Kirk seeks consultation rather than confrontation on sexuality argument

By staff writers
May 25, 2009

After more than three hours of debate, the Church of Scotland's General Assembly, meeting in Edinburgh, has this evening avoided a confrontation on sexuality and ministry, after a motion from anti-gay hardliners was withdrawn before it could be voted on.

The development is being seen as a significant achievement by those who want reason and conciliation rather than anger and confrontation in the argument over homosexuality. Some church members claim this is incompatible with tradition and scripture but others see it as part of the variety which God blesses and uses for good in the face of fear and prejudice.

The 'overture' (the Lochcarron and Skye motion), if passed, would have had the effect of barring those whose sexual relationships fall outside heterosexual marriage from ministry and the life of the Kirk - an approach deliberately targeted against gay people.

Ekklesia has been told that part of the motivation in withdrawing the resolution was for the anti-gay lobby to avoid another damaging defeat. This follows their attempts to rescind the decision by a parish and presbytery in Aberdeen to recognise the call of the Rev Scott Rennie, an openly gay minster who lives with his partner David, which were decisively rejected on Saturday night (23 May 2009).

A nine-member commission will now be established to consult with parishes across Scotland over the issue. It will be two years before the matter comes back to the General Assembly, the national Presbyterian denomination's highest decision making body.

Leaders of the Church of Scotland are pleased with the outcome. They will respond to those who accuse them of a fudge or of delaying tactics by pointing out that the great majority of those involved with the Church - other than some who actively seek confrontation - want a reasoned process and discussion.

There has been acute embarrassment that the tenor of the very public argument over sexuality has damaged the Kirk's standing. Many are tempted to see it as narrow and bigoted because of the comments of some activists. There have been prejudiced and hateful comments against gay people from a vocal minority. One leader of a hardline pressure group likened those working for an open and inclusive church which includes evangelicals as well as liberals, of being like those who appeased Hitler in World War II.

Some who opposed Scott Rennie and the ministry of gay people in the Church of Scotland may face formal complaints about their conduct.

Anti-gay activists in the Church have also threatened to encourage some parishes to withdraw funds from the Kirk.

However, the establishment of a commission of enquiry is designed to work against such actions. The argument will be that people should wait to see the outcome before jumping the gun.

Meanwhile, there can be no doubt that the ministry of the Rev Scott Rennie has been affirmed. His supporters - though counselling against triumphalism - believe that this represents a historic shift in the Kirk towards the living out and proclamation of a Gospel for all.

In the debate, the Rev Angus Morrison said any split in church ranks will be a "deeply flawed" solution to the issue of sexuality.

"It is comparatively easy to split a church but the challenge of healing the divisions, so-thought, is of an entirely different nature altogether," Mr Morrison declared. "The notion that these tensions within a church can best be solved by going separate ways is deeply flawed. It is a path rather to the multiplication of problems."

He backed the establishment of the commission of enquiry, against the Rev Ian Watson and others.

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