TENSIONS have surfaced at the Presbyterian General Assembly over the position of the Church of Scotland on the acceptance of ministers who have homosexual relationships.
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is traditionally aligned to its mother church in Scotland, The Kirk, which at its recent general assembly voted 351 to 294 to effectively do away with the ban on gay clergy.
Outgoing Presbyterian moderator the Rev Dr Norman Hamilton, who attended the Edinburgh gathering, expressed his unease over the Scottish move in a candid report of his visit to the Kirk assembly.
Dr Hamilton, who stood down as moderator on Monday night after a year in office, said from the outset of the Edinburgh debate he sensed the more “liberal” option would be accepted by Scottish delegates.
He said whatever the nuances over the debate and decision reached, the public understanding was expressed in the opening words of the leader article in The Scotsman newspaper the next day.
It stated: “It was a long and understandably passionate debate, but finally last night the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted to allow presbyteries across the country to choose gay or lesbian ministers.
“The vote among the commissioners to throw out the ban on gay clergy brought in two years ago was clear, 351 to 294, but showed how decisive the issue has been in the Kirk.”
However, the moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rev David Arnott, who is the main guest at the Belfast assembly this week, told his Irish counterparts yesterday that The Scotsman’s interpretation of the decision taken was not entirely accurate.
He insisted the matter had been sent out to the Scottish presbyteries for wider theological debate and the church would have to re-visit the core issues under consideration.
A resolution highly critical of the Church of Scotland’s attitude to clergy having same-sex relationships will be proposed today at the Belfast general assembly by a former moderator, the Rev Dr John Lockington, and Lurgan minister the Rev Nigel J McCullough.
This calls on the general assembly to endorse the actions of the general board in relation to “the special commission on same-sex relationships and the ministry” of the Church of Scotland and views with concern the deliverances of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland on the report of the special commission.
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is more conservative than the Church of Scotland on Biblical interpretations of homosexuality and there is no clamour within Irish Presbyterianism to adopt a more liberal stance.
There also remains a strong body of traditionalist opinion within the Scottish church on the matter and any definite decision taken by The Kirk would deeply split congregations across the country.
Dr Norman Hamilton, in his report, said there is a widespread view that the traditionalist position in Scotland on the ordination of those who are gay or lesbian was rejected for what was described as the “revisionist” position.
“Those who are advocating this latter position included one minister who spoke warmly of the contribution that bisexuals and those who are transgendered can make to Christian ministry, whilst another spoke of how the Bible had been shown up to be wrong in the past and that we now know better,” said Dr Hamilton.
“The traditionalist view was articulated by many in The Kirk, and by every visiting delegate who spoke, myself included, and there is no doubt that many of those who hold this position in the Church of Scotland seemed seriously demoralised and deeply apprehensive about future developments.”