Church of Scotland votes to allow ministers to marry same-sex couples

Same Sex Wedding

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted Monday to allow ministers and deacons to marry same-sex couples.

By a vote of 274 to 136, ministers and deacons in the reformed Calvinist denomination can now apply to become authorized celebrants to conduct same-sex ceremonies. 

According to a statement released by the Church of Scotland, "no person [will] be required to participate in or be involved in the arrangements for the same-sex marriage unless they explicitly wished to do so."  

"There has been a lengthy, prayerful and in-depth discussion and debate about this topic for many years at all levels of the Church to find a solution that respects diversity and values the beliefs of all," General Assembly Moderator the Rev. Iain Greenshields said in a statement.  

Greenshields said that the Church of Scotland is a broad church with many diverse views on marriage among its over 300,000 members, noting that the church is committed to handling the topic in "grace and humility."  

"The tone and tenor of discussions are civil and people are respectful of those who hold opposing views," Greenshields added. "All celebrants would be expected to take account of the peace and unity and pastoral needs of the congregation and any parish or other grouping of which it is a part while considering to conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony."

Under the new rules, pastors who want to conduct same-sex marriages would first have to apply to the principal clerk's office, which will send an application to the Registrar General of Scotland on their behalf.  

The principal clerk plans to maintain a record of those who conduct same-sex weddings. And church leaders are responsible for renewing their status to perform same-sex ceremonies every three years.

The Church of Scotland is a member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches founded in 1560. It has over 800 ministers serving in parishes and chaplaincies, mostly in Scotland but also in England and Europe. 

The Rev. Phil Gunn, minister of Rosskeen Parish Church in Ross-shire, believes the overture is "not biblical."

"A Church that does not provoke any crisis, preach a Gospel that does not unsettle, proclaim a Word of God that does not get under anyone's skin or a Word of God that does not touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed, what kind of Gospel is that?" asked Gunn in a statement

"We see the scriptures, old and new, that point to God's teaching on marriage and human sexuality. We are called to love everyone as Christ commanded us. We are to demonstrate God's love to the world so they might recognize something different in us, but that does not mean we have to conform to the ways of society or the world."

Gunn said that "the Bible is the supreme rule of faith and life for the Church."

"God has called us as His followers to be bold and make a stand for what is right in his eyes," Gunn proclaimed. "If we choose to turn our back on scripture how can we stand up and say we are ministers of God's church if we then change what God says?"

The Rev. Lezley Stewart, a minister and a commissioner, agrees with the Church of Scotland's new policy to allow same-sex marriages.

"We have always lived with differences and we always will. No one in this General Assembly hall is the same as you and no one thinks the same as you and maybe we should thank God for that," Stewart said.

"But we are the Church together and if you look to your right, to your left, look in front of you and look behind you, hopefully, what you can see is simply a reflection of Christ — we are the Church together." 

Stewart believes that Jesus wants everyone to be "seen by our love for one another."

"I do respect the choice of ministers to choose," Stewart continued. "I do respect the faith and desire of members and ministers to say I do and be married in their church in a way that most of us have been able to do throughout the whole of our lives and take for granted."

Ahead of Monday's vote, members of the assembly expressed differing thoughts on the legislation. 

The first openly gay clergyman in the Church of Scotland to have his appointment approved in 2009, the Rev. Scott Rennie, told the General Assembly he could not marry his husband in a religious wedding in the way that he would have wanted to in the past. 

"I sincerely hope the assembly will find it in itself to support the deliverance, even those who have their doubt," Rennie said, according to the BBC.

"I want to say that marriage is a wonderful thing. My marriage to my husband Dave nurtures my life and my ministry. Frankly, I couldn't be a minister without his love and support. It is much the same as opposite-sex marriage in its joys and its glories."

The vote's outcome was expected because a majority of the denomination's presbyteries had voiced their support last month.

The U.K.-based Christian Institute said it's "very sad" to learn that most of the presbyteries support same-sex weddings. 

The Christian Institute's Scotland Officer Nigel Kenny said in a statement that "the Bible is crystal clear" about the traditional biblical beliefs of marriage. 

"True, God-honoring marriage is only between one man and one woman. Jesus' own teaching on this in Matthew 19 could not be clearer. But it seems that the majority of presbyteries are more interested in taking their cue from culture rather than Christ," Kenny stated.  

The Covenant Fellowship Scotland, a group of Evangelicals within the Church of Scotland, said in a statement that the Church of Scotland is making a "serious mistake."

"The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in converting an overture permitting ministers and deacons to officiate at same-sex marriages into an Act of the Church, has acted in a way which is both unbiblical and sinful," the statement reads. 

"We all have a deep pastoral care and concern for those who wish to enter into same-sex marriages, and we understand the pastoral impulse of ministers and deacons who wish to help people at life's key moments. But we must nevertheless point to the complete absence of any compelling or persuasive biblical evidence that might permit ministers and deacons of the Church of Scotland to officiate at same-sex marriages."

The Covenant Fellowship contends that the Church of Scotland's decision "contradicts everything the Bible has to say about the complementary nature of men and women, and of the character and purposes of marriage."

"Instead of following the clear and unambiguous teaching of God's written word, the Bible, the Church of Scotland continues to follow popular opinion," the statement concluded.

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