Church of Scotland faces breakaway over gay clergy

The General Assembly decided to allow gay clergy. Picture: Getty
The General Assembly decided to allow gay clergy. Picture: Getty
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THE Church of Scotland is facing a fresh crisis over the controversial issue of allowing gay clergy after two churches threatened to break away from the Kirk.

Congregations at the two churches, both in the Western Isles, are to vote on whether to quit the Kirk over the issue.

The congregation at Kinloch and elders of Stornoway High, on the Isle of Lewis, are the first to react to the Kirk’s decision to allow gay clergy, which was passed last week by the General Assembly. Sources suggested at least ten more congregations could be considering similar votes this summer and warned the Church of Scotland “could be facing extinction in the Western Isles”.

The ordaining of ministers in same-sex relationships has divided the Kirk since traditionalist members attempted to block the appointment of Scott Rennie, who is gay, in 2009.

So far, two congregations have left the Kirk over the issue – St George’s Tron Church in Glasgow and Gilcomston South Church in Aberdeen – both 
before the Church of Scotland took the historic step last week of voting in favour of allowing openly gay men and women to become ministers.

The two churches now considering breaking away are from the evangelical wing of the Kirk, which believes in the “gospel truth” and follow the written word of the Bible.

The evangelical wing is strong in many parts of the Highlands and Islands, and is at odds with Church’s more liberal sections and their position on the ordination of gay ministers.

One source from within the evangelicals said: “On current form, it is perfectly conceivable that in two years time the Church of Scotland will have nobody left in places like Lewis. Many congregations across Scotland are deeply unhappy with what the General Assembly decided.

“Now that Kinloch have announced their intention to leave, it could have a domino effect across the Highlands and Islands, with many more planning to leave – easily running into double figures. If rumours are correct, come May 2015 the national church could be facing extinction in the Western Isles.”

The minister and members of Kinloch Church of Scotland have made a unanimous decision to consider their position, saying they are unhappy with the way in which the Kirk has handled the issue of gay ministers.

Kinloch minister, the Rev Iain Murdo Campbell, said the General Assembly should not have even tackled the matter.

He added that it was not so much the decision by the General Assembly that had caused them to consider a breakaway from the Kirk, but the fact the issue was being discussed at all. “They have been investigating and talking about this for at least four years,” he said.

“As far as we can see this is a question of what authority God’s word has within the denomination within the Church.

“If the word of God had the authority, which it should have, the question and debate would never have been in the General Assembly in the first place.

“God has spoken quite clearly and it only takes a few seconds to read what God has to say on this issue.”

Meanwhile, elders at Stornoway High Church held a meeting on Wednesday night and also decided to vote on whether to leave the Kirk. The congregation narrowly voted to remain part of the Kirk in 2011 when it became clear that the Church of Scotland was moving in the direction of allowing gay people to become ministers.

At the General Assembly earlier this month an attempt was made to find a compromise to satisfy all within the Kirk, but it has not gone down well with the evangelical wing.

The General Assembly maintained the Church’s traditional stance on the doctrine of human sexuality, but allowed congregations to decide themselves on whether to allow a minister in a same-sex relationship.

A Church of Scotland spokesman said: “We have not been informed of any congregation wishing to leave the Church of Scotland following last week’s General Assembly and the debate on the proposals put forward by the Theological Commission, and we would be saddened if this were the case at such an early stage.”

A summit is to take place for evangelical ministers next month to hold “crisis talks”.

It has been organised by Rev Kenny Borthwick, now leader of Holy Trinity Church in Edinburgh, urging traditionalists to gather and “repent, pray and work for reformation that is so badly needed”.

A Free Church of Scotland spokesman said: “By voting for political correctness over faithfulness to the Bible, it can be no surprise the Church of Scotland has jeopardised its own future.”

Just prior to the General Assembly, the Free Church’s moderator Rev Dr Iain D Campbell said the underlying principal of the 1843 Disruption – which caused the split in the Church 170 years ago – was the key issue, ultimately freedom for the Church to be governed by the “Word of God” alone.

Over the past few years a number of ministers have left the Church of Scotland over the issue of gay clergy.

The Reverend Paul Gibson resigned his charge of Tain Parish Church after just eight months into the post. The Reverend Ivor MacDonald left Kilmuir and Stenscholl on Skye and the Reverend John Murdo MacDonald resigned from Lochalsh.

