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social sciences

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Church of Scotland

The Church of Scotland, sometimes referred to as "The Kirk," is the "mother church" of Presbyterianism. It traces its origins to John Knox, who, after studying under Calvin in Geneva, returned to Scotland and agitated for the reformation of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, which was accomplished by legislation of the Scottish Parliament in 1560.

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Although the Church of Scotland became the national church of Scotland in 1690 and is sometimes still referred to as the "established church" of Scotland, it no longer is a state church. Its hegemony even in Scotland has been lessened by numerous schisms and splits over the years. Most of the other Scottish Presbyterian churches, such as the United Free Church of Scotland, the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the Associated Presbyterian Church, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, came into being as a result of congregations leaving the Church of Scotland over some doctrinal or policy dispute.

The Church of Scotland has historically been the dominant church in the country, sometimes commanding a large percentage of the population as adherents, but in the mid-twentieth and twenty-first centuries, its membership dramatically shrank, due not only to the split into other denominations and independent churches, but also to the increasing secularism of the nation.

In 2013, the Church of Scotland claims some 400,000 members (out of a population of more than 5,000,000 Scots) and 800 ministers supported by more than 1500 professional and administrative staff. Most of its parishes are in Scotland, but there are also Church of Scotland congregations in England and abroad.

The Church of Scotland is not the largest Presbyterian denomination, but because of its historical role as "the kirk," it has an influence beyond its size. Hence, its slow evolution toward an increased acceptance of homosexuals within the Church is significant.

Increasing tolerance toward homosexuality in the Church of Scotland has largely kept pace with changes in social attitudes generally, and has some parallel to the increased role of women in the Church. Although all ministries and offices in the Church of Scotland have been open to women and men on an equal basis since 1968, only in 2004 was a woman chosen the Moderator of the General Assembly. There are currently approximately 200 female ministers in the Church of Scotland.

Although the Church of Scotland has traditionally taught that homosexual acts are sinful, and has labored to practice a "hate the sin, but love the sinner" attitude toward homosexuals, the Church has in its various reports on sexuality since 1994 admitted that there is a division within its membership, with a substantial number of members believing that homosexual acts are not sinful.

The division came to a head in 2009 in regards to the controversy over the installation of an ordained minister who announced that he planned to live with his same-sex partner should he be appointed to his post. In a landmark decision, on May 23, 2009, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted 306 to 267 to ratify the appointment of the Reverend Scott Rennie, the Church's first openly practicing gay minister.

However, after taking this groundbreaking vote, and after Rennie was installed as minister at Queen's Cross, Aberdeen, and facing threats of schism, the General Assembly agreed to a moratorium on the appointment of other practicing homosexuals. The General Assembly appointed a theological commission to study the question.

On May 20, 2013, the General Assembly crafted a compromise that pleased no one, though it allowed both the "traditionalists" and the "revisionists" to claim victory.

On the one hand, it allowed the Church to maintain its historic doctrine in relation to human sexuality, but in line with the Kirk's traditional position of allowing congregations to call their own ministers, to permit an individual Kirk Session to call a minister in a civil partnership if it chooses to do so. The new policy permits the ordination of openly gay or lesbian ministers in civil partnerships, but it allows individual sessions to "opt in" or "opt out" of the policy of ordaining openly gay ministers who are not celibate and to refuse to appoint a non-celibate gay or lesbian minister.

The report that led to the compromise, entitled "A Challenge to Unity: Same-sex Relationships as an Issue in Theology and Human Sexuality," attempted to thread a needle, representing the viewpoints of both "traditionalists" and "revisionists." While it made no recommendations for action, it did strongly condemn . Indeed, while it acknowledged the division within the Church as to whether homosexual acts are sinful, it unambiguously declared homophobia a sin.

In 2005, the Church of Scotland took an official position opposed to civil partnerships. In 2013, it is on record in opposition to the same-sex marriage bill that the government of Scotland has introduced. Given its inability to stop civil partnerships in 2005, it is highly unlikely that the Church of Scotland will be able to forestall the same-sex marriage bill, which is likely to be passed into law in 2014. But it is also unlikely that the Church of Scotland will itself perform same-sex marriages in the near future.

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