Ex-Moderator reveals anguish over Presbyterian's same-sex row
A former Presbyterian Moderator has spoken of his personal struggle with the issues of same-sex relationships in the Church in the wake of recent controversial decisions by its ruling body.
Last month the Presbyterian General Assembly decided that same-sex partners could not receive communion and their children could not be baptised in the Church.
Speaking on the BBC's Sunday Sequence programme, the Very Rev John Dunlop said colleagues had faced difficult questions from members of their congregations who now felt rejected by their Church.
"There are many people in the Presbyterian Church who are happy with the decisions which have been made - but then there are other people who are LGBT, or their family and friends, who have found this very unsettling," he said.
He told of a member in one congregation who had written about the "immense loneliness, shame and hurt which I and others like me have been made to feel in our lives - negatively affecting the lives and mental wellbeing of LGBT people".
The former moderator said that today "many LGBT people come to church with a degree of caution".
"They don't know whether they can actually declare the fact that they are gay to their minister or to fellow members of the congregations," Rev Dunlop added.
And while he hoped that LGBT people would continue to find their spiritual home inside the Presbyterian Church, he feared that some might feel no longer able to do so.
The issue had to be seen through the lens of the compassion of Jesus, the former moderator told the programme.
"You try to give people the maximum amount of welcome which is available inside the Church," he said.
"I know that some LGBT people don't find this very easy, and some ministers don't and some elders don't."
Asked if he saw a parallel with the way in which Christian Churches eventually had to revise their long-held - but ultimately false - position on the issue of slavery, the distinguished clergyman said: "I struggle with precisely that question.
"And it would be lovely to be removed from the dilemma of actually having to deal with that.
"But that is precisely the difficulty that I have to cope with. I wish it would all disappear - but it hasn't disappeared, and it won't disappear."
The General Assembly decision reignited a long-standing controversy with both theological and pastoral implications, with some members of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland deciding to leave the Church altogether, among them Lord Alderdice, a former Speaker of the Assembly, and charity fundraiser Lesley Macauley and her husband Tony.
The couple's videographer daughter Beth is gay.