Leaders: Kirk’s stance on gay ministers worth risk

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Picture: Jane Barlow
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Picture: Jane Barlow
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BARELY has the dust begun to settle on the historic vote of the Church of Scotland General Assembly to allow actively gay men and women to become ministers than two congregations on Lewis are considering leaving the Church of Scotland.

Kinloch and Stornoway High Church of Scotland say they are unhappy with the way the Kirk has handled the issue. Kinloch minister, the Rev Iain Murdo Campbell, said the General Assembly should not have tackled the matter at all.

Such division should not come as a surprise to the church. It has long agonised over this question. The vote to allow gay ministers in civil partnerships followed a report by the church’s theological commission which took two years to prepare and which set out arguments on both sides. Now, in the wake of the compromise reached last week allowing “liberal” parishes to opt out of the church’s policy on homosexuality, the two congregations are considering defection.

The church is caught between two powerful forces. One is the significant and unmistakable shift in wider social attitudes towards homosexuality. The broader culture in which the church undertakes its ministry has changed markedly in recent years – and a change away from traditional interpretations of the Bible. Indeed, so decisive has been this shift that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is now enshrined in human rights laws. It is a clear and indisputable reflection of society’s wishes as a whole.

It is therefore right that the Kirk has moved towards a recognition of this broader, and more inclusive, change in social attitudes. To have done otherwise would have been to adopt a Canute-like stance, and with every prospect of growing isolation and a scrambled, inevitable retreat.

The second force which the Kirk has had to recognise and respect is its historically devolved and democratic constitution. The compromise allowing their liberal parishes to opt out of the church’s policy on homosexuality may seem messy, but it enables the church to maintain its traditional opposition to practicing gay ministers while allowing individual parishes to opt out.

This position has drawn criticism from conservatives for opening the door to change while drawing charges of fudge and dissemblance: the church can say its traditional stance has been maintained while allowing a major change to unfold at parish level. But it is a position that the church has arrived at after careful deliberation and one that respects the views of both sides.

In this journey the Church of Scotland may lose ministers and congregations. But it should not be deterred by this risk. Were it not to have moved in the way that it has, its voice in public affairs would almost certainly have been diminished. And it would in all likelihood have found itself facing a greater and more corrosive loss at parish level.

Least Bridger can do is reveal truth

Few crimes have aroused more shock and anger than that of Mark Bridger, found guilty yesterday of the abduction and murder of five-year-old April Jones in a sexually-motivated attack.

Bridger has adamantly refused to provide a credible account of how April died at his hands and what he did with her body. It has devastated her parents and family and cast a pall over the local community of Machynlleth. Her disappearance was deeply felt across the community and it triggered the biggest search in UK police history, conducted by a massive deployment of police and helicopters over many miles.One tragic and inevitable result was to curtail outdoor play by children in the community.

Yet throughout all this, Bridger remained unmoved at the agony and consternation he had caused. He maintained throughout that he accidentally ran her over and could not recall where he had put her body. But at his home fragments of a juvenile human skull were found among ashes in a wood burner, along with April’s blood near to a number of knives. Little wonder the judge branded him “a pathological liar”.

It takes gall beyond understanding to have maintained such a cruel and heartless lie in the face of overwhelming evidence. This added to the torture of her parents while the hypocritical expressions of grief from a man with a library of vile child pornography added further to his wickedness.

He was sentenced yesterday to life, and it would be the heartfelt wish of all involved in this tragic case that life really does mean life. The least that Bridger can now do is to give April’s parents closure by revealing what he did and where he left the child’s remains.