Church of Scotland vote moves closer to ordaining gay ministers

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has been held at The Mound in Edinburgh almost every year since 1560

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The Church of Scotland has moved a step closer to ordaining gay ministers, after a vote at the General Assembly.

The Kirk's general assembly has voted to allow presbyteries to debate whether congregations can opt out of its traditional stance and appoint homosexual ministers.

If the presbyteries choose to go ahead with the move it could become church law next summer.

The ordaining of gay ministers has proved a controversial topic for years.

In 2009 some members attempted to block the appointment of Rev Scott Rennie, who is gay, to Queen's Cross Church in Aberdeen.

At the Kirk's gathering in 2011, commissioners voted to accept gay and lesbian clergy - on the condition they had declared their sexuality and were ordained before 2009.

The Kirk then prepared a report by its theological commission, which set out arguments on both sides.

Church legislation

Last year, the ruling General Assembly voted in favour of a proposal that allows liberal parishes to opt out of the church's policy on homosexuality and this year's commissioners have backed sending the draft church legislation to local presbyteries.

The general assembly vote followed a debate which examined both the legal and theological implications of the Church choosing to ordain gay ministers.

Commissioners voted to go ahead with the motion, with 369 for it and 189 voting against.

The vote now means that all the Kirk's 46 presbyteries will hold further discussion on the wording of a draft of church legislation, known as an Overture.

This Overture will aim to create a compromise for differing views on allowing ministers who are in civil partnerships.

The final decisions of all presbyteries will be reported back to the General Assembly in May 2015.

This could lead to it being passed as church law at next year's General Assembly.

At the end of the debate, the Moderator of the General Assembly, the Right Reverend John Chalmers, told commissioners: "This has been a difficult day and a difficult discussion for all of us.

"From me to you my grateful thanks it has been conducted as a respectful dialogue and a model of how these conversations should be held within the Church."

Further debate

News of the vote provoked a mixed reaction within factions of the Kirk.

Forward Together, a group for evangelicals in the Church of Scotland, said it was "deeply saddened" by the vote and accused the Assembly of contradicting itself.

A statement from the group said: "The Assembly formally affirmed the Church's historic and current doctrine and practice in relation to human sexuality but then - with no apology for the blatant contradiction - chose to set that aside by agreeing to allow anyone in a civil partnership to apply to train as a minister or deacon."

"The Assembly has once again chosen to put the so-called 'peace and unity' of the Church, which is clearly lacking, before its duty to be a Church that honours the Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, as its supreme rule of faith and life."

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