Same-Sex Relationships and the Ministry

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted on Monday to continue dialogue on same-sex relationships and the ministry following consideration of the report on the subject by a Special Commission appointed in 2009.

After several hours of debate, the Kirk’s commissioners voted by 351 to 294 to adopt deliverance 7B, which means a move towards the acceptance for training, induction and ordination for the ministry of those in same-sex relationships.

The Assembly also voted, by 393 to 252, to allow ministers and deacons in same-sex relationships who had been ordained before 2009 to be inducted into pastoral charges.

Homosexuality in the ministry has been, and remains, a hugely contentious issue in the Church of Scotland (as it is, of course, in the Church of England).

The extent of division of opinion in Scotland became readily apparent from a consultation conducted by the Special Commission at two levels of the courts of the Church: Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions. Formal ballot papers were used for this purpose. It should be noted that there was no survey of rank-and-file members of the Church.

1,237 responses were received from Kirk Sessions, representing 86% of congregations. The total membership of these Sessions was 34,438, of whom 22,342 (65%) took part in the discussion meetings.

Responses were submitted by all 43 Presbyteries within Scotland and by the Presbyteries of England and Europe. The total membership of these 45 Presbyteries was 4,309, of whom 2,624 (61%) participated in the discussion meetings.

The statistical outcomes of the consultation are summarized in section 2 of the report of the Special Commission, with a four-way analysis of the answers for each of the questions on the ballot paper: by individual members of Kirk Sessions, Kirk Sessions as a whole, individual members of Presbyteries, and Presbyteries as a whole. A commentary on the findings then follows in section 3. The document is available at:

The Special Commission has also published the full figures from the consultation for both Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions (in the latter case, anonymized within Presbytery). These Excel files will be found at:

The questions posed were generally lengthy and complex, and it is not really possible to do justice to the data here.

Suffice it to say, however, that, while only a fairly small proportion of respondents (9% of members of Kirk Sessions and 11% of Presbyteries) both regarded homosexual orientation as a disorder and homosexual behaviour as sinful, many of those who accepted homosexuality as a given disapproved of homosexual behaviour in practice.

Moreover, 56% of members of Kirk Sessions and 58% of Presbyteries opposed the ordination as minister of a person in a same-sex relationship. 45% and 48% respectively were hostile to such a person exercising some other leadership role in the Church.

About one-fifth of both groups of members of these church courts said they might leave the Church of Scotland if the General Assembly allowed people in committed same-sex relationships to be ordained. 15% in each said they would secede if such people were appointed to other leadership positions.

At the same time, the Church of Scotland really is between a rock and a hard place, since 8% of members of Kirk Sessions and 6% of Presbyteries indicated that they would leave if the General Assembly forbade the ordination of individuals in committed same-sex relationships.

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