THE Church of Scotland’s General Assembly (GA) voted on Saturday to approve the appointment of an openly gay minister, the Revd Scott Rennie, to Queen’s Cross in Aberdeen. In a separate debate on Monday, it voted for a two-year moratorium on further appointments, and a Special Commission to examine the wider issue of human sexuality.
The debates were streamed live on the internet. Mr Rennie, who has been at Brechin Cathedral for ten years, was “called” as sole candidate by the Presbytery of Queen’s Cross. During the prescribed period for a call to be left to lie, the biography of Mr Rennie, who was once married and has a child, was circulated with his consent. It stated: “He now shares a committed relationship with his Christian partner David.”
Mr Rennie was elected by 86 per cent of the church’s congregation. The Presbytery ratified the appointment in January, by 60 votes to 24. But seven clergy and five elders, none of them at Queen’s Cross, brought a “Dissent and Complaint”, which said: “The ordination and induction of active homosexuals has never been the accepted practice of the Church of Scotland or the Church catholic, except where there has first been a clear debate and decision to ordain active homosexuals. . .
“Aberdeen Presbytery was therefore wrong to take a decision that was contrary to the stated position and practice of the Church in sustaining the call to a minister in a self-professed active homosexual relationship.”
The Presbytery responded in a written defence to all the theological and procedural points raised. The complainants’ assessment of Mr Rennie’s relationship as “active” was “based entirely on inference and no such assertion is made in the biographical document”, it said.
“The wording of this document does not provide an adequate foundation for the assertions which have been made within the Complaint. Furthermore, if Mr Rennie’s dignity and human rights are to be respected, then he cannot be expected to provide additional information about his personal life.”
The rights of a congregation to choose its own minister were deeply rooted in the traditions of the Church of Scotland, the response made clear. Mr Rennie told BBC Scotland’s Politics Show: “I’ve been personally hurt, and as you can imagine, it’s made life pretty stressful.
“But at the end of the day, I felt God’s call in my life to ministry . . . to be at Queen’s Cross Parish Church in Aberdeen. The church responded to that, too, and sometimes you have to be prepared to endure a bit of heat for what you think is right. That’s just the way life is.”
In the run-up to the General Assembly, the Fellowship of Confessing Churches in Scotland organised an online petition against Mr Rennie’s appointment. It drew more than 12,000 signatures, of which 5318 were from the Church of Scotland. The Evangelical group Forward Together said that the decision had brought “great shame” on the Church.
The Assembly voted by 326 to 267 to support Mr Rennie’s appointment, but also passed a motion to “affirm for the avoidance of doubt that this decision does not alter the Church’s standards of ministerial conduct”. It meant that the decision could be regarded as legal precedent only if and when it was seen to affect the outcome of another case — a move that Mr Rennie said was “judicious and fair”.
The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Dr Idris Jones, supported the General Assembly. The decision would be “a great relief to many and confirm what the majority of people in Scotland think is the right thing to happen. It has reaffirmed the basic principle of a congregation’s right to call its own minister,” he said. “The General Assembly, by its vote, has confirmed that it is the true national Church of Scotland.”
Nevertheless, an Overture from Lochcarron and Skye Presbytery was also on the agenda. It sought the Assembly’s approval for a motion that “No court or agency of the Church may accept for training, ordination, 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.”
Concerns were voiced in the interval between the two debates, and in Monday’s debate itself, that the world thought the Church of Scotland had given blanket acceptance to gay ministers. A motion from the Revd Dr John McPake called for a moratorium until 2011, while a Special Commission explored the issue. There would be no talking to the media about the issue during that time.
The Revd Dr Angus Morrison, who seconded the motion, called for proper doctrinal reflection. “Ad hoc cases should not be raised for particular determination,” he said. “The heat and the excesses of exchange and intensity over the last few weeks cannot be the way forward.” It was “comparatively easy to split a church”, he said, but to do so was “deeply flawed and quite misconceived”.
The motion was carried after Lochcarron and Skye withdrew its Overture, on the understanding that its views will be presented to the Special Commission.
Equality Bill meanings disputed. The Government and Equalities Minister, Maria Eagle, told the Faith, Homophobia, Transphobia and Human Rights Conference in London earlier this month that she and other Ministers would stand firm against any atempts by faith groups to exempt themselves from the demands of the forthcoming Equality Bill.
“Members of faith groups have a role in making the arguments in their own communities for greater LGBT acceptance, but in the mean time the State has a duty to protect people from unfair treatment,” she said.
The conservative campaigning body the Christian Institute said that the Government would “force gay youth workers on churches”. Its spokesman, Mike Judge, referred to an explanatory note specifying that protection under the Equality Bill would apply only to posts mainly involving leading worship or explaining doctrine, not to “a requirement that a church youth worker or accountant be heterosexual.”
He said in a news release on Saturday: “The Government’s own explanation of the Bill clearly says churches must accept homosexuals as church youth workers. . . It would be absurd to pass a law demanding that the Labour Party employ card-carrying Conservative members, but that is effectively what churches are being told to do.”