Commission on gay clergy feels first rumbles of dissent

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THE extent of the split within the Kirk over its decision to consider allowing openly gay people to become ministers was exposed yesterday as scores of commissioners formally objected to the move.

Around a sixth of the General Assembly - 119 people - put their names to a document objecting to the creation of a theological commission to investigate the implications of allowing homosexuals to take up ministry.

And 120 dissented from the Kirk's move to allow openly gay ministers who were ordained prior to 2009 to remain in their positions or move to other churches.

Although some the names on the lists overlapped, a Kirk spokesman said there were different names on both.

The Assembly voted by 351 to 294 on Monday to "consider further the lifting of the moratorium on acceptance for training and ordination of persons in a same-sex relationship".

The Rev Steven Reid, chairman of the traditionalist Forward Together group, said that he had been "surprised" by the result and believed that some people would leave the church before the theological commission delivers its report in 2013.

He said: "There will be people who will act in a knee-jerk reaction, people who said in 2009 that they would wait and see what happened this year, and if things don't change they'll have to leave the church."

Mr Reid said that he was not surprised that a "substantial" number of Assembly members dissented from the decision.

"For many of us, it's something that goes against the scriptures," he said. "That's fundamental, that's at the core. You have to respond to that. I don't think in the long term there can be an acceptance of that (the decision]."

He said that people had been "disappointed" and "disheartened" by what he characterised as a "revisionist trajectory".

The Rev Peter Johnston, spokesman for the progressive One Kirk group, said he was not surprised at the scale of dissent.

"I would have expected that to happen because people feel so strongly about the issue. I hope that through it all we will be able to keep communicating and work through it," he said.

However Mr Johnston emphasised that the Kirk had made no final decision on the matter.

He said: "My prayer and hope is that they will see that there wasn't a final decision being made, it was a nudge. It was a steer for this group in their discussions.

"A final decision has yet to be made one way or another and I still think that some sort of compromise can be found.

"I would hope those who dissented would see that there's so much we hold in common."

Although the General Assembly moved on to other business yesterday, there was an attempt by a commissioner to revisit the decision during the report from the Ecumenical Relations Committee.The Rev Francis Murphy of Greenock Presbytery, said he feared the decision would threaten the Kirk's relationships with other churches.

He said: "I believe we have departed from the truth (of scripture]. How will our ecumenical partners react to that decision?"

However the Moderator, the Rt Rev David Arnott, prevented Mr Murphy from adding to his comments, insisting that Assembly had made its decision and that it could not revisited.

Yesterday, the Free Church of Scotland declined to comment on the latest decision.

Iver Martin of the Free Church of Scotland said: "The Free Church has always welcomed anyone who wishes to worship with us."

The church broke off relations with the Kirk in 2009 when it upheld the appointment of the openly gay minister Scott Rennie to Queen's Cross Church in Aberdeen.

It is understood that the Free Church and Kirk traditionalists had been in talks behind the scenes in the run-up to this year's vote.

The Free Church held a special assembly early this year, which agreed to the singing of hymns and playing instruments during services.

Kirk insiders believe this was to accommodate dissenting Kirk members wishing to join the Free Church.