The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has introduced a controversial new policy that means anyone in a homosexual relationship will not be able to become a full member. In addition to this, children of same-sex couples will be barred from being baptized.
The decision was taken following a split between The Church in Ireland, which has 220,000 members across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and its Presbyterian affiliate, the Church of Scotland. The denominational divorce was initiative over Scotland’s more liberal attitude to sexuality.
The decision was taken after a fierce debate at the Church in Ireland’s annual decision making General Assembly in Belfast. The Church’s doctrine committee outlined its position in a report.
“In light of our understanding of scripture and the Church’s understanding of a credible profession of faith, it is clear that same-sex couples are not eligible for communicant membership nor are they qualified to receive baptism for their children,” the report read.
“We believe that their outward conduct and lifestyle is at variance with a life of obedience to Christ,” it continued.
With that being said, a church spokesman insisted that same-sex couples will not be prohibited from attending worship, entering church, receiving communion or gaining access to pastoral care.
“On many issues, the church provides guidance to our ministers and elders in Kirk sessions and we wanted to consider what a credible profession of faith means for same-sex couples who want to become communicant members of the church,” he added, as reported by The Independent. “The same principle also applies to everyone, regardless of background or circumstance and those who want to baptize their children.”
Last month, the Church of Scotland took a firm step towards allowing ministers to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies, putting forward a proposal to re-draft their policy on marriage.
“The General Assembly voted 345 by 170 to instruct the Legal Questions Committee to prepare legislation with safeguards in accordance with Section 9 (1A) of the Marriage Scotland Act,” the church announced in May.
“I am delighted that the General Assembly continues on a road where we are able to say to people in same-sex relationships that the Church has a place for you,” said Rev Bryan Kerr, who put forward the proposal.
“I am pleased we have reached this point and I have already had reaction from parents of people in same-sex relationships who are overwhelmed that the Church accepts that God loves them,” he added. “It was clear from the floor of the Assembly that many commissioners appreciate having a choice with their families as to whether they act as minister or a parent of the bride or groom.”
Last June, the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to amend its canon law on marriage, removing the crucial biblical stipulation that it is between a man and a woman.
“I am very pleased for the couples who can now have their relationships recognized by the church and blessed by God,” the Episcopal Church’s Bishop of Edinburgh, The Right Reverend Dr John Armes, said at the time, according to the BBC. “I’m also pleased for what this means about our church and the way we have been able to do this. But obviously any change like this creates pain and hurt in some as well, so as a bishop of the church I feel for them.”
On Monday, the Belfast Telegraph reported that a well-known couple in Ireland’s Presbyterian Church has quit as a result of Friday’s decision. Tony and Lesley Macaulay’s daughter, Beth, has been in a lesbian relationship for three years.
“Like me, Beth grew up in the Presbyterian Church,” Lesley said. “She went to Sunday School, to the Girls’ Brigade and to Bible class. As a teenager she professed faith and became a communicant member of the Church. I was delighted when, as a young woman, she lived out her faith by volunteering in Church summer schemes, children’s clubs, Christian conferences and camps.”
Macaulay continued: “However, as a result of the vote last week she has been excommunicated from her Church because of her God-given sexual orientation. I am deeply hurt my daughter has been targeted in this way.”
Beth said she felt “sadness that the Presbyterian Church cannot find the strength to accept LGBT+ members of society” and allow her to “continue going to the church I have attended all my life.”
“I believe the Church will lose many members and support through this decision, but we have found happiness in the fact that we can now find a new Church that is willing to accept us and our family with open arms,” she added.
For centuries, Irish Presbyterians would have been proud to describe the Church of Scotland as its “mother church.” With Friday’s vote, a final divorce has been granted.
“However you read it, this is the clearest indication so far from Northern Ireland’s largest Protestant denomination that it is traveling in an entirely different direction,” wrote William Crawley at the BBC. “In effect, it is the theological equivalent of taking back control of its traditional teachings in the face of a changing culture within parts of the church, particularly in the West, that appears willing to accept and affirm sexual diversity.”
While many have criticized the measures as “harsh,” advocates insist that “they are merely upholding biblical teaching and preserving their own doctrinal integrity,” Crawley noted.
Six voices (in around 60 seconds) from today's Presbyterian debate on preventing same-sex couples becoming full church members. pic.twitter.com/Lf50J9g2HB
— Mark Simpson (@BBCMarkSimpson) June 8, 2018
But those in favor of the new measures insisted that the decision was all about upholding the sacred scriptures and honoring Jesus Christ through the Church’s doctrine.
“We have the option of going with the current mood of society and what most people think, or the option of remaining faithful to Christ,” said former moderator, The Very Rev Dr John Stafford Carson. “And we desire, above all, to be faithful to Christ.”
(H/T: The Belfast Telegraph)