Presbyterian values 'under threat'
Christians values are under threat from an increasingly secular society, according to the new head of the Presbyterian Church.
Dr Ian McNie said there was a growing intolerance of the church's view on contentious issues such as same sex marriage and abortion.
In his first speech as Moderator, the 64-year-old from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, also claimed the law had left little room for religious beliefs.
He said: "Opinions are expressed and laws enacted that are at variance with what we, as Christians, stand for.
"Values associated with the beginning and ending of life, the family dynamic, freedom of conscience and the sanctity of marriage are all under threat."
Setting out his stall during the General Assembly in Belfast, Dr McNie, who describes himself as a "conservative evangelical" encouraged the church to reaffirm its opposition to gay marriage.
He added: "As a church we want to unashamedly and unambiguously reaffirm our total commitment to the Biblical and historical position of marriage, that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman."
Up to 1,000 people, including 600 clergy and 100 civic guests, are expected to attend the three-day event at the church's headquarters in Belfast city centre.
Votes will be cast on more than 80 resolutions.
Dr McNie also told delegates that Christians should rigorously defend their deeply held beliefs.
He said: "There is a perception that the Christian viewpoint is not always dignified with the credit and tolerance it deserves and the law has left too little room for religious belief.
"Having said this, as a church we believe that society has the right to express its opinions, opinions that we may well disagree with, and yet as a church we must defend the right of society to freely express their opinions, but in so doing we must not be behind the door in articulating clearly what we believe and why we believe it, and we have the right to expect the same level and proportion of tolerance afforded to us that other groups expect afforded to them.
"Tolerance is a two-way street."
Dr McNie was brought up in Antrim and attended First Antrim Presbyterian Church, becoming a Christian at the age of 13.
Having attended Belfast Royal Academy, he went on to Queen's University, Belfast, graduating with a Bachelor of Divinity.
His son Stephen is Minister of Ballyalbany and Glennan Presbyterian Churches in County Monaghan and acts as one of the two Chaplains to the Moderator.
Meanwhile, outgoing Moderator Dr Michael Barry of Sandys Street Presbyterian Church in Newry, said the church did not have to move with the times.
He said: " Not everyone likes what we believe. But we do not conform to the world's opinions.
"We do not change our beliefs to fit in with the ways of the world. There will be times we are out of step."
Mr Barry told delegates he had enjoyed a "wonderful" year in office.
He added: "As we worry about the state of the church or its future in the face of the doomsayers who tell us that it will never survive, we read the book of Revelation and there we see the church almost trampled into oblivion. But what happens? Christ wins the battle. And in him the church is victorious.
"So take heart. Be of good cheer."