KIRK leaders believe they have averted a split in the Church of Scotland over gay ministers by adopting a compromise proposed by traditionalists.
After a six-and-a-half-hour debate, the General Assembly backed a plan to stick to its traditional teaching – that all sex outside marriage is wrong – while allowing individual congregations to choose ministers who are in civil partnerships.
Because the necessary church legislation has yet to be drafted, the issue will have to be debated again at next year’s Assembly and then go down to local presbyteries for approval, meaning yesterday’s decision could still be overturned and cannot in any case be implemented until 2015 at the earliest.
An alternative “live and let live” compromise would have seen the Kirk approve the ordination of gay ministers, but let individual congregations opt out as a matter of conscience.
The Assembly rejected a simple reaffirmation of the traditionalist stance, then voted by 340 to 282 in favour of the “opt in” compromise proposed by the Very Rev Albert Bogle rather than the “opt out” plan.
Mr Bogle, who ended his year as moderator on Saturday, said he came from the traditionalist view but recognised others had “more enlightenment”. Asking the Assembly to back his plan, he said: “It will give everyone what they want, but it will keep us together.”
Moderator the Right Reverend Lorna Hood said: “This is a massive vote for the peace and unity of the Church.”
The Rev John Chalmers, the Assembly’s principal clerk, said the agreed compromise should allay fears among traditionalists who might have quit the Kirk on the issue. Two congregations and a further six ministers have already left and there had been reports of another 50 congregations considering their position. He said: “This option, if it can be made viable, speaks more clearly to those who were likely to think about leaving.”
Former principal clerk the Very Rev Dr Finlay Macdonald, who backed the opt-out compromise, said: “I’m disappointed a resolution has not been reached as anticipated. While I would have preferred the other option, I’m encouraged by the recognition that Kirk sessions who wish to depart from the traditionalist position should be free to do so.”
Meanwhile, St John’s Episcopal Church in Princes Street – famous for its thought-provoking murals – joined in the controversy with a depiction of a minister kissing another man, along with pictures representing war, poverty, hunger and violence, and the question: “What really matters to the church?”