Belfast Telegraph

Livid ex-Presbyterian cleric calls on QUB to sever ties with Church

By Mark Bain

A former Presbyterian minister has said he's "saddened and ashamed" that the Church he was proud to serve has now "become so narrow-minded and backward-looking".

Roy Simpson has spoken out following the General Assembly decision not to allow anyone in a same-sex relationship to be a full member of the Church or have their children baptised.

Mr Simpson, who served as minister in Ballycarnett, Derry, and Muff in Co Donegal, between 1973 and 1980, is now calling on Queen's University to sever ties with Union Theological College, whose full-time teachers are exclusively male and Presbyterian.

"I feel incredibly saddened for the many forward-thinking ministers of the Presbyterian Church and the thousands of decent, sensible people who have to live with the Church being destroyed by arrogant fundamentalists," he said.

"The more I read the more it's clear to me the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has lost direction in its teaching.

"I'm reading a lot of absolute rubbish. Even God would not pass their theological tests.

"I was influenced and inspired by the late Rev Ray Davey, founder of Corrymeela, by other ministers who had served as chaplains in the armed forces during World War Two and by ministers who had moved from congregations to serve the community.

"The Presbyterian Church of today bears no resemblance to that.

"I served the Church in Londonderry, in a strongly Catholic area. I never had any problems.

"Even during the height of the Troubles in the 1970s, religion showed respect.

"It showed me that humans are humans and should have respect for one another. It's as simple as that.

"I'm saddened and ashamed that the Church I was proud to serve has become so narrow-minded and backward looking. It appears now to be utterly anti-women, homophobic, anti-abortion and utterly intolerant of others. In the past there was scholarship in the Presbyterian College where ministers were trained and went out with a vision of how to serve the Church and the wider community.

"This now is sadly lacking, and at its teaching heart, we have an anti-women bias and an intolerance of sexual orientation that does not conform to their fundamentalist theology."

The Presbyterian Church trains its ministers at Union Theological College and all undergraduate degree courses in theology at Queen's are taught there.

"It would seem to me that Queen's University should now sever its relationship with the college," Mr Simpson said.

"I could not be a minister of this backward-looking obscurantist Church that has no vision and even less charity."

Laurence Kirkpatrick, professor of Church history at the college, indicated he was open to change.

He said: "The link between Union and the university goes back to 1926. It was more than Union College over the years but Union is the only college now delivering in the undergraduate programme.

"At graduation we must look like escapees from an old people's home, a 'getting on' exclusively Presbyterian male teaching faculty. I have always advocated a more adventurous and equitable relationship.

"I'd love to see the Church be big enough to act and give up some of its autonomy. We have to try to see even the building through the eyes of a 17-18 year-old perhaps thinking of studying theology at Queen's.

"I'd be broken-hearted if anyone said I'd been bigoted against a Catholic or gay student."

Queen's remained non-committal over calls for change.

It said: "Queen's University is fully committed to creating and sustaining an environment that values and celebrates diversity.

"This is reflected in the university's comprehensive equality and diversity policy which reflects the importance Queen's University places on the promotion of equality of opportunity.

"Furthermore, the policy underlines our ongoing commitment to creating and sustaining an environment that values and celebrates the diversity of its staff and student body."

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