THE debate over gay ministers will strengthen the Church of Scotland a leading advocate of the move has insisted, following criticism from the Free Kirk.
The General Assembly, the annual conference of 850 church leaders, will vote on the issue of homosexual clergy on Monday.
The Free Kirk, which is opposed to the change, warned Christianity was “under siege” from the rise of secularism and criticised the Church of Scotland for failing to speak with a unified voice.
But the Rev Peter Johnston, a leading member and spokesman for the liberal OneKirk group, denied this was the case.
“When the church is discussing important issues, such as the inclusion of women in the ministry, there is a time of transition and discussion, where folk are challenged across the spectrum.” he said.
“That is challenging, for sure, but the assumption is it is negative and I don’t accept that.
“The resulting Church will be a better expression of the reality of God… and the interplay between Church and society.”
The Free Church has offered an olive branch to disillusioned ministers and congregations. And it believes the division in the national Church, which is split between traditionalists and modernisers, has affected its ability to speak on behalf of Christianity.
It says this was evident during the same-sex marriage debate, which has now passed into law, where it claims the Church of Scotland failed to oppose the move with a strong and united voice.
A Free Church spokesman said: “In an increasingly confused society where Scotland’s Christian heritage is under siege from militant secularism, the last thing we need is a confused and divided message coming out from the Church.
“Even on previously ‘safe’ issues like marriage, the Church of Scotland seems unable to provide any meaningful leadership when the public are looking to it for guidance rooted in the Bible.
“It can’t have gone unnoticed that not one Church of Scotland Moderator has expressed even a whimper at the Scottish Government’s plans to move away from the timeless institution of marriage between one man and one woman.
“Scotland needs a strong national Church – one that is willing to show leadership and guidance based on the Bible’s teaching, and is willing to stand up to public opinion of the day.”
The General Assembly is expected to pass the ordination of gay clergy on Monday, but that decision will then go out to presbyteries, where it is likely to face stronger opposition, before returning to next year’s Assembly.
At present, the church leaders will have two options on Monday – the revisionists’ trajectory towards greater inclusivity, or the traditionalists’ halt of modernisation, which would withdraw the right for even existing gay ministers. However, other alternatives could be proposed.
Two congregations and many ministers have already left over the issue, and the Free Kirk has previously said that representatives of 50 congregations around Scotland have held initial discussions about splitting.
The Church of Scotland said it was disappointed by the Free Kirk’s comments.
A spokesman said: “The Church of Scotland has always affirmed that it believes in the traditional view of marriage – that it is the union between a man and a woman.
“This is a separate issue to the debate on Monday and we are very surprised that the Free Church has made these comments at this time.”
Revised report on Palestine after claim of antisemitism
CHURCH leaders have released a revised report after being accused of antisemitism.
The Inheritance of Abraham? had provoked criticism of the Church of Scotland after questioning Jewish attachment to the land of Israel. After meeting with representatives of the Jewish community, it agreed to a review.
The Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, convener of the Church and Society Council, said: “We believe that this new version has paid attention to the concern some of the language of the previous version caused amongst the Jewish community, while holding true to our concerns about the injustices being perpetrated because of policies of the government of Israel against the Palestinian people that we wanted to highlight.
“We are clear that the citizens of the state of Israel have a right to live in peace and security. We are clear that there should be a Palestinian state which also can live in peace and security. We condemn antisemitism and Islamophobia.
“We will always condemn acts of terrorism, violence and intimidation.”
The original text had angered Jewish representatives for “negating the beliefs of Judaism”, according to the New York-based Anti-Defamation League. It read: “There has been a widespread assumption by many Christians as well as many Jewish people that the Bible supports an essentially Jewish state of Israel.
“This assumption is based on views of promises about land in the Hebrew Bible. These views are disputed.”