Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Religious leaders should have played down this issue

Malachi O'Doherty

Published 07/05/2013

Alliance party leader David Ford
Alliance party leader David Ford

David Ford's difficulties with his church will be familiar to thousands. Who indeed doesn't sometimes wince at the teaching they are presumed to assent to? And what would be left of our churches if everyone who couldn't buy into the whole package of teachings had to leave or step down from positions of responsibility?

Mr Ford equates the discrimination against gays in our marriage laws with the injustices highlighted by the Civil Rights movement nearly 50 years ago.

He might have gone further and reminded his neighbours in the congregation that the Presbyterian Church didn't cover itself in glory then either.

Presbyterianism is different from most other traditions in Ireland in that it is, ostensibly, democratic.

Those who attend smaller evangelical churches may comfort themselves with the confidence that all around them in the pews would agree with them on points of theology and attendant political and social principles, but it is hard to see how a Presbyterian could be so smug.

The church only functions as a coherent body of people by re-electing a moderator every year and alternating down the years between liberals and conservatives. By such devices the church manages to include people who don't recognise the ordination of women, who regard the Pope as the Antichrist, who wouldn't turn on a television on a Sunday beside those who drink wine with their Sunday dinner or take occasional communion in Catholic churches.

Churches have the right, of course, to police their adherents. The Catholic church, for instance, which teaches that homosexuality is "an intrinsic disorder" could ask people who think otherwise not to come to communion, to get married and buried elsewhere. It is by the tact to play down the issue that it survives.

And the Presbyterian church has distinguished itself by similar tact before and should have had the sense to do so this time as well.

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