Kirk faces threat of split in row over gay ministers
DESPERATE efforts are under way to prevent the Church of Scotland splitting over the issue of gay ministers.
New official figures suggest a clear majority of Kirk representatives in Edinburgh would back a more liberal attitude.
A special commission is due to report to the General Assembly in May on whether practising gays and lesbians should be accepted into the ministry.
A consultation among ministers and elders in the Kirk's Edinburgh presbytery found a majority of two to one in favour of allowing gays who were in civil partnerships to become ministers, though there was an almost 50-50 divide on whether those who were in a non- formalised same-sex relationship should be ordained.
There were people on both sides of the debate who said they would feel compelled to leave the church if the decision goes against their point of view.
One leading churchman said: "There is a lot going on behind the scenes to try to prevent the row resulting in a schism.
"People are saying 'Do we really want to split over this? What can we do to ensure we don't split and both sides are left with their integrity intact?'"
The findings at Edinburgh presbytery showed 121 ministers and elders saying gays or lesbians in civil partnerships should be eligible for the ministry with 62 against, while 97 said those in a same-sex relationship could be ordained, with 93 against.
Sixteen said they would regard it as heresy to ordain gays, while 59 said it would be heresy to refuse to ordain them.
Meanwhile, 25 people said they would feel obliged to leave the church if ordination of gays was approved, while 18 said they would have to go if ordination was forbidden for gays.
There were also 12 who said they would feel obliged to leave if no clear statement was made on the issue.
Presbytery clerk the Rev Dr George Whyte said it would be a pity for the fellowship of the church to be damaged over one issue. He said: "So much will depend on the kind of decision the church comes up with - whether it's a hard and fast set of rules that obliges everyone to take a particular stance or if there is some flexibility and a chance for congregations or presbyteries to make up their own mind.
"I don't think it's possible for us all to agree on a common policy. It's whether we can learn to live with each other while taking different views."
The issue is so divisive that the Assembly two years ago imposed a ban on public debate of the controversy.
One Edinburgh minister opposed to the ordination of gays said: "Because of this stifling of debate, everything has been suppressed and when the cork comes out of the bottle, who knows what will happen.
"Whether entire congregations would come out or parts of congregations, it's very difficult to guess.
"There have been issues in the past where people have disagreed. The difference is this is at the heart of what it means to live the Christian life. That's why it makes it difficult just to say we will agree to disagree."
Consultation reveals the views from the pewss
Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?
• Homosexual orientation is a disorder and homosexual practice sinful - unrepentant gay and lesbian people should not have leadership roles in the church": 21 agreed
• "Accept homosexual orientation as a given, but disapprove of homosexual behaviour - gay and lesbian people in sexual relationships should not have leadership roles in church": 38 agreed
• Should a person in a same-sex relationship be allowed to be an ordained minister: Yes 97 No 93
• Should a person in a civil partnership be allowed to be an ordained minister: Yes 121 No 62
• To ordain gays would be "heretical": 16 agreed
• To ordain gays would be "unjustifiable": 50 agreed
• The decision is "not particularly significant": 21 agreed
Would you feel obliged to leave the church if:
• People in committed same-sex relationships were allowed ordination: Yes 25 No 150
• People in committed same-sex relationships were allowed other leadership roles in the church: Yes 19 No 145
• Ordination of people in same-sex relationships was forbidden: Yes 18 No 142
• People in same-sex relationships were forbidden to take leadership roles: Yes 20 No 145
• The General Assembly decided to make no clear statement on the issue: Yes 12 No 151
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Monday 20 May 2013
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