Leaders in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland felt “a deep sense of sorrow” after a decision by the Church of Scotland to allow people in same-sex civil partnerships to serve as ministers and deacons.
The Scottish decision was made by the General Assembly on the Mound in Edinburgh on Saturday, where the motion was passed by 309 votes to 182.
The outcome is the culmination of years of deliberation within the Church, which has traditionally close links with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI).
However PCI, which has some 230,000 members, said the vote would not sway its position, stating that its sister church had moved “away from the historic and biblical position”.
Rev Trevor Gribben, the Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of PCI, said: “While there are long-standing and historic associations between the Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, there is no formal structural link between the two Churches.
“As self-governing Churches, both clearly have the right to come to their own conclusions on theological and governance matters.
“That being said, I’m sure that many ministers, elders and people within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland will feel a deep sense of sorrow at the decision to allow for ordination of ministers in civil partnerships within the Church of Scotland.
“That same sense of sorrow will be felt later this week if the Church of Scotland votes to allow the ordination of ministers who are in same-sex marriages.
“I have no doubt that this sorrow and deep regret is also felt by that very significant minority in the Church of Scotland who have opposed such changes.
“While our Church has not taken a formal stance on the Scottish vote, many will feel that the decision taken on Saturday last has moved the Church of Scotland away from the historic and biblical position that we as a Church unambiguously uphold, which is that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman.
“The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is not in any way considering moving from this position – it simply isn’t on our agenda.
“A more important question for us is how we welcome people from all walks of life, including those with same-sex attraction, into Church and into a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, so that they can know His amazing grace and transforming love.”
The vote means the Church of Scotland has adopted a position which maintains a traditional view of marriage between a man and woman, but allows individual congregations to “opt out” if they wish to appoint a minister or a deacon in a same-sex civil partnership.
Because the debate predates the legalisation of gay marriage, the proposed change mentions only civil partnerships, not same-sex marriages.
The Scottish Assembly will now be asked on Thursday to consider amending the new Church law to include ministers in same-sex marriages.
A Free Church spokesman said: “We are very sorry to hear the result of the vote. If the national Church continues to follow the path of political correctness rather than the Bible, it can be no surprise that the Church of Scotland is jeopardising its own future.
“Thousands of people will be considering whether they can remain in fellowship with, and also contribute financially to the work of, a denomination which is clearly going against the word of God on a number of issues.”
The current PCI moderator, Rev Dr Michael Barry, addressed the Church of Scotland general assembly on Saturday in an informal capacity where he outlined PCI’s position on civil partnerships.
It is understood that a PCI representative will also address the Scottish assembly on Thursday on the issue of same-sex marriage.
In February PCI authorities were challenged to say whether Alliance leader and Justice Minister David Ford can continue as an elder in Templepatrick while opposing church policy on gay marriage.
In April 2013, Mr Ford temporarily stepped aside from the post he had occupied for two decades while church authorities looked into his stance.
Mr Ford said he first publicly backed same-sex marriage five or six years previously, having been persuaded by people affected by the issues.
PCI said it was “an internal matter”, while Mr Ford declined to comment.
A disgruntled church member asked: “Can an elder adhere to a doctrine which is contrary to the church?”