A Review by Barbara Wheeler

Luke Paul, by Finlay A. J. Macdonald (Edinburgh: Shoving Leopard, 2012)

The Church of Scotland’s long-time, greatly respected Principal Clerk (Stated Clerk in our terms) has written a book about a minister’s struggle with the issues of gay clergy and same-sex civil partnerships. The book is fiction, but it reads less like a novel than book-length journalism. It’s that realistic, and there’s plenty of explanatory detail that makes the story accessible to those who don’t know Scottish slang or how the Church of Scotland operates. Macdonald avoids the pitfalls of this kind of invented case study: there is some drama, but the plot is loose, like the story of most people’s lives, and none of the incidents feels contrived to hammer a point.

Macdonald’s best achievement is his main character, Luke Paul, whose name signals his pilgrimage from the position on sexuality issues that usually invokes Paul to the other end of the spectrum, where the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts are used for support. “Luke Paul” emerges as a believable and likeable person and an appealing pastor. (He also has a cool wife who has some sharp one-liners.) In a work like this it is tempting to use the narrator’s account of what goes on in the protagonist’s head for “gotcha” arguments in favor of a position, but Macdonald is a measured and disciplined writer, and Luke Paul’s thoughts are suitably ruminative.

The sexuality debates in Scotland and the U.S. are framed rather differently.  The question of whether homosexual orientation is a choice is much more prominent there. And Americans will be astonished to learn that the Church of Scotland ordered its ministers and members not to make public statements on gay ordination during the period that a commission of the Assembly was at work on the question and was gathering votes on the subject from ministers, elders, sessions and presbyteries. Apparently everyone complied with the gag order! Still, Luke Paul’s reflections on what is at stake as he decides whether to bless a civil partnership and to speak on ordination in the General Assembly (in a denomination as small as the Church of Scotland, an Assembly speech on a controversial issue makes a permanent mark on one’s reputation)—the reflections are broad, theological and engaging enough that those struggling to define, frame or speak their views here may well find them helpful.

And this is entertaining reading on a subject on which much of what we read and write, important as it may be, does not have much entertainment value. I recommend Luke Paul.

The book is available in the U.S. from Amazon. Because it is produced by “lightning print” it may take several weeks for delivery.