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The Church of Scotland and homosexuality

Their 2009 General Assembly
approves ordination of a gay minister.

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2009-MAY: The General Assembly's vote on Rev. Rennie:

By an overwhelming vote, the congregation of Queen's Cross in Aberdeen, Scotland had selected Rev. Scott Rennie, a gay male, to be their new minister. His appointment was later confirmed by the local presbytery. Twelve members of the presbytery then initiated an overture (motion) before the General Assembly to forcibly overturn the congregation's and presbytery's decisions and terminate Rev. Rennie's appointment.

Conservative Christians in the Fellowship of Confessing Churches launched an online petition opposing Rennie's appointment. 1  Signing of the petition was closed at the time of the General Assembly meeting. By that time, it had received 12,000 signatures from around the world including Africa and the U.S. -- countries where homophobia is particularly strong.

Among the signatories were:

bullet272 serving Church of Scotland ministers (about 20% of the total),
bulletMore than 700 ministers from Christian churches in Britain and Ireland,
bulletMore than 500 Christian ministers from other countries, and
bulletMore than 5,000 Church of Scotland lay members (about 0.2% of the total membership).

The overture led to a review of Rennie's appointment by the Church of Scotland's General Assembly -- who temporarily sat as the denomination's highest court of law. Discussion of the case extended over more than four hours. Many topics were discussed: how left-handed persons were once considered "not normal," how the ancient Romans accepted loving, committed same-sex relationships, and how the Church has been able to change its mind in the past over other controversial issues such as allowing female candidates to be considered for the ministry. 2

The Assembly approved Rennie's appointment by a vote of 326 to 267 (55%). 3

Some reactions to Rennie's appointment and the General Assembly vote:

bulletAfter the General Assembly vote, the Fellowship of Confessing Churches -- the sponsors of the petition -- stated:

Despite the depth of feeling across the churches of Scotland and the world about this matter, as reflected by the numbers signing this statement, the General Assembly voted (23rd May 2009) to back Aberdeen Presbytery by 326 votes to 267 (there were clearly many abstentions). This has created a precedent for all presbyteries, and sends a clear signal to the world that our denomination has departed from the teaching of the Christian Scriptures, upon which its very existence depends. It is a deeply painful day for all who love Christ and his gospel. May all in our churches remember the warning words of our Lord (Revelation 3:3), and seek earnestly to repent before it is too late. 1

Revelation 3:3 states: "Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." (King James Version)


bulletOne of the petition signers, Reverend David Randall, said he believed that:
 ".... a minister is somebody who ought to live by the Bible. We believe that the Bible's teaching is quite clear in this matter - that marriage is the right and only context for sexual relationships."
(Currently, loving committed same-sex couples cannot marry in Scotland, as they can in Canada, a few U.S. states, and some other countries.)
 
bulletRev. Ian Watson heads up the Forward Together group. He delivered a sermon on MAY-10 at Kirkmuirhill Church in Lanark, Scotland, during which he drew a parallel between:
bulletThe failure of Britain in 1938 to stand up against the Nazi Germany annexation of the Rhineland, and
bulletThe refusal of many clergy and laity in the Church of Scotland to join a crusade against gays today.

This linking of sexual minorities with German Nazis disturbed many Church of Scotland members.
 

bulletA demonstration was held at The Mound in Edinburgh during the General Assembly meeting. It was led by a Baptist Pastor -- Jack Bell of the Zion Baptist Church in Glasgow.  He said: "We are absolutely opposed to that on the basis of what God has to say about homosexuality in the Bible."
 
bulletA larger demonstration was organized by supporters of Rev. Rennie.
 
bulletThe Rev. Ewen Gilchrist, the interim moderator at Queen's Cross, said there should be more acceptance of sexual minorities. He said:

"Sexuality is something that the church doesn't have a good track record about. We constantly lock it up and frown about it. Here's an opportunity to welcome it, to acknowledge the diversity of human sexuality and to bring that richness into our life and worship."

