The Church of Scotland has voted to uphold the appointment of a practising gay minister but has also called for a two year freeze on appointing others.
On Saturday members of the Kirk’s General Assembly voted to uphold the appointment of openly gay minister Revd Scott Rennie to a church in Aberdeen by 326 votes to 267.
Evangelical ministers had wanted to debate the issue of gay clergy on Sunday, but will now have to wait until 2011 for a new working group to report on the matter.
Although there will be a ban on the ordination of practising homosexual ministers until the Commission reports, the appointment of Revd Rennie will not be affected.
Observers have seen the move as a means of avoiding schism in the Kirk, but evangelical groups have questioned how long the church can “sustain” the debate.
A petition opposing Revd Rennie’s appointment has attracted some 12,000 signatures. Ministers say the decision to uphold the appointment will alienate many of the Kirk’s “grassroots” members.
A joint statement from ministers Revd David Court and Revd William Philip warned the General Assembly to “remember that these are the people who have – hitherto, at least – kept a creaking denomination afloat financially.
“There will be a great deal less willingness to do that from now on.”
The ministers, of churches in Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively, said that the General Assembly had publicly proclaimed “as holy what God, the Bible, and orthodox Christianity all down the ages, and all over the world, unambiguously call sin.
“This is about far more than just sexuality. The very nature of the Christian gospel is at stake.”
Activists pushing for approval of homosexual practice within the Church of England said the decision on Revd Rennie’s appointment would help further their cause.
Evangelical groups say the Bible is clear that sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong, but those on the other side of the debate argue that Scripture can be read in different ways.
Revd Rennie said it is a “caricature” to suggest that “one of the parties believes the Bible and the other does not”.
“There is no one reading of Scripture that falls from the skies,” he said.
However, Revd Richard Buckley, of evangelical group Forward Together, dismissed this view.
He said “God has revealed the truth”, adding that “the Word of God stands forever”.
“As far as we are concerned the Church has sent out a wrong message about Christian morality.”