Belfast Telegraph

Church feeling heat from political critics after Alderdice quits

By Alf McCreary

Former Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has called on the Presbyterian Church to apologise to Lord Alderdice.

The ex-Assembly Speaker resigned as an elder and member of the Church because of its policy on same-sex marriage and the loosening of its ties with the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church in England.

Mr Nesbitt told the Belfast Telegraph that he had heard two senior members of the Presbyterian Church discussing the issue and claimed they were being dismissive of Lord Alderdice, a former leader of the Alliance Party, who is soon moving to England.

Current Alliance chief Naomi Long said she felt "most uncomfortable" with recent decisions taken by the Church.

Mr Nesbitt said: "Lord Alderdice gave a reasoned argument as to why he was leaving the Church. This deserved a reasoned counter-argument, instead of indicating that he was leaving for England and would be looking for a new Church.

"That was simply not good enough. The Presbyterian Church should be big enough to apologise to John Alderdice, who has given 30 years service as an elder."

Following the announcement, the Presbyterian Church said: "Any resignation from the Church is to be regretted."

General Assembly clerk, the Rev Trevor Gribben, paid tribute to Lord Alderdice's varied and successful career - "not least his commitment to his local congregation as an elder in Knock for 30 years".

He added: "He has a right to his opinion, even when it differs from the clearly-agreed position of the Presbyterian Church. I wish him well as he moves to England and trust that he will quickly find a new Church family close to his new home."

Mr Nesbitt said that the Presbyterian Church had the right to vote on its issues.

But he added that it had made the Church a "cold house" and it had "come up short on love, compassion and grace".

He said: "I describe myself as a struggling Christian, because Jesus Christ set the bar very high and I come up short daily."

He said that he had talked to a number of people who said they were considering their positions after the recent decisions by the Presbyterian Church.

Mrs Long, who has been a member of Bloomfield Presbyterian Church for 23 years, said: "My local congregation have been wonderful, supportive, kind and respect the fact that I may take a different view from them on these issues.

"I'm most uncomfortable at the stance being taken by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland on its policy, which is uncompromising.

"No matter how they try to present their views, they are giving the message to the LGBT community that they are not wanted.

"The Presbyterian Church seems obsessed with issues of sexual morality and not so much with love, compassion and understanding. They seem to be saying that unless you adhere to the view that 'we are right', you are no longer valued in the Church's eyes.

"Instead of being open to all points of view, they are narrow and closed. People are not going to be told what to believe by men and by their own interpretation of Scripture.

"I fear that the Presbyterian Church will lose many voices who have reached a different view than that of the official policy.

"There is a danger that the Presbyterian Church will become smaller, with people in an echo chamber talking to themselves, and no longer able to relate to the realities of the world outside the Church's doors."

David Ford, another former Alliance leader, is an "elder without charge" in the Templepatrick Presbytrery and a member of Second Donegore Presbyterian Church.

He said: "I sympathise with John Alderdice, but I am staying put to try to make things different. There appears to be a right-wing trend within the Presbyterian Church, but things can change. I have a duty to relate to people who have been deeply hurt by things which have been said recently."

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