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Religious Tolerance logo

The Church of Scotland and homosexuality

2009 GA: Special commission. Gay clergy ban.
2011 GA: Ban ends. Reactions.

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2009 General Assembly:

2009-MAY-25 AM: Creation of a Special Commission:

Rev. Dr. John McPake proposed a motion to create a Special Commission that would consult with all of the denomination's Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions and prepare a report on ordination and induction to the ministry for sexually active gays.

Their deliberations would include study of both an earlier 2007 church report titled: "A Challenge to Unity: same-sex relationships as an issue in theology and human sexuality." They would also consider Rev. Rennie's case. He is a gay male who had been appointed by the congregation of Queen's Cross in Aberdeen, Scotland, and approved earlier by the 2009 General Assembly. The Commission would be asked to report their conclusions to the 2011 General Assembly.

In the meantime, all church courts, councils and committees would be instructed to:

"... observe a moratorium on issuing public comment by any means, and on decision-making in relation to contentious matters of human sexuality, in particular with respect to Ordination and Induction to the Ministry, until after the Commission reports."

Finally, another motion was approved that instructs the Presbyteries to observe a moratorium on ordinations and inductions that might prejudice the work of the Special Commission. That presumably placed on hold any further ordinations or inductions of candidates who are involved in sexually active same-sex or opposite-sex relationship.

Ordination of candidates in same-sex relationships is a thorny one. There are only three obvious resolutions to the conflict between the evangelical and liberal wings of The Kirk:

bullet Totally deny ordination. This would please those in the evangelical wing of the denomination, who generally regard same-sex sexual behavior as incompatible with Christianity and the Bible's teachings. However it would be certain to be considered profoundly immoral by the more progressive wing, who generally regard homosexuality as a normal and natural orientation for a minority of adults.
bullet Ignore sexual orientation and behavior when selecting candidates for ordination and induction. This would infuriate the evangelical wing, and please the progressive wing, for the same reasons.
bullet Adopt some form of local option plan where the decision is made by the individual congregation or presbytery. This would probably satisfy neither the evangelical nor the progressive wing. It would simply transfer the conflict to the regional or local level.

Judging by the ratification vote of Rev. Rennie's case, the progressive and evangelical wings are both large with the former being in the majority. Whatever resolution is chosen will result in extensive anger among much of the membership, and will probably cause a significant loss of membership, clergy, and congregations. Yet, the conflict will not go away, and there is very unlikely that any new evidence will emerge over the next two years that will convince one of the wings to abandon their position.

2009-MAY-25 PM: Overture to ban gay clergy:

Back in 2007, the Church of Scotland's General Assembly discussed eliminating their prohibition on gay and lesbian clergy. They decided to take no action at that time.

In advance of the 2009 assembly, the Lochcarron and Skye Presbytery initiated an overture (motion) to specifically forbid the ordination of any candidate for the ministry who is sexually active with one or more persons of the same gender.

The overture is titled "Anent Ministerial Conduct" and states:


1. the Church's historic understanding of the Biblical teaching on homosexual practice has been questioned in recent years.

2. a lengthy period of reflection has elapsed without a resolution of the issue.

3. it is undesirable that the courts of the church should be asked to judge on individual cases in advance of any such resolution.

It is humbly overtured by the Reverend the Presbytery of Lochcarron-Skye to the Venerable the General Assembly to receive the Overture set out below,

"That this Church shall not accept for training, ordain, admit, re-admit, induct or introduce to any ministry of the Church anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of faithful marriage between a man and a woman." 9

Note that the rejection would apply to candidates who are either in a same-sex or opposite-sex relationship outside of marriage that is sexually active. It is not specifically designed to discriminate against persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation who are involved in a sexual relationship with a member of the same gender. However, the proposal would discriminate in favor of heterosexual candidates who have the option of marrying.

The overture was scheduled to be discussed by the 2009 General Assembly. If it had been passed, it would have had to be ratified by a majority of the church's 48 presbyteries before becoming effective. 4

As a result of the creation of the Special Commission, the Presbytery withdrew their overture on 2009-MAY-25. 10 They had no other option, in view of the earlier decision to declare a moratorium on public debates.

2011 General Assembly:

2011-MAY-23: Church of Scotland ends its ban on gay clergy:

Before the General Assembly met, Professor Bill Naphy at the University of Aberdeen recommended that the Kirk proceed slowly on the ordination of gay ministers. He is a specialist in the history of both sexuality and Calvinism. On the BBC Politics Show he said:

"I think the Kirk is likely to take a very cautious approach. If they allow the ordination of gay ministers there will probably be whole congregations that leave. I think it’s less likely that whole congregations will leave if it goes the other way. It is more likely that individuals will walk away."