bullet The Rev. Colin Coward, chairman of the gay-positive Anglican group Changing Attitudes, notes that there are hundreds of gay clergy and several gay bishops in the Church of England, as well as bishops who supported civil partnerships for same-sex couples. He said:

"It's very significant that the Church of Scotland has voted in this way. The pressure is especially on conservatives in the church to examine carefully the distinction they try to make between [sexual] orientation and practice."

bulletThe Rev Martin Reynolds, of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said:

"This is a significant moment. I think the Church of England is stuck in refusing to acknowledge the presence of lesbian and gay people in its ranks."

bulletSome senior conservatives in the Church of Scotland were furious about the Assembly vote. Two leading conservatives, the Rev David Court from Edinburgh and the Rev William Philip from Glasgow discounted the possibility that the vote would cause a schism in the Church of Scotland. However, they warned that it would distress many lay members:

"We deeply regret the decision of the general assembly, which has brought great shame on the name of our lord, Jesus Christ, and his church by publicly proclaiming as holy what God, the Bible, and orthodox Christianity all down the ages, and all over the world, unambiguously call sin. This is about far more than just sexuality. The very nature of the Christian gospel is at stake."

bulletAffirmation! Scotland, a group promoting an inclusive denomination that welcomes persons of all sexual orientations, issued a statement:

"Affirmation Scotland applauds the grace and strength shown by The Revd. Scott Rennie and his partner through out this time; they have embodied all that is best in The Church of Scotland and so witnessed to the gospel."

"Affirmation Scotland rejoices in the decision of The General Assembly to allow the induction of Mr. Rennie as Minister at Queen's Cross Church to proceed. This was a courageous decision after much public debate and controversy."

"Affirmation Scotland recognizes that some in the church will be disappointed by this outcome but we plead that, in time, the peace and unity of the church will not be further damaged." 3

Rev. Rennie told The Guardian Today that he was "humbled" by the vote, but had been "personally hurt" by the attacks on his appointment and private life. He said:

"I think the gospel is about hope and not about fear. I hope that a lot of people across Scotland and the UK will receive this decision as one of hope, and whatever the future holds, we need a spirit of hope so we talk together and we're not paralyzed by fear. Fear has nothing to do with the gospel. In fact Jesus so often said to his disciples 'Do not be afraid'." ... I'm already serving in a parish and so are other gay ministers serving in a parish. Are we never to move? ... The question was about the call of God in my life, the call of God in a congregation's life. ... Everybody responds to the call of God. Just because I'm gay doesn't mean that I shouldn't." 4,5,6

Full disclosure: The author of this essay is left-handed and is considered by some as not entirely normal -- mainly for reasons other than his hand orientation. (Hint: Family members often call him Sheldon.) Even worse, our part-time employee is red-headed, and probably would have been executed as a witch centuries ago because of that inherited trait. Both of us are profoundly heterosexual in orientation, although we have many GLBT friends.

References used:

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

  1. "General Assembly 2009 Statement," Fellowship of Confessing Churches, at: http://www.confessingchurch.org.uk/
  2. Douglas Aitken, "Assembly Update Transcript #6," Church of Scotland, 2009-MAY-23, at: http://stream1.churchofscotland.org.uk/  This is a PDF file.
  3. "Statement from Affirmation Scotland," Affirmation! Scotland, ~2009-MAY-24, at: http://www.affirmationscotland.org.uk/
  4. Brian Donnelly, "Church of Scotland General Assembly upholds appointment of gay minister," The Herald, 2009-MAY-22, at: http://www.theherald.co.uk/
  5. Severin Carrell, "Gay minister's appointment divides Church of Scotland," The Guardian, 2009-MAY-24, at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/
  6. "Kirk votes to back gay minister ," BBC News, 2009-MAY-24, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/

Copyright © 2000 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JAN-21
Latest update: 2011-JUN-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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