Friday, 24 April 2009

Schism looms for Kirk over gay rights

The Times, 21 April 2009

A potential rift within the Church of Scotland over gay relationships emerged yesterday after the Church's house magazine backed civil partnerships and openly gay ministers.

Accusing religious traditionalists of selectively quoting the Bible to support their attacks on homosexual relations, the editorial in Life And Work urged the Kirk to show strong leadership on an issue that has threatened to split the Church of England and could prove just as divisive in Scotland.

The article, which was written by the magazine's editor, Muriel Armstrong, comes ahead of next month's General Assembly in Edinburgh and has been timed to influence a key debate on whether openly homosexual ministers can be appointed to the Church.

Ms Armstrong rounds on the "selective literalists" who use parts of the Bible to bolster their own views but ignore other parts that undermine them. She says that these commentators "presumably no longer accept biblical teaching on sexual matters such as polygamy and sex with slaves" but are happy to quote Leviticus 18:22 on homosexuality: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." The Church said yesterday that the magazine was editorially independent.

"It is not the voice of the Church of Scotland, which is not trying to steer debate on this important issue," the Rev Angus Morrison, convenor of the council of mission and discipleship said. He added that he had already received "a couple" of e-mails expressing concern that the magazine was interfering in the "due process" of the Church.

Senior figures within the Church fear that the issue of gay partnerships could prove as damaging for the Presbyterian ministry as the row that has split the Anglican Church.

A minority in the Presbytery of Aberdeen has already challenged the appointment of an openly gay minister, the Rev Scott Rennie, to Queen's Cross Church in the city.

They have appealed to the Commission of the General Assembly, with a final decision on the matter to be made next month.

In her editorial Ms Armstrong also champions the right of gay ministers to serve in the Church. She said said that two years ago the Church had effectively shelved its decision on the issue and that the moment had come to challenge those who use the "familiar arguments" of tradition, orthodoxy and the "plain meaning of scripture".

"The question of the integrity of a relationship didn't enter the [traditionalists'] argument. It has been suggested that if the Kirk stuck its neck out on this one it would upset other churches that are still in a reflective no man's land on this issue. Isn't it time for leadership? "What is clear to the lay-person is that not everything Biblical is Christlike.

Every student of the Bible is a selective literalist. Those who swear by the anti-homosexual laws in the Book of Leviticus wouldn't publicly advocate slavery or stoning women taken in adultery. They presumably no longer accept Biblical teaching on sexual matters such as polygamy and sex with slaves.

"And yet there are many who continue to be bound by a few Biblical verses — none of them in the Gospels — about homosexuality, nowadays understood as a matter of genetics rather than lifestyle." The debate on gays in the Church will involve members from every Presbytery, drawn from Scotland and overseas. It is likely to polarise opinion, just as it has in other Churches.

The Rev Lindsay Biddle, chaplain of Affirmation Scotland, a pro-gay group, said: "This is about lifting the veil and saying, 'We include you' to people inside and outside the Church, regardless of sexual orientation. We are catching up the rest of society. I know people whose sexuality is accepted everywhere they go — the only place where their orientation is a problem is within the Church."

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