The Church of Scotland General Assembly has heard a passionate plea to continue speaking and acting for social justice in the name of the Christian Gospel.
The Rev Ian Galloway, Convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, described press accusations that the Kirk was "silent" on a range of social issues, or speaking without acting, as "baloney".
He was introducing the Church and Society report, and deliverances (motions) to the Church's annual governing body. It highlights a wide range of activities undertaken at different levels of church life - including human trafficking, domestic abuse, sectarianism, eco-congregations, the living wage, the poverty, homelessness, neuroethics, education, constitutional change, chaplaincy, literacy and more.
Criticising attempts by some commentators to focus almost solely on sexuality debates, arcania and internal church business, Mr Galloway noted that while they have their "own agenda", the agenda of the Church must always recognise "that the Holy Spirit is not confined within the boundaries of the church and that there is much to learn from the world – the world that God loved so much that we received the ultimate gift of Jesus, and through which God continues to nourish and teach the Body of Christ of which we are a part."
"We can be accused of many things but silence isn’t one them," he declared. "We have not been silent on sectarianism, we have not been silent on welfare reform, we have not been silent on the banks and the failings of the economic system, we have not been silent on alcohol pricing, we have not been silent on assisted suicide, we have not been silence on climate change, we have not been silent on the perils of a policy of austerity, we have not been silent on the need for social justice to be at the heart of the constitutional debate."
"There is more to being the Church than speaking," he continued. "There is, maybe first and foremost, listening. We have listened to those [commentators] who have told us that fine words from this Assembly on the issue of domestic abuse are not enough. What is needed is action. And rather than haranguing others, the action starts here, with us and in the life of the church. The brokenness of our relationships is known to us and to God, however just as we have worked very hard as a church in the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults, we now need to work just as hard to play our part in ridding our society of the abuse that takes place in some homes in the parishes of Scotland – words may sometimes help, but they are not enough – the action plan contained in [our] report goes further."
The Church and Society Council has a detailed work plan that reflects the strategic objectives set by the Council of Assembly.
Mr Galloway also commended the work of the Special Commission on the Purposes of Economic Activity, noting that its recommendations and observations about a right relationship to money were deeply related to the range of social concerns and priorities of his Council.
The Assembly has today also approved an action programme on domestic abuse against women, as part of a process aimed at challenging all forms of abuse in church and society.
The Church and Society Council's overall remit is "to engage on behalf of the Church in the national, political and social issues affecting Scotland and the world today. This includes a huge range of issues including human rights, asylum, ethics, science and technology, concerns about gambling, climate change and education issues. It aims to do this through the development of theological, ethical and spiritual perspectives when formulating policy and by effectively representing the Church by offering appropriate and informed comments."
The council is also "charged with building, establishing and maintaining a series of networks and relationships with leaders and key people in society and engaging in longer-term dialogue and the exchange of ideas with them."
Lastly, it is "committed to supporting the local church in its mission and its own engagement with influence-shapers in society by providing a range of resources on a range of contemporary issues."
* The Rev Ian Galloway's blog can be found here: http://churchsociety.blogspot.co.uk/
* More on the Kirk's Church and Society Council: http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/about_us/councils_committees_and_depa...
* Ekklesia's reporting and comment from the Church of Scotland General Assembly 2012, plus back stories, can be followed here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/kirkgeneralassembly