MINISTERS are set to clash over whether the Kirk’s decision to permit the appointment of gay ministers in civil partnerships should be extended to those in same-sex marriages.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland approved on Saturday the civil partnerships move, but a debate on Thursday over the appointment of ministers in same-sex marriages is expected to be more contentious.
That is because it involves the definition of marriage, which has been traditionally viewed by the Kirk as involving a man and a woman.
The debate has been triggered by the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014, which permits gay marriage and allows those in civil partnerships to convert to marriage.
The Kirk’s 309 to 182 vote over civil partnerships concluded a six-year debate on that issue, but Thursday’s debate could be just the start of a lengthy process over marriage.
The Kirk operates a “triple lock” system, where an issue has to be approved at the general assembly and then by presbyteries before being brought back to a further general assembly.
Former moderator the Very Rev Dr Andrew McLellan said he was keen for progress towards the appointment of ministers who were in gay marriages.
And he added he hoped it would move the Kirk towards allowing a minister “to perform a single-sex marriage”.
The Rev Bryan Kerr, minister of Greyfriars Parish Church in Lanark, meanwhile said: “I hope we offer people in same-sex marriages the same opportunity to become a minister. Faithfulness is what we are looking for – if the church looks for that commitment in a heterosexual couple, it should seek the same from those in a gay relationship as well.”
Another former moderator, the Very Rev David Arnott, called instead for the issue to be referred to a theological forum, which could take two years.
He said: “The church benefits all the time from slow and careful consideration of these matters.”
Last year’s moderator, the Very Rev Lorna Hood, sensed a different mood over the issue. “This is a more profound debate. People who accept civil partnerships have found this next step a step too far.”
Opponents said they would seek the move to be halted. The Rev Mike Goss, minister of Barry, linked with Carnoustie, and secretary of the evangelical group Covenant Fellowship Scotland, said: “The Church of Scotland has never agreed on same-sex marriage.
“If it was to say that same-sex marriage was the equivalent of a civil partnership, we would have all sorts of difficulties with that. We would end up with a confusion. Marriage is a theological concept as well as a legal one.”
The Rev Goss described Saturday’s vote as a “very bad decision” and predicted more people would leave the church. However, the Kirk has said only 21 of its 806 ministers have quit over the same-sex issue.
Just one of a total of some 1,400 congregations – Gilcomston in Aberdeen – has also left. But there have been splits in others that have involved parts of them going.