CHURCH of Scotland leaders have approved the controversial appointment of a gay minister at an Aberdeen church despite opposition from conservative members who do not approve of his lifestyle, it has emerged.
The city’s presbytery voted 60-24 to instal the Rev Scott Rennie at Queen’s Cross Church. However, sources within the Kirk say it is highly likely that critics will lodge an appeal to block the move within the next 10 days.
The Church of Scotland General Assembly, which is divided over civil partnerships, would then make the final decision in May.
Mr Rennie is currently minister at Brechin Cathedral in Angus, where he has worked since 1999. Separated from his wife with whom he has a young daughter, he shares the manse with another man.
The Church of Scotland said Mr Rennie was widely recognised as an “enthusiastic and gifted preacher”. And Prof Trevor Salmon, joint session clerk at Queen’s Cross, said: “This appointment was given a resounding endorsement by the kirk session and congregation. “We believe Scott Rennie has the qualities to build upon the tradition of excellent ministry that has been a hallmark of Queen’s Cross worship for many years.” Read on in the Press and Journal...
Meanwhile, within the Church of Scotland nationally, a group of evangelicals (Bible-believers) have been at work visibly and behind the scenes in an attempt to combat spiritual declension within the Kirk. Rev. Ian Watson is one of the Steering Group of Forward Together and on his personal blog he has commented (January 8): "The evangelicals in Aberdeen argued against sustaining the call. It's not going too far to call this [proposed appointment] schismatic."
An appeal against Aberdeen Presbytery's decision is now being considered; and, if the appeal (or a 'petition') goes through, the matter will duly come before the General Assembly in May. Watson also comments: "Make no mistake, this issue has the potential to wreck the Church of Scotland." At the time of writing, no official statement was available from Forward Together. [A notice has since appeared on the FT web site which includes the observation: "This has caused enormous tremors throughout the Church as it is aggressively taking the debate on homosexuality onto a new level."]
Rev. Graeme Longmuir has reported in the press: "Almost three-quarters [60 - 24 Ed.] of those voting in favour of the Rev. Scott Rennie's call to Queen's Cross Church."
Rev. Rennie was born and raised in Bucksburn in Aberdeen. He served as assistant at Queen’s Cross church before winning the Scots Fellowship to study for a masters in sacred theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City: he later returned to the UK in 1999 when he was called to be minister at the cathedral.
He is on the Church of Scotland’s taskforce on human sexuality and is treasurer of OneKirk—a network of ministers and members of the Church of Scotland working for an inclusive, progressive church. He is working towards a doctor of ministry degree at Aberdeen University and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.
In the Church of Scotland tradition (and similar arrangements apply in the other presbyterian denominations in Scotland) a local congregation 'calls' a minister. This call is then ratified by the local presbytery which is a geographically-defined gathering of every minister (active and retired) and a representative elder from every local congregation within the presbytery boundaries. The mechanisms are designed to be consensual and collegiate; in practice the usual resort, at local and national level, is to a vote.
Whilst a minister is 'called' by a local congregation, he (or she) is installed and can be deposed only by the incumbent's presbytery.
The Church of Scotland, as a corporate body, has fought hard to evade the above issue - one over which many other denominations are also currently being exercised.
Back in 2000, the embryonic Scottish Parliament was severly tested and the nation as a whole was aflame over the issue of how and whether homosexuality would be taught to school children.
In customary fashion during the May of that year, the Church of Scotland held its annual General Assembly in Edinburgh. Whilst this annual convocation was once described as 'the nearest thing that Scotland has to a Parliament', the yearly gathering has fallen in esteem, and no longer attracts the same public and media attention as once it did. However in that year, many in Scotland stood on tiptoe and strained their ears to hear what the General Assembly would say on the very important issue. But sadly, when eventually some sound was heard, it struggled out of the Assembly Hall as a confused and muffled note. Accordingly, the Kirk was seen as 'tried and found wanting' - and the people of Scotland were failed - by the body which purports to be 'the national church'.
However, God has a concern for us and His church, and He cannot abide waywardness. About two thousand seven hundred years ago He said through the prophet Amos: "Behold I am about to put a plumb line In the midst of My people...." He was setting His righteous standard into their midst. And as any builder or surveyor knows, there are not 'degrees of plumbness': a structure is either vertical or it's not.
Yet the Church of Scotland, and not just the Church of Scotland, has been ducking and weaving to avoid confronting the issue; and prevarication, obfuscation and procrastination have been the order of the day. But the God of the church of Jesus Christ is perhaps bringing these denominations to a point of decision. Moses called for a definitive response: "I have set before you life and death". So choose life that you may live". Joshua also laid it on the line: "Choose you this day whom you will serve." And he made his personal choice clear. Later the prophet Elijah rebuked the people of God: "How long will you hesitate between two opinions?"
The proverb states: "Where there is no vision, the people cast of restraint." Where there is no leadership, every man does what is right in his own eyes. And when those who are charged with tending the flock lack assurance and courage, then the sheep become unsettled and are vulnerable to all manner of prey.
So the nation needs an answer. The condition we are in is dire, but the root of the problem and the basic remedy is neither socio-political nor economic: it is spiritual. And the nation - in the pew and in the street - is being denied clear spiritual direction.
The issue is fundamental; and there are consequences
If the issue were of minor import then the tragedy would not be what it is. However the matter of right sexual relationships is fundamental to God's creational order for the family, representing as it does the basic building block on which all societies, if they aspire to be healthy, depend. The devil knows this, and what we are seeing is a diabolical, enduring and insidious attack on God's fundamental principles for wholesome living.
And we need to remember that God will not contend for ever with us - neither with individuals, nations nor denominations. Ultimately He will give us over to the consequences of our rebellious hearts. This is what Paul wrote about to the church in Rome:
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.
Rev. Watson rounds off his blog entry: "Pray for the Church of Scotland. Is God finished with her? " The question assuredly is not merely rhetorical.
Pray also for Forward Together. The group's response to this (and other critical issues) will test its mettle; and the situation provides opportunity to show real leadership in this 'vacancy' of clear biblical standards in Aberdeen presbytery; and certainly in and from the national church. Pray also for the many biblically-faithful men and women in the Kirk - in pulpit and pew.
Even outwith the C of S some have expressed the view that if revival is to come to Scotland, it will be through the national church. Who knows? Certainly if some calamity were to strike the nation, it would be to their local parish church that many unchurched people people would turn.
However, others see too much emphasis and far too much drain of effort being put into maintaining denominational and ecclesiastical structures, rather than on faithfully defending and proclaiming God's word - irrespective of the consequences for denominational cohesion.