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If I disagreed with Presbyterian Church teaching on marriage, I'd stand down as a minister, says Rev Brian Kennaway

'The Presbyterian viewpoint on the subject is clear. And if any member doesn't like it, they should leave'

Published 01/11/2016

The issue of same-sex marriage has been in the headlines recently
The issue of same-sex marriage has been in the headlines recently

As a society engrossed with the soundbite and the slick headline, we are suffering from our inability, or perhaps our unwillingness, to give time and space to reflect on the implications of the gender issues which so dominate the conversation of the public sphere today.

Much of what has been written and said in recent weeks concerning what is variously called "gay marriage", "same-sex marriage", or "equal marriage" is, at least, disingenuous - if not dishonest.

The term "equal marriage" is grossly dishonest. It is not a matter of equality. Male and female are not equal, but different.

The fact that male and female are not equal is self-evident. That is why we have ladies' tennis and men's tennis, or ladies' football and men's football.

The "same-sex marriage" lobby sold their wares and won a referendum in the Republic of Ireland on a false premise of equality.

Men and women are equal in status, but different in function. It is how a male and a female function in a marriage relationship which is at the heart of the matter.

Two people of the same sex may well love each other, but they cannot function in a marriage relationship. While there have been many advances in medical science in recent years, parts can be added, or removed, from a human body, a male cannot be made into a female nor a female into a male.

Neither is it a matter of equal rights. When civil partnerships were introduced in 2004 it was to provide equal legal rights to all, regardless of gender, who had entered into such a partnership. It was also clearly stated that this was not marriage, nor would it lead to same-sex marriage.

The equal rights argument is not sustainable. The State (at present) does not recognise the rights of three, or more, individuals to enter into a marriage contract or civil partnership. Is the State denying them their rights?

Neither does the State (at present) recognise the rights of children, of whatever gender, to enter into a civil partnership, or marriage contract. Is the State denying them their rights?

Nor does the State recognise the rights of a parent, male or female, to marry their children, male or female. Is that a right which is being denied? All "rights" have their limitations. Only the right to life is absolute.

Same-sex marriage assumes that marriage is redefinable. To legalise same-sex marriage is to redefine marriage, something which has been done in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. The State does not have the right, nor the competence, to construct and define this society's most essential relationship.

It does, however, have the right to recognise it and, as it has in the past, confer benefits on it. By recognising same-sex unions as marriage the State is engaging in a re-engineering of our social life.

The traditional Christian attitude to marriage has been misunderstood. Historically, it was the Church, in its various forms, which performed marriage ceremonies before the State began to register them. Marriage is historically a pre-political identity. It is, therefore, often referred to as a "Christian institution".

The position of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland on "same-sex marriage" has been much criticised in the media in recent weeks. Much of this criticism is a result of either gross misinformation, or lack of understanding.

As a Christian Church, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is not subject to the whims and fancies of popular opinion, let alone the exaggerated language of the media, but to the authority of the Word of God.

The doctrine of the Church does not come from the General Assembly, or any human body, but from God, who has revealed Himself in scripture. As the Code of the Presbyterian Church states (Paragraph 10): "The word of God as set forth in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is the only infallible rule of faith and practice and the supreme standard of the Church."

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is a confessional Church. The Westminster Confession of Faith expresses our understanding of scripture and every minister and elder is required to accept it "as a confession of your faith''.

The Confession states that: "Marriage is between one man and one woman". Furthermore, ministers and elders promise "to yield submission in the Lord to the courts of the Church".

Liberty of conscience, like equal rights, cannot be absolute in an organisation which has a stated document of belief to which office-bearers subscribe their names.

Liberty in belief of Christian doctrine is, therefore, confined to the parameters of the Westminster Confession. Within the Confession, however, there is liberty in such issues as the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ.

Freedom is limited to issues other than those fundamental doctrines of the faith set out in the Confession.

Office-bearers are at liberty to disagree with the resolutions of the General Assembly and even record their dissent from any decision of a Church court, but "shall not thereby free himself from obligation loyally to implement the decision so long as it stands unaltered". (Code Paragraph 104:3).

While everyone has a "liberty of conscience", the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is legally and morally tied to the Westminster Confession.

Anyone who signs the Westminster Confession is also legally and morally bound to that understanding of scripture.

The Church has the right to interpret her standards. The General Assembly of 2014 emphasises this commitment to a Christian understanding of marriage in a resolution that stated marriage is "exclusively between one man and one woman". No one dissented from that resolution.

Individuals, however, do have the right to change their mind, but they also have a responsibility of personal integrity. It is gross dishonesty to sign a document that states "Marriage is between one man and one woman" and then publicly, or privately, state that they support "gay marriage", "same-sex marriage", or "equal marriage".

If any minister, or elder, of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland changes their mind on the biblical teaching of the Church, as reflected in the Westminster Confession, they are also free to leave. And over the years many have done so.

As a matter of personal honesty and integrity, if I did not accept this Christian understanding of marriage I would do two things.

Firstly, I would resign as a minister of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

Secondly, I would resign my membership of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

  • Brian Kennaway is a retired minister of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

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