Belfast Telegraph

Presbyterian Moderator dismayed at same-sex move by Church of Scotland

By Michael Shiels McNamee

The head of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has expressed his alarm that the Church of Scotland has moved a step closer to allowing ministers to perform same-sex marriages.

Dr Frank Sellar was speaking as he prepares to step down on June 5 from his year as Moderator.

Last week the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland backed calls for a study into how same-sex ceremonies in church could be allowed.

It also called for the Church to apologise for its "history of discrimination" against gay people.

Dr Sellar said it was a "disappointment" that it had decided to move away from the understanding that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK or Ireland where same-sex marriage has not been legalised.

The DUP was able to block it in the Assembly by using the veto mechanism known as a petition of concern.

However, to do so requires 30 MLAs - and after the March Assembly election the party now has only 28 seats.

Rev Sellar does not believe the petition is the best means of opposing same-sex marriage.

He said he felt that it would be better for Northern Ireland's politicians to "fulfil their mandate... in another way rather than having to use the petition of concern".

"I cannot say that on this issue, which I hold strong views on, that it should be used on that," he added.

Dr Sellar also said his branding of bonfires as "sinful" was not an "attack on culture".

The Moderator faced criticism last year for comments he made during a lecture in Belfast, in which he described bonfires as "a means by which we pass on to succeeding generations the sins of our fathers".

He told the Belfast Telegraph that many from an Orange background had agreed with him afterwards.

"The bonfires in themselves are neither good nor bad, they're neutral, in the same way a motor car is neither good nor bad," he said. My concern was where bonfires are used not as a positive cultural expression, but as a threatening and intimidatory expression in order to express bigotry and hatred towards other people - then that is sinful.

"One of the things that I was aware of after those comments was that the overwhelming response of many people, especially from an Orange and loyalist background, was to say: 'You're absolutely right - we agree with you but find it very difficult to express that.'"

Rev Sellar's time at the head of the Presbyterian Church has coincided with Northern Ireland's political landscape being reshaped by the UK vote to leave the EU.

He said that as the Presbyterian Church was an all-Ireland organisation "we obviously have concerns".

"What sense you have is just the uncertainty that goes with that," he said.

"It would be wonderful if there was some stability at home, with all the instability that there is going to be with the negotiations."

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