The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly meeting on Monday held a significant debate on questions relating to ministers in same-sex relationships and also with regard to ministers who are looking to bless couples in same-sex relationships. They have made a very modest step forward, according to Kelvin Holdsworth, Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow. It was a triumph of process rather than a triumph for the gay cause.
The Assembly agreed to set up a theological commission which will report in 2013 before a final decision on the issue of gay ordination is taken.
The Assembly also voted not to inhibit the induction to a congregation of gay and lesbian ministers provided they had declared their sexuality and were ordained before 2009. This means that clergy in that position are not “stuck” in a place unable to consider a call to a new ministry whilst the work of the Theological Commission goes on. It will be for a further Assembly to decide what to do about any such persons.
One in five members of Kirk sessions have said they would leave if it was agreed that gay ministers can be ordained, while one in 10 have said they would leave if the Kirk ruled they could not be ordained.
The Reverend Scott Rennie’s appointment to Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen two years ago threatened to split the Church. Traditionalist members attempted to block Mr Rennie’s appointment. Following a lengthy debate, the Assembly ultimately voted in support of the minister but called for a commission to study the general issue “for the sake of the peace and unity of the church”.
As delegates to the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly left the building on Monday they were greeted by protesters from a conservative Baptist church. A small group held posters calling on the Kirk to repent.
The Assembly vote to look further into lifting its ban on the training and ordination of gay people as ministers is a modest step but it signifies a shift in one of the UK’s mainstream denominations on one of the most bitterly contested issues of recent times. It has set the Church on what it called a new “trajectory”, away from a traditional conviction that active homosexuality was simply outlawed by the Bible, towards an assumption that scripture could be interpreted in radically different ways within the same church.
A report about gay clergy commissioned for Monday’s meeting acknowledged that homosexuality is something people are born with, not something they choose.
Only 5 years ago in 2006, civil partnerships were decisively rejected. Monday’s meeting denotes a sign shifting of attitudes among the elders and ministers who make up the Assembly. Each side in the debate has spoken of a watershed moment in the Church’s history.