Friday, 24 April 2009

Evangelicals fight back in gay minister row

The Times, 22 April, 2009

The dispute over homosexual relationships and clergy threatening schism in the Church of Scotland worsened yesterday with the evangelical wing of the Kirk accusing its house magazine of an ignorant attack which mocked their faith.

The Rev Ian Watson, of the Forward Together group, said he was deeply offended by the leading article in the latest issue of Life And Work which supported the appointment of the Rev Scott Rennie, an openly gay minister, to a church in Aberdeen.

He added that Muriel Armstrong, the magazine's editor, had deliberately misrepresented the debate, made prejudicial comment on church court matters which were sub judice and failed to provide balanced coverage of "a decisive issue" for the Church.

Mr Watson said that he was outraged by Ms Armstrong's suggestion that traditionalists only selectively quoted Biblical law, specifically "anti-homosexual laws in the Book of Leviticus".

"We respect the whole of scripture, there are Old Testament and New Testament texts which are hostile to homosexual practice. She [Ms Armstrong] has not just been unbalanced, she has mocked the evangelical position," Mr Watson added.

Ms Armstrong — who is set to retire from her post — called for Mr Watson to join with her in a broad church. "It is a shame to talk of schism. One of the great strengths of the Church of Scotland is that it is a broad church and that we can have different points of view," she said.

Senior figures in the Kirk fear that the issues of civil partnerships and gay ministers, could prove as damaging to the Presbyterian ministry as the row which almost caused schism in the Church of England at last year's Lambeth Conference.

The row over homosexuality in the Kirk has festered since the appointment of Mr Rennie to Queen's Cross Church in January. Mr Rennie, a divorced father of one, lives with his male partner. His appointment was challenged by a minority in the local presbytery who took the matter to a Kirk commission which referred the matter to the annual General Assembly in Edinburgh for a decision.

Both sides in the debate see next month's debate as decisive, with liberals determined to defeat traditionalists, forcing them to accept the will of the Church or quit. Even Ms Armstrong's supporters admit she deliberately intended to influence the debate, while her critics accused her of interfering in the "due process" of Kirk administration.

Ms Armstrong said that traditionalists in the Kirk had over-ridden established practice. "Queen's Cross Church called Scott Rennie by a substantial majority and the Presbytery of Aberdeen sustained that call. A group of people chose to challenge that," she added.

The Forward Together group is confident that it represents the majority view. Its supporters are expected to submit a motion to the General Assembly, which will seek to establish the centrality of heterosexual marriage within the Kirk.

"I am confident that if Presbyterians are allowed to debate the issue they will endorse the traditional Christian values of sexual faithfulness within marriage and abstinence outside marriage," Mr Watson said.

"I believe homosexual practice is a sin and will keep you out of heaven, just as adultery is a sin. For me it is a Gospel issue. It's like playing football and picking up the ball and running.

It's not the same game. That's how I see it and that's how the vast majority of Christians see it." He added that if the Kirk accepted practising homosexuals, it would be out of step with the World Church..

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