Church of Scotland expected to allow same-sex weddings
The church’s rejection of Biblical marriage comes amid a decline in membership
[Update: The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly on May 23 voted to approve the proposal allowing clergy to officiate same-sex weddings.]
When the Church of Scotland voted in 2016 to allow clergy members to enter into same-sex marriages, the principal clerk at the time, the Rev. John Chalmers, said church ministers and deacons would not officiate such ceremonies, and they would not take place in church buildings.
Six years later, the largest Protestant church in the country is poised to approve a church overture eliminating those limits and allowing clergy to officiate homosexual weddings, using church buildings to do so. Last month, the majority of presbyteries in the denomination approved draft legislation permitting ministers and deacons to officiate same-sex marriages, with 29 presbyteries voting in favor and 12 against. The General Assembly will vote on the legislation May 21 in Edinburgh.
The Church of Scotland, referred to as “the Kirk” in the country, said that clergy who oppose same-sex unions will not be forced to officiate gay marriages. But critics of the national church’s stance on sexuality say its drift toward liberalism is fostering distrust and decline.
“We’ll have to see how effective and enduring [clergy] protections are,” said Simon Calvert, deputy director of public affairs at the U.K.-based Christian Institute. “If Bible-believing ministers do come under pressure to endorse same-sex marriage, this could lead to a split or an exodus.”
The Rev. Mike Goss, a minister from the presbytery of Angus who opposed the draft legislation, said there is a continued struggle within the Church of Scotland over the issue of Biblical marriage. “The group of folk are called traditionalists, folk who stand by the Bible, we’re not going away. We’re still here,” Goss told Premier Christian News.
Scotland legalized same-sex marriage in 2014. Three years later, the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to allow gay couples to marry in church, becoming the first mainline Protestant denomination in the United Kingdom to do so. Last year, the Methodist Church became the largest denomination in Britain to permit same-sex marriages.
The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church still hold to Biblical teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman.
The Church of Scotland voted in 2009 to permit its ministers to have homosexual relationships. It approved gay civil partnerships in 2015 and gay marriage for clergy one year later. It has made these changes amid a declining membership and growing financial woes.
Calvert said many faithful Christians have already left the Church of Scotland because of its rejection of Biblical teaching.
“From a purely human point of view, why would anyone bother with a church that is merely a pale imitation of the culture around it?” he said.
In 2019, only 1 out of 5 Scots reported themselves as adherents of the Church of Scotland, down from 1 out of 3 in 2009, according to the Scottish Household Survey. Church membership declined by nearly 20 percent between 2011 and 2017 — from 413,000 to 336,000. It continues to drop by about 4 percent annually, according to reports presented to the 2019 General Assembly.
In a May 5 statement, the Church of Scotland, which is the national church but is not state-run, said it was operating with a 3.1 million euro deficit. Proposed reforms include reducing presbyteries, reviewing church properties, and streamlining ministries supported by local pastors and members.
Goss told Premier Christian News that the church’s reform efforts will take ministers working together. Its expected approval of same-sex marriage “is just another spanner in that process, making it harder to know how we work together.”
Others are less hopeful. “The demise of the Church of Scotland is now inevitable. We hope and pray that something will arise out of the ashes,” wrote David Robertson, a blogger and a former pastor with the Free Church of Scotland, a smaller Presbyterian denomination with 100 congregations that affirm the Biblical standard for marriage. “My own view is that the Lord will have to do a completely new work.”
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