SCOTLAND’S first openly homosexual Kirk minister has said worshippers would leave the Church of Scotland as a result of its stance against gay marriage.
The Rev Scott Rennie said the Church of Scotland would lose from its uncompromising view on sexuality, and he argued that the decision of the Kirk authorities to speak out against gay weddings was a “huge disappointment”.
Mr Rennie was reacting yesterday to the Kirk’s official response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on legislation that would allow gay marriages.
The Church of Scotland’s legal questions committee condemned gay marriage, arguing that it went against biblical teachings and suggested that it could harm the “wellbeing” of families, communities and individuals.
Mr Rennie, the minister at Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen, said the Kirk’s response sent out the wrong message. He told The Scotsman: “I just think it is more offence caused to the gay community.
“It can be dressed up with all the platitudes that one likes, but at the end of the day it sends out a negative signal once again – not only to people in the gay community, but to modern Scotland about the kind of church that the Church of Scotland is.”
Mr Rennie said he had already been contacted by Church of Scotland members who were so dismayed by the response that they were threatening to leave the Kirk.
“The person that is going to lose out on this is not the gay community. The person who is going to regret this is the Church itself, because once again it sends out a negative message to society, about the Church which is supposed to be the national church,” Mr Rennie said.
“I have had people already on the phone to me saying: ‘I can’t take any more of this, so I am going to have to sever my ties’. People who I have been pleading with, saying: ‘Don’t give up on the Church, it will get better – give it time’.
“This is not just gay people, it is people who feel they can’t continue to be part of a church like this, and it is a huge disappointment.”
The Church’s response to the consultation “Registration of Civil Partnerships, Same Sex Marriages” was also critical of the Scottish Government, claiming the views of ordinary people had been excluded. The Kirk’s position on gay marriage was awaited with interest, given the struggles that the Church has had over the ordination of homosexual clergy.
Mr Rennie’s sexuality provoked a dispute within the Church about the status of gay ministers and gay marriage. Eventually, the General Assembly decided to endorse his appointment and allowed any gay ministers who declared their sexuality before 2009 to take up new posts in the Church.
Meanwhile, the assembly voted to postpone a formal decision on allowing gay people to train as ministers and be fully ordained until the completion of a special theological commission, which is due to report in 2013.
Mr Rennie said: “The consultation in a sense came at the wrong time for the Church because it is in a debate, a discernment process about how it sees sexual relationships.
“But I would rather the legal questions committee had been honest and said: ‘Look, there is probably divided opinion in our Church. We are not in a position to have a definitive view because we are in the middle of this process’.
“I don’t think that’s fair on the whole Church, because there is a breadth of opinion. I think a negative signal has gone out again, and it is disappointing – very disappointing.”
The Rev Alan Hamilton, the convener of the legal questions committee, defended the Church’s position. He said: “The Church cares what our country thinks. It cares deeply. It is committed to serving all of our fellow Scots.
“The legal questions committee realises that the Church’s answer will be unpopular with some people. We also realise that others will welcome it.
“Public opinion sent Jesus to the cross, so we who try to follow him will not be dictated to by opinion polls or surveys.”
• Should same-sex marriages be allowed in Scotland? To vote in our poll, visit bit.ly/scotsmanpoll.