A strong statement from a range of evangelical organizations, also backed by broader-based groups with significant evangelical participation, has called on the Church of Scotland to affirm the membership and ministry of gay people in the church on biblical and traditional grounds.
The move from 11 different networks comes in the wake of attempts by hardliners, who see themselves as ‘traditionalists’, to challenge highly-regarded minister Scott Rennie (who is openly gay) in Aberdeen and to promote a resolution barring gay people from the church.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the leading Presbyterian denomination’s governing body, is meeting now through to 27 May 2009.
The statement by evangelicals affirming gay people has been sent to the Kirk and to the media.
It points out that there are many who stand by traditional evangelical and orthodox Christian commitments who reject anti-gay words and actions.
The media traditionally portray the disagreement about homosexuality and faithful same-sex partnerships in the churches as a split between ‘evangelicals’ and ‘liberals’ – but the growing number of pro-gay evangelicals are now challenging these claims and pointing out that the ‘traditional teaching’ that many claim to stand by may not be in accord with the Gospel tradition after all.
The statement says: “There are thousands of faithful people sitting in pews, standing in pulpits, working in your Kirk Sessions, who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered. We urge the Assembly to embrace the message of transformational grace and inclusion, to stand for justice and mercy and signal the openness of God's compassionate love to his children – straight and gay. You will be in common with a vast and growing number of evangelicals and others across the world who do not exclude homosexuals but understand that the Church has erred in its rejection of them.”
Last night an OpenKirk Assembly fringe meeting, attended by around 70 people, challenged the Church to listen to the experience, witness and vision of gay people, by showing the powerful film 'Through My Eyes'.
The General Assembly has two issues to examine regarding homosexuality. First, there is an attempt to forbid the move of gay minister Scott Rennie to Aberdeen – where he has already been warmly welcomed by his congregation and backed by the Presbytery, though with some dissent.
Second, an ‘Overture’ from a Presbytery has been promulagated which would forbid the ordination of any practicing homosexual. In effect,it calls for excommunication, say critics.
Anti-gay hardliners wanted the Overture to be heard before the Rennie case - which his supporters say would prejudice the case and make the Overture retroactive. However, yesterday morning the Assembly voted to hear the case first, then the Overture.
If the Overture passes, it would not become law for the Church, as a majority of the 48 Presbyteries would need to pass it as well.
“We are praying hard that the Assembly will listen to the Spirit, the generosity of the Gospel and the testimony of holy lives in recognizing the ministry of gay people and rejecting prejudice in the guise of ‘tradition’,” a supporter of Scott Rennie told Ekklesia – which is backing the evangelical statement and which was also involved with Accepting Evangelicals and others in en earlier call (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/8749) to the churches and the Evangelical Alliance, arising from responses to the activities of the Westboro Baptist Church hate-sect in the USA.
The organizations involved in creating and supporting the evangelical statement are: Accepting Evangelicals, Baptist Network Affirming Lesbian & Gay Christians, Changing Attitude England, Changing Attitude Nigeria, Christian Lesbians UK, CourageSCOTLAND, Courage UK, Ekklesia, Evangelicals Concerned, Inclusive Church, and the Scottish Region of Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians.
The affirming evangelical statement in full
As you meet this week, you are faced with a difficult subject – that of homosexuality in the Church. We want to assure you of our prayers. We are evangelicals who believe that Scripture does not condemn homosexual relationships. We are made up of heterosexual and homosexual Christians. These are of course deeply personal questions. As a result of the traditional view on homosexuality, it has been our experience that many gay and lesbian Christians have been forced down a path of self hatred, which all too often leads to loss of faith, breakdown or even suicide. After much wrestling, prayer and heartache both individually and corporately we have come to understand that God affirms loving faithful same sex relationships.
As evangelicals, we believe in the Authority and Supremacy of Scripture, and wholeheartedly affirm “The holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience” (Westminster Larger Catechism 3) without question. We understand the various positions within the Church and believe it is a difference of interpretation, not biblical Authority that characterises our debate. We support and affirm our brothers and sisters who have had the same struggle with sexuality as we have and yet who feel called to singleness, as we feel called to affirm relationships.
We stand with the historic orthodox Christian teaching of 'justification through faith alone' – that a person is made right with God because of the Work of Jesus Christ and it is faith in Him that brings us into relationship with God – without any additional requirements, no matter who makes them. This is the heart of the Good News that Scotland – and the rest of the world, whether gay or straight – needs to hear from the Church. No one is excluded from relationship with God (or service for him) because they are in relationship with someone of the same gender.
We affirm the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul that all the Law is summed up in love for God and love for our neighbour (Mark 12; Romans 13). We can see nothing in Scripture or our calling as God's People – both gay and straight - where a loving monogamous same sex relationship is inconsistent with this summary of the requirements to live a holy life. We pray that the General Assembly will follow the example of her Head, King Jesus, who reached out to the marginalised, the suffering, the oppressed and those on the fringes and who continues to do so today.
Finally, and honestly, we are not just 'out there'. There are thousands of faithful people sitting in pews, standing in pulpits, working in your Kirk Sessions who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered. We urge the Assembly to embrace the message of transformational grace and inclusion, to stand for justice and mercy and signal the openness of God's compassionate love to his children – straight and gay. You will be in common with a vast and growing number of evangelicals and others across the world who do not exclude homosexuals but understand that the Church has erred in its rejection of them. The question you are facing is, will you send a clear message of God's love and welcome, or one of rejection and fear. We urge the General Assembly to take this opportunity to act biblically, in the spirit of the inclusivity, holiness and love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be pastorally sensitive to the LGBT community within the Church of Scotland.
CourageSCOTLAND – www.couragescotland.org – Rev Ruairidh MacRae
Scottish Region of Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians – www.eflgc.org.uk
Accepting Evangelicals – www.acceptingevangelicals.org – Rev Benny Hazlehurst
Baptist Network Affirming Lesbian & Gay Christians – www.affirmingbaptists.org.uk – Martin Stears-Handscomb and Sarah Hill
Changing Attitude England – www.changingattitude.org.uk – Rev Colin Coward
Changing Attitude Nigeria – www.changingattitude.org.uk – Davis Mac-Iyalla
Christian Lesbians UK ¬– www.chrisitanlesbians.co.uk – Cindy Mccarron
Courage UK – www.courage.org.uk – Jeremy Marks
Ekklesia – www.ekklesia.co.uk – Simon Barrow and Jonathan Bartley
Evangelicals Concerned – www.ecinc.org – Dr Ralph Blair
Inclusive Church - www.inclusivechurch2.net - Canon Giles Goddard