An influential group of ministers in Scotland's largest Protestant church has said that its clergy and congregations have been "sinfully" intolerant of gays and lesbians in its ranks.
In a report on homosexuality, a working party has concluded that the Church of Scotland has been institutionally homophobic for much of its history.
The working group of the Mission and Discipleship Council is set to present the General Assembly with its in-depth report on ‘same-sex partnerships as an issue in theology and human sexuality’ in May.
The report, which is entitled 'A challenge to unity', takes as its starting point an acknowledgement of the strength of feeling that has already been expressed on the issue of same-sex relationships. It seeks to give a flavour of the wide range of views held within the church, and to identify areas of common ground around which the church might unite.
As a part of its remit, the working group that produced the report listened to gay and lesbian Christians, including two Church of Scotland ministers who have entered into civil partnership with their same-sex partners.
A considerable part of the working group’s discussion focussed on interpretation of the Bible.
Identified in the report are many Christians who would see potential for a gay or lesbian’s sexual life being contained in a 'marriage-like relationship'.
The report however does not give any firm views on whether practising homosexuals can be ministers or elders in the church. Instead, it urges the church to rethink its hostility to active homosexuals in its ranks.
It follows a split in the church which emerged after the general assembly narrowly voted last year to allow ministers to bless same sex couples who had married in a civil ceremony.
Media reports [including an earlier report on Ekklesia] said that local presbyteries had rejected this policy, effectively making it illegal for a Church of Scotland minister to give same sex blessings.
However, this is misleading. Though the presbyteries voted against, their decisions are part of a larger process. With the votes from the presbyteries in mind, this year's Church of Scotland General Assembly will make a decision on the particular deliverance from last year. Unless specially requested, there will be no further legislation.
This would take the church back to where it was before the 2006 decision - to what many describe as a "grey zone" of different presbyteries possibly dealing with ministers who are blessing civil partnerships according to local context.
The authors of yesterday's report urged the church to find a middle ground. It suggests the church recognise that many Christians did believe active homosexuality is permissible between a monogamous couple.
A statement from the church warned however that "there is little to be gained, and rather much to be lost, by one set of views being stampeded over, and against the conscience of others."
But the report says: "Theological approaches to homosexuality which present gay or lesbian people as unlovable or less loved by God than any other person are unacceptable."
"In the church’s life, there may be a full participation of homosexual people in leadership and service. Identified sexuality which is gay is not a bar in itself to baptism or to communion. Being gay or lesbian by orientation is no bar to serving God as church member, elder, reader, deacon, minister or moderator. And in pastoral care there should be no discrimination; for example, a homosexual partner should be accorded all dignity as a chief mourner on the occasion of a partner’s death.
"It is a regrettable witness that people in churches have sought to use their power in such ways as to exacerbate societal disapproval of homosexual people as people. We have been complicit in prejudice and worse. May we say to one another: I will love you as my neighbour, and if your sexuality or my sexuality prevents my loving you, then I am failing in the Christian way. All Christians are to be moved to repent of unloving attitudes, pronouncements and behaviour towards others."