Kenneth Roy writing in the Scottish Review:
21 May 2013
Albert Bogle: the man of the moment
It was a historic debate – the national church at last forcing itself to decide whether to permit actively gay ministers. Eight hundred and fifty commissioners from the parishes of Scotland had come together in the Assembly Hall for this momentous occasion. Or had they?
Whenever a vote was taken, and it was a day of many votes, only 630 or so took part. It is hard to believe that 220 regularly abstained on so important an issue. Where, then, were the missing delegates?
Dora Noyce, Edinburgh’s best-known madam, outside whose New Town door a queue would form when the sailors docked in nearby Leith, claimed that Assembly week was the busiest of her trading year. That too must have been an expression of sexual orientation. But Dora died inconveniently many years ago, leaving a gap in the market that has never been satisfactorily filled.
It was a fine day. Perhaps the 220 truants who should have been participating in the historic debate had gone instead to the Falkirk Wheel, a more wholesome alternative to the old Danube Street brothel.
What did they miss? For a start, the presentation of the long-awaited report of the Theological Commission, which, having deliberated for two years, had triumphantly failed to come to any conclusion whatsoever. Its convener talked mysteriously about ‘trajectories’ and ‘polarities’ and was fond of the phrase ‘for the avoidance of doubt’. Yet doubt was what his speech was all about – doubt that the Theological Commission would ever agree about anything, except to differ profoundly, even if they continued meeting for the next 2,000 years.
For the avoidance of doubt – God, it’s catching – it soon became clear that, whatever the assembly decided, if it decided anything, the decision would be subject to the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Barrier Act, which will mean a further year of delay while the ordination of actively gay ministers is referred back to the parishes for further mature reflection. Don’t ask me about the Barrier Act.
It was cooked up as a mechanism for prevarication when St Matthew was still in schoolboy shorts, and has been a favourite ploy of the dithering Kirk ever since.
Now, what’s this ? Heaven forfend. A woman.
In the General Assembly of 1945, which began a few days after VE Day, when Dora Noyce was in her prime, some of the faithful talked of women as their successors now talk of homosexuals, and refused to admit them to the eldership. But 68 years later, they have installed one of these people – a woman, no less – as moderator of their assembly, and she is not the first of her gender to achieve this high office. Clearly they did not leave the ordination of women to the Theological Commission, which would still be contemplating its trajectories.
Her name is Lorna Hood and she is a former pupil of the excellent Kilmarnock Academy, which also produced the McIlvanney brothers. Lorna was the bravest person in Scotland yesterday.
The main competing proposals, as she painstakingly explained more than once, were entitled, for the avoidance of doubt, 2A and 2B. Someone – John Cairns, I think – interjected a 2C, then withdrew it. Another – the wondrously named Albert Bogle – threw in at short notice a 2D. Lorna joked that there might even be a 2E and a 2F. It was all painfully reminiscent of the second year at Denny High, where the streaming went as far down as 2H. No one ever came out of 2H in one piece.
Lorna was assisted occasionally by a pleasant, youngish woman in a fetching wig who was introduced as the procurator and by an impressive looking gent in a gown whom she addressed as the principal clerk. For some reason he reminded me of the late Roman Catholic archbishop of Glasgow, Tom Winning. The procurator and the deceased archbishop were helpful up to a point, but it was Lorna who held it all together, and she did it with patience and good humour.
It was Lorna, too, who set the mood of the day with her dismissal of an early interjection, offensive in tone, demanding to know how many gay applicants for the ministry there were likely to be. She paused for a few seconds before refusing to accept the question. The assembly had been warned that there were limits
It was a long time – it must have been three in the afternoon – before anyone mentioned the word love in relation to anyone but God. It was the prefect of 2C himself – John Cairns – who delivered a brief but majestic speech about the inclusivity of the human family. You could not help applauding it; and they did. James Simpson, another former moderator, reminded the gathering that Jesus Christ did not regard biblical texts as graven in stone, that these texts were constantly being reinterpreted, and that if it had not been so, the Church of Scotland would have been deprived of so fine a minister as Lorna Hood.
But it was Albert Bogle – Bogle of Bo’ness – who magicked up the classic muddy compromise. ‘I love the Scriptures,’ said the Bogle man, ‘I can do no other’. In other words, a traditionalist who buys the lot. But a traditionalist prepared to bend a little to save the church he loves. ‘I didn’t mean to be here today…I’ve just been parachuted in this morning…I am the weaker brother drawing closer…My intention is of a good heart…’. Oh, please, Albert dear, spare us all these self-references.
But the assembly had suddenly found a way out: the Kirk would maintain its traditional stance on homosexuality – for the avoidance of doubt, it’s against it – but permit liberal congregations to call ministers who have entered civil partnerships.
It wasn’t brave. It wasn’t even principled. It was all rather 2D, a class well-known for its proficiency in technical drawing. But cometh the hour cometh the man, and that man was Albert Bogle.
Kenneth Roy is editor of the Scottish Review