘deep concern in regard to Hamas’s continued declaration… that Israel does not have the right to exist’.
However, part of a counter-motion from the Rev Tom Gordon which called for ‘the adoption of economic measures to pressure the state of Israel to comply with international law’ was rejected. The Rev Paraic Reamonn, minister of St Andrew’s Jerusalem, said that it could cause the Church to fall foul of Israeli laws against organisations calling for economic sanctions: “It could put all of our organisations in Israel at risk. I could be denied entry to Israel.”
While introducing the World Mission report, Mr Cunningham said that ‘it is a scandal to the gospel we profess’ that ‘gender discrimination, gender injustice and gender-based violence of all forms are all still endemic and engrained within human society as a whole and, sadly, also still within the global Christian community’.
“There can be no justification, certainly not within Christian theology, for gender injustice.”
However, there was some comment from the Assembly that the Church of Scotland had some way to go itself in gender equality, with the Rev James Sharp calling for congregations that do not recognise female ministry to be ‘named and shamed’, and the Rev Alec Shuttleworth pointing out that only three of the 16 most ‘influential and visible’ people in the Church (which he defined as the Moderator, Principal Clerk, Council conveners and secretaries) are women.
There was a further strong statement on the absence of the Rev Rola Sleiman and the Rev James Makuei Choul, with a new section of the World Mission report instructing ‘the Council and other relevant bodies or individuals to continue to work with Government, especially the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to ensure that the Church of Scotland is recognised as an institution whose word is accepted in all UK Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates around the world when visa applications are being considered’.
The Very Rev Dr John Chalmers said that not enough was being done by the international community to help South Sudan. “Friends of this General Assembly, whose fellowship we have enjoyed in this place, have been writing to us to tell us that they have lived through many years of civil war and many tragic times, but they have never known anything like this present situation.
“This is a forgotten place a forgotten war, a forgotten nation. We have to step up our advocacy on behalf of those involved. No-one is advocating for them.”
There was also a new section added to the World Mission report commending ‘the clergy and members of the Coptic Church to the prayers of the General Assembly and the whole church’. The Very Rev Dr Angus Morrison, spoke of the attacks and threats faced by the Coptic Christians in Egypt, and the ‘Christ-like spirit’ with which the church meets them.
The convener of the Social Care Council, Bill Steele, said it would cost about £2.4 million to implement the Scottish Living Wage for all CrossReach staff and to maintain the differentials to higher-paid employees. In his speech he said that ‘unless funding agencies include this in the purchasing of the services we provide for them, the costs are prohibitive… (but) we will continue to make representation at the highest levels of funding bodies on this matter’.
The Assembly passed the change to CrossReach’s employment practices under which care and support staff will no longer need to be professing Christians. However, the requirement will remain in place for management and supervisory staff; and the remaining staff will be required ‘to give a commitment to be respectful of our Christian ethos and commit not to undermine it’.
The Panel of Review and Reform, the Theological Forum, Ecumenical Relations Committee and the Legal Questions Committee were instructed to jointly explore the implications of a ‘change to the practice of Sacramental Ministry in the Church of Scotland’.
The Panel had wished to consider the options for enabling people besides Ministers of Word and Sacrament to administer the sacrament. However, the Principal Clerk, the Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, warned that it was a complex issue, with potential implications for the Church’s relationship with other churches, and that the other bodies should be involved in exploring it before the Assembly was asked to make any decisions.
The Council of Assembly was authorised to continue examining the options for the Central church buildings at George Street, Charis House (CrossReach offices) and the Assembly Hall. Possible options are to simply maintain the existing accommodation; to partly sell or rent some of the office space; or to move out of George Street altogether. Firm proposals will be brought to next year's Assembly.
Read here on Church of Scotland website.