UK immigration policies ‘dishonour God’ 

The Moderator of the General Assembly has accused the UK Government of “dishonouring God” by continuing to put up barriers against vulnerable people fleeing conflict.

Speaking ahead of Refugee Week (20-26 June), Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields said the new Nationality and Borders Act makes life very difficult for people seeking the safety they desperately need.

He described the government’s pursuit of hostile policies, including forcing asylum seekers to go to Rwanda, as an “unspeakable disgrace and a stain on our nation”.

Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields
Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields

There is uncertainty now over the legality of the UK Government’s policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda after last-minute legal action prevented the first flight from taking off.

The flight was cancelled after an intervention from the European Court of Human Rights led to fresh challenges in the UK courts.

The offering of sanctuary and hospitality to all is important to Christians who see every human life as being made in God’s image.

Jesus Christ told His followers that when they welcome a stranger, it is as if they were welcoming Jesus Himself.

The Church of Scotland is opposed to any policy that “exploits people’s fears of the outsider” and congregations work hard to support and welcome people into their communities.

Seeking culture of welcome

Dr Greenshields said: “An ordinary family, enjoying life following the birth of their first child. Then came the dreadful news that a tyrant was planning on killing their son.

“That was the moment that fear caused them to flee from their country.

“They became people seeking refuge in another country – refugees through no fault of their own.

“Who were they? Mary, Joseph and their son Jesus.

“Their story is a story repeated all over the world as we seek to build a culture of welcome that embraces the values of human dignity and worth of all people.

“As people flee oppression, violence, conflict and war, many unfortunately do not find the welcome or safe place they need.

“In the UK, the new Nationality and Borders Act 2022 threatens the very principle of refugee protection and offers protection on the grounds of how people arrive in the UK, rather than the war, terror and persecution a person may be fleeing from.

“The trajectory to create a web of hostile policies to make life as difficult as possible for those seeking protection continues.

“This is an unspeakable disgrace and stain on our nation.

Change of heart and direction

“Our UK Government is putting up barriers to prevent people finding the peace and safety they need, and robs them of the opportunity to contribute their skills and experience to the communities they live in and to rebuild their lives.

“People now face the prospect of transportation to Rwanda.

“Next week is Refugee Week and I wanted to offer a prayer for refugees around the world, but find myself, in the name of the One who Himself was a refugee, calling on the UK Government for a change of heart and direction.

“They may feel their policy to be just and right but they dishonour God by their inaction, lack of compassion and disgraceful attempted solution to this critical situation.”

Prayer

God of Compassion, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We pray for the tens of millions of refugees and displaced peoples of this world.

Those displaced by war, violence, fear and famine and greed.

We cannot conceive of the dread with which many of them live.

We do remember Ukraine, but also those many, many places throughout the world where, for decades, people have been living in camps – widows, orphans; often places where people are preyed upon by unscrupulous people.

We pray against those who perpetrate violence and fear, yet pray too for them, that You might change their ways.

We pray for those organisations committed to bringing support – physical, personal, emotional and spiritual to those whose lives are broken.

We pray that our government and other governments might be moved by policies of compassion and open their hearts to those who perhaps have been long forgotten – remembering Your words, calling us to love our neighbour.

We pray for ourselves – speak to our hearts and minds that we might do everything in our power to make a difference to those in greatest need – not just to feel and say the right things but to be stirred to action.

To You, whose heart is full of compassion, where compassion is most needed, make it happen.

Amen

Challenges and new opportunities await the Church of Scotland

Congratulating the Church of Scotland on delivering a successful General Assembly in challenging times, royal representative Lord Hodge said that seeing the Kirk in action had reassured him that along with the challenges, there were new opportunities ahead.

Lord Hodge, who as Lord High Commissioner is Her Majesty The Queen’s personal representative to the Assembly, also used his final address to apologise for adding to those challenges by contracting Covid, postponing his in-person attendance and leading to the cancellation of the traditional open day parade and events at Holyrood Palace.

However, he was eventually able to visit Church-backed charities and projects in Perthshire and Glasgow, as well as attend the Assembly in person.

