Church of Scotland faces choice between liberal and traditional wings

The Scottish media has been widely reporting the growing controversy in the Church of Scotland over the campaign by a vocal minority on the Church’s evangelical wing against the appointment of an openly gay Minister. This article in today’s Scotland on Sunday gives a flavour of what is going on. The matter will be discussed by the Kirk’s ruling body, the General Assembly, next Saturday.

The Scottish Blogosphere has also weighed in with some exceptionally high quality debate on this including Stephen’s thoughtful and personal posting from last week’s Golden Dozen.

This is of particular interest to Liberal Democrat Voice readers because Scott Rennie, the minister in question, is a member of the Party and a former Parliamentary candidate in Angus. As a previous Campaigns Convener in Scotland, I know him well. He is one of the kindest and most compassionate people I have ever met and he is so well suited to the job of being a Minister. I wonder how many of the people who have signed the online petition against him have actually taken the time to meet him and get to know him. While we’re on the subject of that petition, at the time of writing, it has 11079 signatures, yet only 4523 come from within the Church of Scotland.
There appear to be three strands of opinion within the Church. Firstly, the fundamentalists who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and whose motion to the Assembly has much wider implications than for gay ministers as it says: “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”.
Then there is the more liberal wing of the church who believe that the Old Testament rules about same sex relationships are as outdated as those about wearing clothing of two different types and eating shellfish.

Finally, there is the “let’s not rock the boat” faction as voiced by the Minister of Crathie Church, in Aberdeenshire, whose claim to fame is that the Queen goes to his Church when she comes up north. He seems to think that it’s better to sacrifice the career of a good man than to risk causing division in the Church.

There is also the important principle of decentralisation within the Church at stake – if the Assembly votes in favour of the evangelicals’ motion, where does that leave the right of Churches to choose their own Ministers?

As I write this, it’s the International Day against Homophobia and it’s appropriate to mention that the campaign against Scott has attracted the support of these unsavoury types (PDF) who are intending to come on a trip to Scotland and protest, both at the Assembly and Scott’s church. I hope that Scotland finds some way of showing them that we are a tolerant and inclusive nation and have no place for their sort of bigotry.

There are people within the Liberal Democrats with whom I have some basic differences on issues. I know that I am very much in the minority on some of them too. There’s room within our core values and philosophy for all points of view and I don’t really see why the Church of Scotland should be any different.

Scott himself has given one interview to a Church publication. I think that one of the interesting things that he said was that gay Christians could feel isolated from both communities -sometimes the Church couldn’t handle people being gay, but also some elements of the gay community couldn’t handle Christianity. If they’ve had a bad experience, the latter is hardly surprising. It’s people like Scott who can help bring both together. It’s as unfair to expect someone to ignore their spiritual beliefs and needs as it is to expect them to deny and suppress their sexuality.

I remember all the angst and pain of the ordination of women debate within the Church of England. It was very difficult for the brave women who sought ordination and who had to endure some pretty unacceptable discrimination. Nearly 20 years on, women priests are accepted and respected within their communities, churches and dioceses.

Let’s hope that it doesn’t take that long for gay and lesbian clergy in all churches to feel that they can be open about their sexuality if they want to without fear of recrimination.

If you agree, please join the Facebook cause in support of Scott and sign the new petition expressing solidarity with him.

It seems to me that the choice for the Church of Scotland is whether it wants to live in the Old or New Testament, whether it wants to abandon its tradition of inclusiveness and tolerance and whether it wants to be relevant in the modern world. I don’t think that sweeping this under the carpet and hoping it will go away is either healthy for the organisation or credible.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Scotland.


  • Elaine MacRae 18th May '09 - 11:58am

    Good article except that its not a choice between living in the old or new testaments, the overarching theme of the old testament is Gods love for Gods people and Gods continual desire to be in relationship with them no matter how they get it wrong. If the evangelicals truly understood the old testament there would be less of a problem.

  • :pedantry: “Let’s hope that it doesn’t take that long for gay, lesbian, and bisexual clergy” I’m sure you mean :o)

  • Simon Wilson 19th May '09 - 4:06pm

    As a Liberal Democrat and as an Anglican priest, Scott Rennie has my complete admiration, support and prayers.I am proud to stand in solidarity with him.

  • Does it not say something about Rev Rennie’s commitment and motivation to the Church and to the gospel when he was willing to turn his back on his ministry in preference of his political aspirations! Your observations are obviously a hypocritical joke “He is one of the kindest and most compassionate people I have ever met and he is so well suited to the job of being a Minister”

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