Gay minister hopes for change on same-sex marriage

FIVE years ago, his appointment to Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen as the Church of Scotland’s first openly gay minister ignited a row that threatened to engulf the whole of the Kirk.
Rev Scott Rennie has been advocating more tolerance within the Church of Scotland. Picture: TSPLRev Scott Rennie has been advocating more tolerance within the Church of Scotland. Picture: TSPL
Rev Scott Rennie has been advocating more tolerance within the Church of Scotland. Picture: TSPL

Now, with the General Assembly having approved plans to allow the ordination of openly gay ministers in civil partnerships, the Rev Scott Rennie said he thought the Kirk would eventually resolve the issue of same-sex marriage.

“I have no doubt that in the next while the Church will have some reflection on marriage and marriage as regards same-sex couples,” he said in an interview with The Scotsman.

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“I have no idea how soon or how long, but before the Church makes any move or change, it has to have time and space to think about it, and I’ve no doubt that reflection will be done sooner or later.”

So far, the Kirk has resisted new legislation by the Scottish Government to allow same-sex marriages.

When it was passed by MSPs in February, Alan Hamilton, convener of the Church of Scotland’s legal questions committee, said mainstream Christian belief is that marriage is “properly between a man and a woman”.

But Rev Rennie, 42, said that he was still hopeful that the Kirk would find a way forward.

The term “marriage” will cover gay and straight couples within five years, he said.

“I hope that in time, and it’s up to the Church how long it takes, I hope the Church will just come to see ‘marriage’, [regardless of whether it’s gay or straight]” he added.

Though now living with his civil partner, the minister still shares parenting duties for his daughter with his ex-wife, mentioning that he would be staying in Edinburgh beyond the Assembly to watch her compete in a race on Arthur’s Seat this weekend.

Wednesday’s debate saw the legal basis ratified for last year’s vote to allow a “mixed economy’” approach on marriage.

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This affirmed the Church’s traditional position on marriage, but allowed liberal congregations to “opt-out” and appoint gay ministers in civil partnerships if they wanted to.

Following a passionate day-long debate on both the theological and legal considerations of the legislation, it was passed by 369 votes to 189.

It still has to be voted on by presbyteries and a further rubber-stamping by the Assembly next year, before becoming church law.

Rev Rennie said that he detected a change in the mood of the Kirk on the subject. “I thought the debate was much more moderate and understated than it has been in years gone by,” he said. “I think that’s a sign of changing times and changing moods in the Church,”

He added that while it was sad people felt the need to leave because of the issue, it had not been the exodus that some predicted.

But the Church remains bitterly divided on the issue, and evangelical traditionalists against gay ordination have warned that the Kirk was forcing people to leave. So far, 13 parish ministers from the Kirk’s 1,389 congregations, along with congregation members, have left over the issue.

Rev Rennie voiced concerns sections of secular society have appeared “militant” in their position on the debate.

“I feel there are elements within secular Scotland, and they are only elements, who are almost religious fundamentalists in that they mis-characterise other people,” he said.

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“In reality, the Church of Scotland has played a huge part in the development of modern Scotland and will continue to do so.”

The impact of secular society on the Church after possible Scottish independence also causes him concern, and he fears that the space that faith inhabits in the public sphere could “come under attack”.