There exists a strong majority of adults in Scotland who favor same-sex marriage. Most of these probably view any special privileges given to heterosexuals and withheld from lesbians and gays as homophobia which they regard as simply another form of bigotry, like racism and sexism. The probablility of them joining the Kirk as new members is slim. Few people would want to join a denomination that they view as bigoted.

The General Assembly decided to terminate a ban on gay ministers after a debate of amost seven hours. The ban had been imposed in 2009 after negative reaction to the appointment of the Kirk's first openly gay minister, Scott Rennie.

Rev. Stafford Carson commented in his blog:

"... some of the speeches confirmed my worst fears about the views of many within the Church of Scotland. 'We know better than the Bible' was the tone of one speech, and, as one speaker said, since the Bible had got it wrong on slavery, the role of women, and the death penalty for adultery, we should not be afraid to discard what it says about homosexuality. The speaker insisted that current scientific evidence makes it clear that homosexuality is perfectly natural and not sinful, and therefore homosexuals should not be barred from leadership in the church. Another speaker referred to the pastoral and prophetic insights of bisexual and transgender people."

The commissioners voted 351 to 294 (54%) to move towards accepting ministry candidates who are in same-sex relationships for training, induction and ordination. This is essentially the same voting ratio as was observed when the 2009 General Assembly approved the authorization of Rev. Scott Rennie's appointment as minister. However, the number of voting abstentions was much lower this time.

The commissioners also voted 393 to 252 "... to allow ministers and deacons in same-sex relationships ordained before 2009 to be inducted into pastoral charges. 11

Lord Patrick Hodge reported on the findings of the Special Commission that had been authorized by the 2009 Assembly. He discussed a communication with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) who confirmed their belief that all sexual activity outside of a marriage between one man and one woman is always sinful. The Moderator of the PCI spoke at the Assembly debate and confirmed the church's position.

The assembly decided to establish a theological commission to discuss whether ministers should be free to bless civil partnerships of loving, committed same-sex couples. They will report back to the 2013 General Assembly.

The Christian Post, an American conservative Christian news source, reported:

"The Rev. Andrew Coghill issued a warning to the General Assembly saying that allowing gay clergy would devastate the denomination. He was given a passionate applause by the Kirk as he said the move was akin to a 'hand grenade [and] we're being asked to pull the pin out, and it will blow the church apart'." 12

Rev. Coghill had ministered to the congregation at Leurbost Church, in Locks, Lewis for almost two decades. He has decided to resign because of the decisions at the 2011 GA. He reached this decision with the:

"utmost sorrow and heartfelt grief. ... The Cross is not simply to be preached, it is to be lived. ... I do not know the direction of my own future. I know only that whilst many good, Godly and devout Christian men and women will continue within the fold of the Church of Scotland, I personally cannot continue to serve a Church which as an institution, has chosen its own Gods, and departed from the God of the Bible, whatever words may be used to contrary. ... I have taken you as far as the Lord has allowed me to do."

Rev. Roddy MacRae, minister of Glenelg and Kintail, has also announced his decision to resign. 13

Whatever course the 2011 General Assembly had taken would prove extremely painful to the Kirk and resulted in at least a temporary loss in congregations, clergy and laity.

Horizontal rule

References used:

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

  1. "Gay Church of Scotland minister hits back at evangelical critics," TimesOnline, 2009-MAY-05, at:
  2. "Evangelical groups call on Church of Scotland to back gay minister," PinkNews, 2009-MAY-22, at:
  3. Douglas Aitken, "Assembly Update Transcript #6," Church of Scotland, 2009-MAY-23, at:  This is a PDF file.
  4. "Statement from Affirmation Scotland," Affirmation! Scotland, ~2009-MAY-24, at:
  5. Brian Donnelly, "Church of Scotland General Assembly upholds appointment of gay minister," The Herald, 2009-MAY-22, at:
  6. Severin Carrell, "Gay minister's appointment divides Church of Scotland," The Guardian, 2009-MAY-24, at:
  7. "Kirk votes to back gay minister ," BBC News, 2009-MAY-24, at:
  8. "General Assembly 2009 Statement," Fellowship of Confessing Churches, at:
  9. "GA09 Overture," Presbytery of Lochcarron-Skye, 2009, at:
  10. Douglas Aitken, "Assembly Update Transcript #8," Church of Scotland, 2009-MAY-25, at: This is a PDF file.
  11. Stafford Carson, "The Church of Scotland General Assembly," 2011-MAY-24, at:
  12. Daniel Blake, "Church of Scotland Votes to Lift Ban on Gay Clergy," The Christian Post, 2011-MAY-24, at:
  13. Daniel Blake, "Minister Resigns After Church Vote for Gay Clergy," The Christian Post, 2011-JUN-01, at:

Copyright © 2000 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JAN-21
Latest update: 2009-SEP-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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