I will not back down, says woman minister embroiled in church gender dispute
The female minister in the eye of the 'gender storm' within the Presbyterian Church has said that she will not back down.
The Rev Christina Bradley told the Belfast Telegraph that she believes her credentials as a Christian minister are impeccable and her desire for democracy in all walks of life is entirely unshakeable.
She said the reason for that was because she was born in East Germany, where she spent her early childhood with her grandparents, before she was able to join her parents who were refugees in West Germany.
That experience left an indelible mark on the young Christina Kirschner that all people are equal, that everyone must be treated with dignity and respect, "and that Jesus is the role model for conflict resolution".
Mrs Bradley - in her first interview since she was barred from the pulpit at First Portadown Presbyterian Church - said she plans to meet with the Rev Stafford Carson as a first step in clearing up the gender row that has divided the church.
"We're taking it one step at a time," she said from her Armagh Road Presbyterian manse in Portadown. "We will meet in our own time and space, away from the attentions of the public and the media, and I am confident we can come up with a solution.
Mr Carson has said that "in all conscience" he could not permit a woman into his pulpit, and quoted the Letter of St Paul to Timothy - " Let a woman learn with silence in all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over men."
Mrs Bradley, however, quotes Jesus' words in the Gospel of St Matthew: "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen to you, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses..."
"Jesus was the role model for conflict resolution," said Mrs Bradley. "And I plan to live by His words in trying to resolve this issue."
However, the issue goes far beyond the boundaries of Portadown, with all male ministers having the right within the Presbyterian Church - within the opt-out conscience clause - to keep women from their pulpits, even though they were accepted into the Church as far back as 1973.
Mrs Bradley said: "It saddens and puzzles me. In all my experiences as a minister, I have never come across people who have hooked themselves on the Letters of St Paul in such a human issue. These are views that are not compatible with the laws of the land."
She also believes that anyone fully ordained into the church - and women ministers are deemed equal to men in Presbyterianism - should be granted full status in practice as well as in theory.
"That was certainly the case in the Lutheran Church, where I was brought up," said Mrs Bradley, who spent her formative years in the Stuttgart area.
In all, she studied for seven years - 1973-1980 - and that included a year each in Vienna and Edinburgh, emerging with a double Masters degree in Divinity and Theology.
Her ministry experiences were churches in and around Stuttgart, including joint congregations - from the liberal and traditional wings of the Lutheran Church - and while she did experience a little localised discrimination against women, they had truly equal status in Germany.
Mrs Bradley came to Northern Ireland in 2000, having met the Rev Fred Bradley of Whitehead during a seminar in the UK. Her credentials and experience meant she was fully accepted by the General Assembly as a Presbyterian minister.