Church of Scotland step closer to gay ministers

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL
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EVANGELICAL Christians have failed in an attempt to derail Church of Scotland plans to allow the ordination of gay clergy.

The Kirk has moved a step closer to ordaining gay ministers following a vote at the General Assembly in Edinburgh.

It will now pass to presbyteries across Scotland to vote for or against it. If approved would become church law next summer.

The Assembly voted last year to take a ‘mixed economy’ stance.

This affirmed the Church’s stance on marriage being between “one man and one woman”.

But it allowed liberal congregations to ‘opt out’ and appoint an openly gay man or woman in a civil partnership as a minister if they wanted to.

Today its Legal Questions committee presented its recommendations, known as an overture, as to how the move could be implemented.

A counter-motion was brought by Edinburgh evangelical minister Rev Jeremy Middleton - which would have removed the possibility of the opt-out and caused further disarray in the church.

But the motion was defeated by 369 to 189 votes, allowing the legislation to be ratified, despite a strong showing from those against.

The vote marked the culmination of a debate on same-sex clergy that dominated the day’s business.

It is the latest episode that has divided the church down traditionalist and revisionist lines, with the former claiming that it represented a departure from “Biblical truth”.

Rev Scott Rennie

The controversy was first sparked in 2009 following the ordination of openly gay minister Rev Scott Rennie to Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen.

So far a total of 13 ministers and hundreds of ordinary members have left, though conservative evangelicals have warned that more would follow if the legislation was allowed to continue after this week’s Assembly.

Evangelicals claimed today that the gay clergy measures had set “congregations against congregations, minister against minister and denomination against denomination”.

Passionate speeches were heard from both sides, with individuals on the verge of tears at times as they spoke.

Rev Alan Hamilton, convener of the Legal Questions committee, told the packed Assembly Hall on The Mound that acknowledged the “anguish and pain felt by good people on all sides of the debate”.

But he said that “painful and distressing” concessions had to be made for the sake of Church unity.

In raising his counter motion, Mr Middleton said that the proposals were “fraught with risk” as it contained many legal “loose ends”, was not “legally watertight”.

He claimed it left the Church open to potentially expensive claims against it on grounds of discrimination.

Evangelicals supporting the counter-motion said that the proposals had already forced members to leave the Church and it was now in danger of “nullifying the word of god”.

The Principal of the Highland Theological College, Rev Hector Morrison, was on the verge of tears as he talked of the pain caused by ministers and church members who had left Highland congregations: “They have gone because they no longer trust our ability or our willingness to follow what they believe the Bible clearly states.

“We cannot afford any other church families to be torn apart in this way, we cannot afford to lose any more ministers or budding ministers.”

But Rev Bryan Kerr, countering the Evangelical motion, said that while he was not “100 per cent comfortable” with the gay clergy plans, he said it offered “the best chance of peace and unity” for the Kirk.

Assembly member Deirdre Murray took a clearer stand, asking “how many more people will flock back into our churches if we agree to this? I can’t see it. I can see more people leaving and I regret it greatly.”

Those who supported the move also spoke of their concerns that the move proposed was not enough to make gay people feel accepted.

In a statement following the vote, the evangelical group Forward Together said the Assembly had put “the so-called ‘peace and unity’ of the Church, which is clearly lacking, before its duty to be a Church that honours the Word of God.”

However, it urged members not to quit immediately - as feared - and “engage fully in the debate” ahead of the final presbytery vote later this year.