Belfast Telegraph

Media right to challenge Church, says ex-Moderator

Very Rev Dr Norman Hamilton
Very Rev Dr Norman Hamilton
Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

A former Presbyterian Moderator has told the Church's General Assembly that "contrary to what many people appear to think", the media are "absolutely not out to get us".

The Very Rev Dr Norman Hamilton, the outgoing Convenor of the Church's Key Council for Public Affairs, praised the role of the press and other media in challenging the church.

"They have a rigorous professional job to do, and given the still very significant role of the Church in our society - for example the work of our Social Witness Council and the wonderful pastoral care provided at local level - it is quite proper for the media to challenge us not only about what we are doing, but about how we do it," he said.

"That is important and necessary for a healthy society, and for a healthy Church as well."

He added: "If we ever fail to handle ourselves with grace and care, then we should not expect to be heard in the public space where debate happens and where public policy is shaped."

Referring to social media, Dr Hamilton said: "Public policy, values and ethics are increasingly being shaped by the so-called democratic tools of Facebook, Twitter and referenda, aided and abetted by the dark arts of the spin doctor.

"As Brexit has shown and continues to show, these do not lend themselves to encouraging careful debate, and they continue to pose a real existential threat to the ability of the Church to be heard properly, because we make our best policy by our best understanding of the Word of God and by reports, research and resolutions, and we do so very slowly."

Delegates also learned that the Church is to launch a book in November about the experiences of its members during the Troubles. Consider Grace by Gladys Ganiel will be published by Merrion Press and represents three years' work interviewing 100 people who tell their stories, most of them anonymously. Rev Tony Davidson said the book was a collaboration between the PCI and Queen's University.

An article about the Presbyterian General Assembly, which referred to former Moderator, the Very Rev Dr Alistair Dunlop, was incorrectly illustrated with a photograph of his son, the Rev Alistair Dunlop, minister of Howth and Malahide Presbyterian Church in Co Dublin (News, June 5). We apologise to both men for our error, which has since been corrected online.

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