Irish and Scottish Kirks split on gay issue

Rev Jim Stothers.
Rev Jim Stothers.

Irish Presbyterianism has distanced itself considerably from a vote by the Church of Scotland which has moved the Scottish Kirk closer to the ordination of gay clergy.

The Church of Scotland, in a radical decision of a majority of its 45 presbyteries, voted to allow congregations to appoint a minister who is in a same-sex partnership.

Rev Jim Stothers

Rev Jim Stothers

A final decision on the issue will be taken at the church’s General Assembly in Edinburgh in May.

The Church of Scotland has historically been referred to as the “Mother Church” of Presbyterianism, but the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is a subordinate body, totally separate from the Scottish Kirk.

The Rev Jim Stothers, deputy clerk of the Irish Presbyterian General Assembly, said the issues being discussed and voted on in Scotland are not on his church’s agenda now or in the foreseeable future.

“Our view of marriage in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is that it is exclusively a partnership between a man and a woman,” said Mr Stothers. He declined, however, to comment on matters which, he said, were the sole business of the Church of Scotland.

Each year, moderators of the Irish and Scottish churches attend the Presbyterian General Assemblies in both Belfast and Edinburgh, and the relationship is cordial, but does not impinge on either church.

A total of 1,391 Scottish presbytery members voted for a more liberal interpretation of recognising the status of gay ministers within the church, with 1,153 against, resulting in a narrow 54.6 per cent to 45.4 per cent split.

Thirty-two presbyteries, mostly in city/urban areas like Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, had a majority of members in favour of the gay minister concept. Thirteen presbyteries, located in rural Ayrshire, Argyllshire, Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire and the Lothians and in the Highlands and islands, voted against.

Ordination of ministers in same-sex relationships has divided the Church of Scotland since traditionalist members attempted to block the appointment of the Rev Scott Rennie, who is gay, in Aberdeen in 2009.

The General Assembly backed Mr Rennie, but introduced an interim ban on ordaining other gay ministers until a special commission studied the matter.

The ban was lifted in 2011 when commissioners agreed to consider the subject again. Church members, in strongly evangelical congregations, have left over the issue, either forming independent congregations or aligning with the Free Church of Scotland.

Scottish evangelical Presbyterians, in a stance similar to the official policy of Irish Presbyterianism, claim their church in taking this view on homosexuality has departed from Biblical truths.