COME Saturday morning, the Church of Scotland will open the doors of its General Assembly, on the Mound in Edinburgh, and get down to business. With 730 commissioners drawn from congregations across the country, it will plunge into a seven-day schedule that makes Brexit negotiations look plain sailing. Indeed, the arguments that flare during this supposedly prayerful gathering can be so fierce that Theresa May could do worse than hire a former Moderator as she faces down Brussels. Anyone who has been ringmaster for the Kirk in its full pomp could bring Europe’s sternest guardians to their knees in days.

Not all of what unfolds on the Mound will spark fireworks, of course. A glance at this year’s agenda suggests that, as always, the Sahara has been temporarily relocated to the heart of the capital. As one who has sat through some of its more arcane, dry and life-shorteningly tedious sessions, I have sympathy for those who must stay awake without the aid of legal stimulants.

This year, all eyes will be on one of the dullest-sounding sessions. Late next week comes the Report of the Theological Forum, written and delivered by its convener, the Very Reverend Professor Iain Torrance. Already this paper, which was leaked last month, has attracted attention. Although the church usually moves so slowly a lifetime can pass faster than its laws and procedures can be changed, recent years have seen a remarkably swift process of liberalising its position on homosexuality.

In 2009, the furore over the ordination of the openly gay Reverend Scott Rennie made it seem that another walk-out, on the scale of the Great Disruption in Victoria’s time, was on the cards. Although a few did depart in high dudgeon, that episode already seems like ancient history. This latest document is now asking the church to go even further.

First, it wants to authorise its legal department to find a way to sanction ministers to perform same-sex marriages while allowing refusniks to opt out safely. Secondly, it urges the Kirk to offer a whole-hearted apology to members of the LGBT community for the shameful way in which it has treated them in the past, “and seek to do better”.

It could be dynamite. Although the report is written with a gentleness and sensitivity unusual in theological circles, it is hard to see it passing through the Assembly Hall without an outcry. The toughest sticking point will not, I suspect, be the issue of conducting single-sex marriages, although some will undoubtedly baulk at that. Using the terms “constrained difference” and “conscientious refusal”, Prof Torrance’s recommendations allow for very different viewpoints to be accommodated. In practice, the Kirk has adopted this pragmatic and diplomatic stance on other contentious issues, such as marrying divorcees or the ordination of female or homosexual clergy. As a consequence, for instance, there are parts of the country that have yet to have a woman elder, let alone minister, even though nationally women elders outnumber men.

But what is especially rare about this report is that it makes explicit one of the fundamental keys to the Kirk’s personality: namely, that those from the revisionist or liberal side and those on the traditional wing can peaceably come to a consensus on this divisive issue, without losing face or fearing schism. Indeed, it emphasises that this is not a matter of winners and losers. Thus, if the Kirk’s legal questions committee can find a way of allowing conscientious refusers to avoid performing single-sex marriages without running the risk of prosecution under the Equalities Act, as in the infamous Irish gay cake scandal, then it has a very good chance of eventually being accepted.

When I asked an eminent church authority if this notion of amicable disagreement had ever been so baldly stated in print before, he corrected the use of the word amicable, and said that when feelings run high, respectful might be more appropriate. He added that the notion of constrained difference had been tacitly understood in many crucial church decisions for a century and more.

So far, so unremarkable, even though this potentially historic report could make the Church of Scotland one of the most tolerant religious bodies in the world. The aim of the Theological Forum’s report is to encourage what the Church of England calls “mutual flourishing”, the phrase it optimistically used in the run-up to the vote on women bishops.

For those of us who have always seen the Kirk as staid and old-fashioned, it comes as a shock to appreciate how progressive it has become. As the secular world advances, many faiths and institutions are growing more entrenched, hardline, or internally divided, among them the Catholics and Anglicans, and the biblically-strict Free Presbyterians. Yet, while the Scottish Episcopal Church will also discuss conducting gay marriages at its General Synod next month, it could rightly be said that the Kirk is proving itself admirably ahead of the pack.

True to the spirit of John Knox, of course, it is likely there will still be considerable dissent when this report is delivered. It is the apology that could prove most troublesome, but that is also the element that makes this such a radical document. In all the years I have followed Kirk affairs, I cannot think of a more powerful and telling statement. To urge members to make amends for demonising, demeaning or discounting those who are homosexual, or of non-traditional sexual identity, is one of the most compassionate, far-sighted steps it has taken in decades.

For some, of course, it may well be a step too far. It’s not hard to foresee an almighty struggle to convince those who believe homosexuality is inherently sinful to concede that an apology of any sort is due. Indeed, I can already hear the tread of traditionalists racing out of the Kirk and through the doors of the uncompromising Free Church, where they will feel more at home.

Yet there are few orators or theologians as learned and persuasive as Prof Torrance. If he can carry the Assembly with him on both issues, the church will have set a remarkable standard for humility and awareness.

It is, however, a very high bar, and I expect I won’t be alone in covering my eyes as the Kirk attempts to vault it.