Just a day after his election, new Presbyterian Church Moderator sparks row by telling gay people to stop having sex
The new leader of the largest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland has angered the gay community just a day after his election by saying they should stay celibate.
Rev Dr Michael Barry (63) takes charge of the Presbyterian Church in June following his election as Moderator earlier on Tuesday.
But his belief that homosexual men and women should not have sex has sparked outrage in the gay community.
"We welcome all people into the Church, but we would have a problem with those who are involved in a gay relationship because we believe the Bible teaches that is against the word of God," he said.
"We would encourage people who are gay to live a celibate life."
Rev Barry described advertised gay conversion courses as a "very difficult situation".
"Personally, I am not convinced that that is possible," he said.
"I think the whole origin of where gayness comes from is still up for debate and I would be a bit concerned at being dogmatic one way or the other.
"Certainly we'd want to help people who are having difficulties with their sexuality to live in such a way that is honouring to God."
Director of the Rainbow Project John O'Doherty said he was disappointed by Rev Barry's views.
"Once again we have senior religious figure in Northern Ireland refusing to accept the difference between sex and sexual orientation," he said. "While it may be easier for those people who oppose same-sex attracted people to view us simply as sexual beings, The Rainbow Project recognises the importance of the physical, emotional and sexual attractions that exist in relationships.
"We believe that understanding our sexuality and promoting openness in our relationships leads to better sex lives, better health and wellbeing and better relationships".
One of Northern Ireland's few openly gay political representatives said Rev Barry is entitled to his views.
"It is important to recognise other differing views," said Alliance councillor Andrew Muir.
"LGBT people should be included in NI society as equal, valued citizens." Dr Barry succeeds Dr Rob Craig on June 2.
New Presbyterian Moderator Rev Dr Michael Barry (63) is originally from Carrickfergus and worked as a maths teacher before deciding aged 28 to follow his heart and become a minister. He has served the congregation at Sandys Street Presbyterian Church in Newry for the last 29 years.
He is married to Esther and they have two grown-up daughters. The Manchester United fan lists as his hobbies singing in an eight-man choir, playing golf and watching sport on TV.