New Presbyterian Church Moderator Rev Frank Sellar: Some of clergy I admire most are gay
New Moderator speaks out against homophobia and says he respects many same-sex attracted ministers
The new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church has said some of the Christian ministers he admires and has most respect for are gay.
Rev Frank Sellar won a landslide victory in the vote to be the next leader of the Presbyterian Church here, with the support of 18 out of the Church's 19 presbyteries across Ireland.
The 57-year-old, who calls himself a "gospel radical" and Calvinist, said in this day and age there was greater opportunity for minorities in the Church - such as women and gay people - to be represented as members of the clergy.
He said: "Currently, about seven per cent of the clergy are female and it would be good to see that number increase. However, entering the clergy is not something to be forced on people, they have to hear the call and want to follow it.
"In my role I have come across many situations that people without a calling would find quite difficult. But for me, my faith in Jesus guides me, knowing that I am doing his work because I felt the call to do it."
He added that the Church was the first to allow women to join the clergy as deaconesses as far back as 1908. It introduced women elders and the chance to become ministers in the 1970s.
The father-of-three, currently serving at Bloomfield Presbyterian in east Belfast, said homophobia must be kicked to the kerb.
Referring to two clerics - Ed Shaw and Vaugh Roberts, who both preach in England - the Moderator-Designate said those who are "same-sex attracted" and Christian can still live within the teachings of the Bible.
"It might sound surprising, but some of the people in the clergy I admire, and indeed some of the people within Christian ministry that I respect most, are same-sex attracted and it's vital that people hear that," said Rev Sellar.
"I believe there is no place in society for homophobia; in the cases of these two members, they have chosen to place their sexuality under the authority of the Lord and decided to live within the parameters the Bible sets."
Rev Roberts, who is based at St Ebbes Church in Oxford, is "same-sex attracted" and celibate, though does not define himself as gay.
Rev Sellar says he also takes a balanced view in the case of Ashers bakery, which has appealed against a judgment that it discriminated against a gay man who placed an order with the Christian-run firm for a cake bearing the slogan 'Support gay marriage'. Though confirming his belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman, he said: "It is a very important issue, not just for Christians but an appeal that is important to everybody.
"Certainly, a business should not discriminate against customers because of their ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation - that would be quite wrong. But it is a much wider issue.
"If a customer were to request a Muslim printer to print a cartoon of Mohammed, it would not be right, and there would be ramifications.
"But that's quite different to coercion to participate in political campaigning, which is what I think is happening at the moment."
Rev Sellar urged people to be responsible in their speech and behaviour in light of Pastor James McConnell's success in fighting a court case after he was accused of offending Muslims in an online sermon.
He said: "With every privilege comes responsibilty. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing to have, but there are responsibilities that go with that and those must be self-enforced."
"We all have a responsibilty to be mindful of our actions towards others."
Rev Sellar will take up the position of Moderator on June 6, when he is formally appointed at the General Assembly.