While some have tried to talk up a Church of Scotland ‘split’ over sexuality, the great majority of the Presbyterian denomination’s members are horrified by a hard-line minister’s attempt to equate the campaign for inclusion with Nazism, say those involved in preparing for the Church’s forthcoming General Assembly.
In a sermon which religious leaders and politicians have condemned as “deeply disturbing”, the Rev Ian Watson invoked the failure to stand up to the Nazi annexation of the Rhineland in 1938 as a parallel for the refusal of many in the Church of Scotland to join an anti-gay crusade.
The sermon was delivered last Sunday at Kirkmuirhill Church in Lanark and then posted on Mr Watson’s blog. He heads the group Forward Together, which opposes the recognition of gay people in the life, work and ministry of the church.
The Church of Scotland’s governing body meets from 21 to 27 May and is being invited to rule on the appointment of openly gay minister the Rev Scott Rennie, who is being supported by the Aberdeen Presbytery and has been warmly welcomed by his congregation.
A range of Church of Scotland ministers have signed a petition calling for a ban on the appointment of gay clergy, but many others in the Church are hoping that what those who have experienced it describe as Mr Rennie’s “valuable ministry” in Aberdeen can continue.
A motion has also been put forward saying that the Church should not “train, ordain, admit, readmit, induct or introduce to any ministry of the church anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of marriage between a man and woman”.
A large majority of ministers have not signed the petition. Those supporting Mr Rennie draw attention to the necessity of a looking at the issue in the light of biblical faith rather than with anger and prejudice.
The Rev Lindsay Biddle, chaplain of Affirmation Scotland, a network of people working for an open and engaged church, said earlier this week that it was important to distinguish anti-gay prejudice from faith and from misuse of the Bible to justify dislike of particular groups of people.
Scott Rennie, the minister who is being challenged says that the opposition to him has actually “strengthened my faith and heightened my sense of call” to serve the Kirk.
In an interview with the OneKirk Journal, Mr Rennie, aged 37, says that the past few months have been “hugely stressful and distressing” for him and for his partner, David.
Mr Rennie spent nine years as minister at Brechin Cathedral, before applying for the post at Queen's Cross parish, where he now serves. He was elected by 86 per cent of the church's congregation, a vote ratified by the Presbytery of Aberdeen in January 2009.
Forward Together, which has campaigned against him, has had to apologise to Mr Rennie after it wrongly claimed that he had left his wife to set up home with his partner.
A similar ploy was tried in the campaign against the openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire, observers have noted.
The build-up to the debate in the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly coincides with a major conference on Faith, Homophobia, Transphobia and Human Rights (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/9436 ) taking place in London tomorrow (16 May 2009).
The gathering, which is supported by 30 religious and secular organisations, including the think-tank Ekklesia, will seek to build a positive action agenda for equality, drawing together people of different beliefs and outlooks.
Affirmation Scotland’s website is here: http://www.affirmationscotland.org.uk/ 
See also the OneKirk journal: http:// www.onekirk.org/