EVANGELICALS opposed to gay ordination are forming a protest movement against greater acceptance of homosexual and lesbian ministers in the Church of Scotland.
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The group, to be launched in Glasgow today and to be called the Covenant Fellowship, will push for a traditionalist stance from within the Kirk, rather than leaving the main body of the Church.
It comes as the Kirk's presbyteries this week returned a majority backing in the penultimate stage of acceptance of gay ordination, with local churches expected to be able to opt to appoint a gay minister in a same sex relationship.
The issue must still reach a vote at the General Assembly in May when same sex marriage among clergy is also expected to be raised.
The Kirk's struggle with gay ordination has led to members leaving.
New figures show 18 out of 795 ministers have left the Church over the possibility of the Church eventually agreeing to allow individual congregations to choose a gay minister.
Rev Professor Andrew McGowan, minister of Inverness East Church of Scotland and one of those involved in the fellowship, said: "The Church of Scotland is in the midst of a severe crisis.
"If approved, this (overture) will extend even further the disruption of the Church of Scotland.
"Many well-known congregations (individual ministers and groups of worshippers) in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Stornoway and elsewhere have already left the Church, or been split in two.
"In addition, many individual members, elders and ministers have left."
Professor of Theology at the University of the Highlands and Islands and Honorary Professor in Reformed Doctrine at the University of Aberdeen, Mr McGowan was Principal of the Highland Theological College from its inception in 1994 until 2009.
He will be joined by other Kirk members in Glasgow to sign the covenant.
He said: "Today, members and adherents of the Church of Scotland are being asked to express support for a Covenant Fellowship.
"We invite everyone in the Church who feels the same way to stand with us.
"The hope is that the Covenant Fellowship, which begins today as a protest against recent events, will grow to become an effective campaign group within the Church on behalf of those who believe in Christian orthodoxy."
Official figures show 28 of the presbyteries in favour and 11 against with six still to lodge their returns with the Kirk. A total of 45 are eligible to vote.
The gay ordination debate was sparked by the appointment of Rev Scott Rennie, who is in a civil partnership, to a church in Aberdeen in 2009.
Rev Dr George Whyte, Acting Principal Clerk to the Kirk, said: "The Church of Scotland welcomes Professor McGowan's continued commitment to remain within the Church but we disagree with his criticisms.
"The focus of complaint is legislation which has been painstakingly considered. For many the discussion has been difficult.
"Some say the Church is going too far and others that is going too slow. Yet the issue has to be discussed and we are a Church which recognises liberty of opinion."
Mr Whyte added: "Our General Assembly has agreed that this proposal falls into that category and is not an attack on the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith.
"We share Professor McGowan's abhorrence of further disruption and we hope that across Scotland Christians will continue to work together despite their varied opinions."
Liberal group Affirmation Scotland said the current proposal is "not perfect as it still enshrines inequality and discriminatory treatment" but added "we feel it is important that it is supported as it will allow the Church to take a significant step forward".