The Church of Scotland‘s ruling general assembly has voted to allow congregations in Scotland to admit gay ministers, if they elect to do so, in a radical departure from more than 450 years of history and ending a four year long argument.
The ‘gay ministers’ issue has dominated discussion within the church for some time after an openly gay minister, Scott Rennie, was selected to lead a parish in Aberdeen in 2009.
The general assembly rejected a motion which would have made gay ordination – solely for ministers in civil partnerships or who are celibate – the default position of the Church of Scotland, by 340 votes to 282.
The new deal now has to be written into a new church law and authorised by next year’s general assembly, affirms the traditional teaching of the church as favouring heterosexual ministers, but will allow congregations to opt in to select gay ministers if they wish.
Due to the archaic and complicated law-making procedures within the church little is expected to change until at least 2015, however commentators are applauding this new measure – “This has been one way or another, a massive vote for the peace and unity of the church.” John Chalmers, the Church of Scotland’s principal clerk said, adding that both sides of the debate had moved to agree a compromise.
The Church of Scotland has been edging ever closer towards gay ordination since Rennie’s appointment. During in 2011 the general assembly voted to allow gay ministers already employed, to remain in place, so long as they were in openly-declared civil partnerships or were celibate and had been ordained before 2009.
Not everyone is happy, many critics of gay ordination after still warning the new measure will further drive a dividing wedge in church membership and force some members, ministers or congregations to leave the church.