Lord High Commissioner Lord Hodge arrives at the General Assembly to preside over the final day of proceedings.

Dignity and grace

“I have greatly enjoyed hearing once again your debates. You have conducted your deliberations with dignity and grace, tackling difficult issues on which differing views are held in good faith,” he said.

Lord Hodge, who is the Deputy President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, also paid tribute to Principal Clerk George Whyte and chair of the Assembly Trustees John Chalmers for respectively guiding the Church and Assembly through all the complexities created by the pandemic and streamlining the organisation of the Church to allow it to better focus on its mission.

Inspiring projects

Away from the Assembly, Lord Hodge travelled to Crieff to attend a lunch with local charity representatives and visit Auchlone Nature Kindergarten, which was founded by Dr Claire Warden to encourage children to learn about sustainable living, nature and animals.

He said: ” I was struck by the energy and vibrancy of these, mainly local, initiatives which ranged from community support, assisting the families of prisoners, providing for the disabled, recycling things for further use, and many other initiatives.

“I also met prison officer cadets, including two very impressive young women who explained their motivation as a desire to be of public service and to give something back to their society. They were inspiring.”

The following day he visited the Queen’s Quay heat network facility at the former John Brown’s shipyard in Glasgow. The facility heats water from the River Clyde up to 80° Celsius and uses it to supply energy to the surrounding buildings and community with a 98% reduction in carbon emissions.

Lord Hodge noted that this technology has the potential to contribute greatly towards meeting climate goals if the vision is there within government and industry.

He then went on to the Milton housing estate, where life expectancy is 10 years lower than the Glasgow average, but where the Church of Scotland’s Colston Milton parish church, St Augustine’s Roman Catholic church and St Andrew’s Methodist Church, have joined forces to support the community.

“This support is essential as the community struggles with the cost of living crisis. We came away inspired by what we had seen and heard,” Lord Hodge said.

Back in Edinburgh, Lord Hodge met the chaplains to Her Majesty’s Forces who were also visiting the General Assembly before going on to give a short address at the General Assembly of the Free Church before a Scottish Parliament lunch with the Presiding Officer, Alison Johnstone, and MSPs from each of the parties.

“I was struck by the interest in and appreciation shown by our hosts to the work of our church and other churches,” Lord Hodge continued.

“In the afternoon, the Governor of Edinburgh Castle and the chief executive of the Scottish National War Memorial gave us a guided tour of the National War Memorial. I have visited the Memorial on several occasions, but Her Grace (Lady Hodge) and I were privileged to have an authoritative account of its creation and to see in detail its moving works of art created by a grieving but hugely grateful nation.”

Although he had been unable to visit asylum seeker support group Friends of Scottish Settlers in Falkirk as planned, Lord Hodge thanked the Lord Lieutenant of Stirlingshire, Alan Simpson, for stepping in as his replacement.

“The aim of the visit was to show that people care about asylum seekers and to thank the staff and volunteers for their dedicated work. At a time when the world is so unsettled and when violence has returned to Europe on a scale unprecedented in my life, I was very sorry to have missed out on this visit,” he added.

New opportunities emerge

After thanking all those who had supported him as well as his wife Penny over his time as Lord High Commissioner, Lord Hodge reflected: “I reach the end of my time here this year with strong memories.

“In particular, I have a strong sense of the energy and vibrancy of initiatives being taken at a local level, whether it be the Perthshire charities whom I met in Crieff or the ecumenical collaboration in service of the community in Milton.

“At a time when the Church faces challenges it should not forget the opportunities which are emerging to do things in new ways by facilitating local initiatives. Most of all, what I will take away from this week is what a drug addict in Milton, who had no active connection with the church, said to the RevChristopher Rowe on meeting him in the community: ‘You give us hope that God has not abandoned us’.”

Wishing new moderator Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields and his wife, Linda, a successful and rewarding year in office, Lord Hodge concluded: “Right Reverend and well-beloved, your labours are now at an end. You have concluded the business for which you assembled. May you return to your communities enlivened and enriched by your experience of this Assembly.”

