THE Church of Scotland’s General Assembly is today expected to give final approval to a compromise deal to allow gay ministers in the Kirk.
But evangelicals will mount a last-ditch bid to block the scheme. They are expected to argue that the move flies in the face of the church’s beliefs about marriage and also that the detailed arrangements proposed are not workable.
The controversy over gay ordination has dominated Assembly proceedings for the past six years, dating back to a row over the appointment of an openly gay minister to a church in Aberdeen.
But leading figures in the Kirk said there was a mood in the church that it was now time to move on and recognise the two sides of the debate were never going to agree and had to find an accommodation.
The compromise – which won the approval of last year’s Assembly and has now received grassroots backing from 31 of the Kirk’s 45 presbyteries – reaffirms traditional teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman, but allows individual congregations to opt to call a minister who is in a civil partnership.
The Rev Gordon Kennedy, minister of Craiglockhart Parish Church, will speak against the change, but declined to comment ahead of today’s debate.
Professor David Fergusson, principal of New College, who supports the compromise, said the protracted disagreement was holding back the church and the compromise offered a way forward.
He said: “We cannot allow this to distract or divert the church any further. There is no prospect of unanimity so we must go forward, seeking to hold the church together in the presence of fundamental disagreement over this one issue.
“It ought to enable us to concentrate on more pressing matters.”
However, if the change is approved, another row is likely on Thursday, when the Assembly is asked to amend the new church legislation to include a reference to same-sex marriages. Because the debate predates the legalisation of gay marriage the current proposal mentions only civil partnerships.
Opponents are expected to take the opportunity to reopen the debate and point out the church has not discussed recognising same-sex marriage, while supporters of the compromise will say that for the purposes of accepting gay ministers, it is only logical to include those in same-sex marriages as well as those in civil partnerships.
The Assembly was due to get under way this morning with the installation of new Moderator the Rev Dr Angus Morrison.
The 730-strong gathering of ministers and elders at the Assembly Hall on The Mound continues until Friday.
Other issues expected to be hot topics for debate include the Kirk’s growing shortage of ministers, a report which suggests fracking may have to be considered and others on taxation and inequality.