Reactions from the World Church

August 1, 2006

Do the Kirk’s discussions of same-sex relationships and civil partnerships harm inter-church relationships or inter-faith dialogue?


Historically, the Church of Scotland’s tradition of openness to a range of theological standpoints and sincerely held but differing biblical perspectives has been a strength and an anchor.

The freedom of ministers to use discretion in matters of pastoral care and in the practise of ministry is to be cherished and not lightly relinquished.

Likewise, respect for the sincerely held convictions of others who may, either from biblical or theological reflection, or from pastoral experience in ministry, have reached different conclusions on the matter of human sexuality is a fundamental part of our talking and listening together. Faith, for many, is a journey which is not static but open to being nourished by the experiences of those around us as we offer to one another our own insights and discover the presence of God, in all its variety, in those we meet.

There have been many times in our history when issues both theological and political have been said to “endanger the unity” of the church. These range from the much disputed theology of the Nature of the Atonement of the “heretical” Rev John Macleod Campbell, which caused the General Assembly to sit in judgement throughout the night in the year 1831, to the many disputes and disagreements over the churches’ petitions against the Slave Trade.

From the arguments over the ordination of women to the debate about the retention of nuclear weapons, there have been strong disagreements and often the signing of dissent, but the church has eventually found, if not common ground, then at least mutual respect and a way forward.


If the Church of Scotland was to remain silent on issues of world poverty, peace or international injustice, or if we were to ignore the poor and homeless in our own cities, or fail to offer hospitality to asylum seekers and refugees in our midst, then truly we would be failing in our Christian commitment and we would be at odds with other Christian Churches. But to allow ministers to reach out to those who, loving each other faithfully and tenderly, seek the blessing of God—how can or should this divide us from our Christian brothers and sisters?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that he now views the exclusion of people from fullness of life on grounds of sexuality as on a par with the defeated apartheid regime in South Africa. He may have created dissent within the Anglican Church with his courageous stand, but that’s what prophets do!

Archbishop Tutu does not stand in isolation, however. In the recently united Protestant Church in the Netherlands, for example, pastors are permitted to conduct same sex blessings, as are ministers in the United Church of Christ in the USA.

There is an Episcopal Church in California where services are attended by at least 2,000 people each Sunday.The clergy team consists of African American, Hispanic and White clergy, men and women, married, single and “blest”. The walls have not fallen! On the contrary, God is richly blessing their ministry.


Interfaith dialogue is, for some, a new and enriching experience. Meeting those of different cultures and beliefs depends on openness, honesty and respect. It does not stand or fall on our views of sexuality or any other issue but on the sharing of our faith and on our respect for the faith of others. It takes place on a level where integrity and the will to share our common humanity are paramount. Just as we don’t always agree among ourselves, we will not necessarily agree on all issues with other faith groups.

Rev Isabel H Whyte

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