General Assembly approves scheme to conduct same-sex marriages

An historic vote has taken place which will allow Church of Scotland ministers and deacons to marry same-sex couples.

The General Assembly voted to change a standing church law to allow the right to apply to become an authorised celebrant to conduct same-sex ceremonies by 274 votes to 136.

The decision, which would enable ministers and deacons to opt-in to a new scheme, came after a majority of presbyteries – 29-12 – approved the “Solemnisation of Same Sex Marriage Overture”.

 Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields
Moderator Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields.

A report to the General Assembly makes it clear that no person would be required to participate in the solemnisation of, or be involved in the arrangements for, a same sex marriage unless they explicitly wished to do so.

Humility and grace

Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, Moderator of the General Assembly, said: “The Church of Scotland is a broad church and there are diverse views on the subject of same-sex marriage among its members.

“There has been a lengthy, prayerful and in-depth discussion and debate about this topic for many years at all levels of the Church to find a solution that respects diversity and values the beliefs of all.

“The Church is committed to ensuring that debates on this subject are held in a spirit of humility and grace, the tone and tenor of discussions are civil and people are respectful of those who hold opposing views.

“The General Assembly has today approved the Solemnisation of Same Sex Marriage Overture to change a standing Church law to enable Ministers of Word and Sacrament and deacons to apply to become authorised celebrants if they wish.

“However, no minister or deacon would be required to participate in the solemnisation of, or be involved in the arrangements for, a same sex marriage unless they explicitly wished to do so.

“All celebrants would be expected to take account of the peace and unity and pastoral needs of the congregation and any parish or other grouping of which it is a part while considering to conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony.”

Under the terms of the legislation, an individual would have to apply to the Principal Clerk’s office to become a celebrant and an application would then be made to the Registrar General for Scotland on their behalf.

The Principal Clerk would maintain an up to date record of celebrants and they would be personally responsible for renewing their status every three years.

Only a parish minister who has become a celebrant will be permitted the use of a church building in their charge for the solemnisation of same sex marriages.

They would be able to grant consent to other celebrants to use the building for this purpose, however.

The issue sparked a lively debate among ministers and elders on both sides of the argument.

God’s love

Rev Phil Gunn, minister of Rosskeen Parish Church in Ross-shire, asked: “A Church that does not provoke any crisis, preach a Gospel that does not unsettle, proclaim a Word of God that does not get under anyone’s skin or a Word of God that does not touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed, what kind of Gospel is that?

“Quite simply put, this overture is not biblical and we see the scriptures, old and new, that point to God’s teaching on marriage and human sexuality.

“We are called to love everyone as Christ commanded us, we are to demonstrate God’s love to the world so they might recognise something different in us but that does not mean we have to conform to the ways of society or the world.”

Mr Gunn said the Bible is the supreme rule of faith and life for the Church.

“God has called us as his followers to be bold and make a stand for what is right in his eyes,” he added.

“If we choose to turn our back on scripture how can we stand up and say we are ministers of God’s church if we then change what God says?”

Church together

But Rev Lezley Stewart, speaking as a minister and a commissioner, told the General Assembly “it is time to say I do.”

“We have always lived with differences and we always will, no one in this General Assembly hall is the same as you and no one thinks the same as you and maybe we should thank God for that,” she said.

“But we are the Church together and if you look to your right, to your left, look in front of you and look behind you, hopefully what you can see is simply a reflection of Christ – we are the Church together.

“Jesus said we should be seen by our love for one another.

“It is time to day I do respect the choice of ministers to choose, I do respect the faith and desire of members and ministers to say I do and be married in their church in a way that most of us have been able to do throughout the whole of our lives and take for granted.”

The Church’s Legal Questions Committee is producing guidance to accompany the amended Church law.

It will be prepared in consultation with the Faith Nurture Forum and the Theological Forum and issued to presbytery clerks and posted online this summer to assist in the practical operation of the revised Act’s provisions.

The Faith Nurture Forum will produce a suggested liturgy for celebrants to use to bless same-sex marriages.