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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back - A Dramatic Vote

Looking Back

Friday June 19

Looking Back: A Dramatic Vote

In 1960 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland discussed whether to allow women to be Elders. The decision was made by a single vote.



By one vote the General Assembly approved the deliverance of the Special Committee on the place of Women in the Church, recommending “that women be eligible for the office of Elder on the same terms as men” – an Overture in these terms to be transmitted to Presbyteries for their consideration.

The report mentioned that 28 Presbyteries had been of the opinion that admission to the Courts of the Church should be open to women, and 14 were against; 23 did not report. 27 were in favour of admission to the eldership and 19 against, 2 being equally divided.

Dr. John Kennedy appealed to the Assembly to make a decision after the very thorough discussions which had taken place. His Committee could see no grounds in Scripture or experience for continuing to exclude women. In fact, the evidence was of a clear leading of the Spirit to recognise the gifts of women, as now developed, as peculiarly fitting them for this service in Christ’s Church.

In opposition it was claimed that by Biblical and Reformed standards the case had not been made out and there was need for more study of the theological implications.

The Assembly voted first against a proposal to send the question again to congregations of the Church for their study and comment. A vote was then taken for or against the Committee’s recommendation, the result being 165 for and 164 against. A plea for a recount was refused as contrary to the Standing Orders, the reason for which was plain in this instance, as a number of members voting had left the hall and to recount would have been to revote. The decision will be taken by the next General Assembly on the basis of the returns from Presbyteries.

The following year, it was reported that the Overture had failed to receive the approval of a majority of presbyteries – 34 voting for and 34 against – and that therefore the decision was ‘no action’. Female Elders were finally approved in 1967, and the decision to admit women as ministers followed a year later.

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