Naomi Long hails 232 Presbyterian signatories of letter
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long last night welcomed the letter from 232 leading Presbyterians expressing "hurt, anger and dismay" at their Church's position on same-sex relationships.
Mrs Long, who is a communicant member of the Presbyterian Church, told the Belfast Telegraph she felt the letter would open up a conversation in the institution - "and that can only be a good thing".
She was speaking after hundreds of ministers and elders published what they called a "cry from the heart" sharing their concerns about the Presbyterian Church's decision to bar people in same-sex relationships from full membership and to refuse baptism to their children.
The controversial stance has already provoked the resignation of former Stormont Assembly Speaker Lord Alderdice from the Church.
"Clearly, there is a significant number of people within the Church, regardless of whether their view may be seen as fundamentalist or otherwise, who are concerned about the divisions that it's causing within the Church, and the pain and hurt that it is causing," Mrs Long said.
The East Belfast MLA felt it was important that such a range of senior Presbyterians had spoken out about the issue of same-sex relationships.
The General Assembly's decision had forced people to take a stand, she said. "That's welcome, because if it means there is a more balanced discussion and a more open conversation about the need for room for diversity of opinion, diversity of views, then I think that can only be a good thing for the Church, and a good thing for society as a whole.
"People have got to be able to express their views, especially in a Church like the Presbyterian Church, where dissent has been seen as a valuable asset, rather than something we should be fearful of."
The Alliance leader was also concerned about the Presbyterian Church distancing itself from the Church of Scotland.
"The fact that people have now spoken up will give others encouragement that this is not a universal view in the Church, not a settled position, and that there are other people out there who don't agree with the decisions that have been taken, and who would like to see the Church remain in contact with the Church of Scotland - even if not in agreement with them - and would like to see that there was still space within the Presbyterian Church for people from all backgrounds and with a whole range of views," she added.
"The tone of the letter reflects that these are people passionate about the Church, who clearly have a deep faith - but at the same time want the issues to be more openly discussed.
"If the letter opens up that conversation, allows it to take place in a more respectful way, that can only be a good thing, in terms of both the Church and the society around us."