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Religious Tolerance logo

The Church of Scotland and homosexuality

Appointment of an openly gay minister

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The appointment of Rev. Scott Rennie:

Rev. Scott Rennie, 37 had been a minister at Brechin Cathedral in Angus, Scotland for almost a decade. The congregation of Queen's Cross in Aberdeen, Scotland selected him to be their new minister. The congregation's vote was 86% in favor. The presbytery confirmed the appointment with a vote of 60 in support vs. 24 opposed; (71% in favor).

Rennie had been married and has a child. He is now divorced and in a loving, committed relationship with a man. He had openly discussed this situation with the Queen's Cross congregation prior to their vote.

He has commented that there are "many" closeted gay ministers in the Church. He rejected claims that his sexuality contradicts the Bible's teachings. He said:

"The same talk was about when women were ordained and I think that argument suits those that don't want any change. We don't stone women, we don't stone adulterers, we've moved on from that. The living word is Jesus and I think the question is, 'What would Jesus have done'?" 1

Forward Together, an evangelical Christian group opposed to equal treatment for persons of all sexual orientations, claimed that he left his wife so that he could enter into a relationship with a man. This proved to be untrue, and Forward Together has since apologized for the accusation.

In an interview with the liberal OneKirk Journal, Rev. Rennie said that he:

"... grew up in a conservative evangelical church and initially shared their perspective. I wrestled with that perspective internally, for most of my life. Now I think that it is mistaken, however faithfully held. ..."

"As a young man growing up in a conservative church, it felt impossible to deal with issues around my own sexuality. It did not feel like a safe environment, and certainly not one in which I could have found support and understanding. So, I came to believe that I had to ignore it and do what I thought was the right thing at the time -- live a heterosexual life."

"At school, I witnessed first-hand homophobic bullying, and the menace that anyone who even seemed gay was subjected to. It was not a pretty sight, and I wasn't brave enough to risk facing the bullies." 2

Rev. Rennie's former wife, Helen Rennie, supports her ex-husband. According to Times Online:

"Ruth Rennie declared her support for her former husband. 'Since our divorce Scott and I have maintained a strong friendship, with our primary focus being the upbringing of our young daughter,' she said."

"Scott is a dedicated and loving father who is actively involved in our daughter's daily life. Our separation and subsequent divorce was unconnected to Scott's present situation. Scott and David have my full support and that of my family." 2

Different reactions among Christian groups:

A dozen conservative members of Aberdeen Presbytery, none of whom were members of Queen's Cross, strongly objected to the appointment. They launched an overture (motion) before the Church's 2009-MAY General Assembly asking that Rennie's appointment be forcibly cancelled by the denomination in spite of the wishes of his new congregation and of  its presbytery.

In advance of the denomination's General Assembly meeting, the matter was extensively discussed by conservative and progressive Christian groups and individuals:

bulletA group of ten progressive evangelical Christian groups, including Accepting Evangelicals, Baptist Network Affirming Lesbian & Gay Christians, and Changing Attitude England, issued a statement saying:

"There are thousands of faithful people sitting in pews, standing in pulpits, working in your Kirk Sessions who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender."

"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 sensitively to the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual] community within the Church of Scotland." 3

These ten groups represent the liberal wing of evangelical Christians in Scotland. Most other evangelicals would probably disagree strongly with their stand.

bulletThe Fellowship of Confessing Churches, a conservative group opposed to Rennie's appointment and to equal treatment of persons of all sexual orientations, initiated a petition on their website. It stated that if the General Assembly supported the Presbytery of Aberdeen:

"... it will publicly declare such behavior as acceptable and honorable for a leader in Christ's church. This would mark a historic departure for our church from the teaching of the catholic Christian faith, and a radical deviation from the clear Scriptural pattern that recognizes the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman as the only proper place for sexual intimacy -- a pattern which our church has hitherto always publicly affirmed.

To now declare explicitly an active homosexual lifestyle as holy, something the Bible unambiguously calls sin, denies in the most public fashion the authority of the church's only Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Our church would thus position itself outwith the fellowship of orthodox, creedal Christianity worldwide.

Such a decision, if made by the General Assembly, would be immensely damaging for the cause of Christ in Scotland and disastrous for the national church. As an unprecedented departure from both the Kirk's supreme standard, the Scriptures, and its subordinate standard, the Westminster Confession of Faith, by its highest court, this would inevitably force a crisis of communion. The majority of congregations of the Church of Scotland have no wish so to depart from orthodox Christian faith and practice, nor to be in fellowship with those who would so abandon the true Church of Jesus Christ. 4

One might wonder from the above statements whether the two groups are both reading the same Bible and members of the same religion. They certainly consider themselves to be both. However, they differ greatly in two main areas:

bulletThey interpret the Bible very differently:
bulletConservatives tend to interpret the Bible literally. They are convinced, without doubt, that in the "clobber passages" in the Bible God condemns all same-sex sexual behavior absolutely, for all cultures, and for all time. It matters not whether the sexual activity be during a one night stand or within a loving, committed, permanent same-sex relationship. The condemnation extends from the second millennium BCE, to the more recent past, to today, and into the future.
bulletProgressives note what they feel are ambiguities in the "clobber passages." They believe that the traditional interpretations of some of the passages no longer apply. They note that the findings of human sexuality researchers about the nature of sexual orientation were unknown to the authors of the Bible. Progressives conclude that the Bible does not condemn loving, committed same-sex relationships, and that God blesses such unions.
bulletThey consider the findings of human sexuality researchers very differently:
bulletConservatives generally reject scientific findings about human sexuality. Most regard homosexuality as a chosen, unnatural, abnormal, intrinsically immoral, and changeable behavior partly caused by poor parenting and/or sexual molestation during childhood. They regard their interpretation of the Bible, supplemented by church creeds and confessions, as their sole sources of moral standards.
bulletProgressives generally accept scientific findings about human sexuality. They regard homosexuality as an unchosen, natural, normal, morally neutral and fixed sexual orientation, mainly caused by genes either before birth or during early childhood. They base their moral standards on scientific findings, personal experience, and their interpretation of biblical passages.

Conservatives constitute the vast majority of members of fundamentalist and other evangelical denominations. Progressives form the vast majority of liberal/progressive denominations. The membership of mainline denominations, like the Church of Scotland, has been in transition concerning homosexuality  from mostly conservative views to progressive views in recent decades. There are strong splits within the denomination as a function of age and region, with young persons and urban dwellers tending towards more progressive views.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Scottish Church backs gay minister," Press Association, 2009-MAY-24, at: http://uk.news.yahoo.com/
  2. "Gay Church of Scotland minister hits back at evangelical critics," TimesOnline, 2009-MAY-05, at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/
  3. "Evangelical groups call on Church of Scotland to back gay minister," PinkNews, 2009-MAY-22, at: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/
  4. "General Assembly 2009 Statement," Fellowship of Confessing Churches, at: http://www.confessingchurch.org.uk/

Copyright © 2000 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JAN-21
Latest update: 2009-MAY-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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