The Church of Scotland is facing a fresh crisis over the controversial issue of allowing gay clergy after two churches threatened to break away from the Kirk.

Congregations at the two churches, both in the Western Isles, are to vote on whether to quit the Kirk over the issue.

The congregation at Kinloch and elders of Stornoway High, on the Isle of Lewis, are the first to react to the Kirk’s decision to allow gay clergy, which was passed last week by the General Assembly. Sources suggested at least ten more congregations could be considering similar votes this summer and warned the Church of Scotland “could be facing extinction in the Western Isles”.

The ordaining of ministers in same-sex relationships has divided the Kirk since traditionalist members attempted to block the appointment of Scott Rennie, who is gay, in 2009.

So far, two congregations have left the Kirk over the issue – St George’s Tron Church in Glasgow and Gilcomston South Church in Aberdeen – both 
before the Church of Scotland took the historic step last week of voting in favour of allowing openly gay men and women to become ministers.

The two churches now considering breaking away are from the evangelical wing of the Kirk, which believes in the “gospel truth” and follow the written word of the Bible.

The evangelical wing is strong in many parts of the Highlands and Islands, and is at odds with Church’s more liberal sections and their position on the ordination of gay ministers.

One source from within the evangelicals said: “On current form, it is perfectly conceivable that in two years time the Church of Scotland will have nobody left in places like Lewis. Many congregations across Scotland are deeply unhappy with what the General Assembly decided.

“Now that Kinloch have announced their intention to leave, it could have a domino effect across the Highlands and Islands, with many more planning to leave – easily running into double figures. If rumours are correct, come May 2015 the national church could be facing extinction in the Western Isles.”

The minister and members of Kinloch Church of Scotland have made a unanimous decision to consider their position, saying they are unhappy with the way in which the Kirk has handled the issue of gay ministers.

Kinloch minister, the Rev Iain Murdo Campbell, said the General Assembly should not have even tackled the matter.

He added that it was not so much the decision by the General Assembly that had caused them to consider a breakaway from the Kirk, but the fact the issue was being discussed at all. “They have been investigating and talking about this for at least four years,” he said.

“As far as we can see this is a question of what authority God’s word has within the denomination within the Church.

“If the word of God had the authority, which it should have, the question and debate would never have been in the General Assembly in the first place.

“God has spoken quite clearly and it only takes a few seconds to read what God has to say on this issue.”

Meanwhile, elders at Stornoway High Church held a meeting on Wednesday night and also decided to vote on whether to leave the Kirk. The congregation narrowly voted to remain part of the Kirk in 2011 when it became clear that the Church of Scotland was moving in the direction of allowing gay people to become ministers.

At the General Assembly earlier this month an attempt was made to find a compromise to satisfy all within the Kirk, but it has not gone down well with the evangelical wing.

The General Assembly maintained the Church’s traditional stance on the doctrine of human sexuality, but allowed congregations to decide themselves on whether to allow a minister in a same-sex relationship.

A Church of Scotland spokesman said: “We have not been informed of any congregation wishing to leave the Church of Scotland following last week’s General Assembly and the debate on the proposals put forward by the Theological Commission, and we would be saddened if this were the case at such an early stage.”

A summit is to take place for evangelical ministers next month to hold “crisis talks”.

It has been organised by Rev Kenny Borthwick, now leader of Holy Trinity Church in Edinburgh, urging traditionalists to gather and “repent, pray and work for reformation that is so badly needed”.

A Free Church of Scotland spokesman said: “By voting for political correctness over faithfulness to the Bible, it can be no surprise the Church of Scotland has jeopardised its own future.”

Just prior to the General Assembly, the Free Church’s moderator Rev Dr Iain D Campbell said the underlying principal of the 1843 Disruption – which caused the split in the Church 170 years ago – was the key issue, ultimately freedom for the Church to be governed by the “Word of God” alone.

Over the past few years a number of ministers have left the Church of Scotland over the issue of gay clergy.

The Reverend Paul Gibson resigned his charge of Tain Parish Church after just eight months into the post. The Reverend Ivor MacDonald left Kilmuir and Stenscholl on Skye and the Reverend John Murdo MacDonald resigned from Lochalsh.

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