Belfast Telegraph

Presbyterian Church is finished as it's completely oblivious to own faults, claims ex-minister

Rev Roy Simpson says fundamentalists are driving people from Church
Rev Roy Simpson says fundamentalists are driving people from Church
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

A former Presbyterian minister says he fears the Church as he knew it is "finished".

Retired cleric Rev Roy Simpson, who served as minister in Ballycarnett, Londonderry, and Muff in Co Donegal between 1973 and 1980, said he was left "bitterly disappointed" after last week's General Assembly, which he felt failed to address any of the issues that have dogged Presbyterianism in Ireland in the past few years.

The 2018 Assembly came under intense scrutiny after the Presbyterian Church voted to loosen ties with the Church of Scotland, citing its more liberal approach to same-sex issues.

More controversy followed when the General Assembly decided that the babies of same-sex couples would not be recognised as members of the Church, as well as a dispute over the running of Union Theological College ending with Queen's University severing links between the two institutions after 92 years.

Mr Simpson said he had not attended a General Assembly for almost 40 years and decided that he would follow this year's on an internet live stream.

It opened with Rev Dr William Henry (50) of Maze Presbyterian Church in Co Antrim being installed as Moderator in succession to Rev Dr Charles McMullen. Mr Simpson criticised the youngest Moderator since 1931 for having "spurned the traditional robes of office".

The 2019 General Assembly at Church House in Belfast was attended by up to 1,000 ministers and elders from the Church's congregations across Ireland.

It voted overwhelmingly by 353 to 187 not to accept a request from the South Belfast Presbytery to rescind last year's decision on ending the link with Scotland, and to allow a full debate next year in the hope that such visits would be resumed from 2021.

Mr Simpson added: "As I watched I became more and more disappointed. I have a real fondness for the Church and I loved my time in it, but I'm just incredibly saddened to see what it has become.

"The Assembly used to be an occasion of relevance and dignity. Today it's become irrelevant to modern life. When they look at themselves they see only righteous virtue and are possessed with the uncanny ability to see the flaws in others.

"The fact that Queen's University withdrew its support for Union College was, of course, totally the fault of the university.

"How could they possibly not see that Union Theological College was staffed by top-class liberal thinking academics who refused to take a narrow view of theology and were totally pro-women? And all this time we still hear the pitter-patter of feet walking away."

Mr Simpson said he now fears for the future. He added: "The Presbyterian Church as I knew it is finished and there's now going to be a great difficulty in hanging on to the normal, sensible members who are continuing to drift away. I feel sorry for the many, many decent people who don't know where to go and are afraid to speak up.

"This should have been a real opportunity to show that the Presbyterian Church was willing to listen, learn and prepare for the future. Instead that future looks bleak. Instead the Presbyterian Church continues to project blame onto everyone but itself. What is wrong with examining yourself for you faults and addressing them?

"Instead they remain oblivious to their faults. This fundamentalist lot will only succeed in one thing - and that's attracting clones of themselves. But in turn they will drive away people who think liberally, value dissent, are open to light from all sources and can live with uncertainty and doubt."

The Presbyterian Church did not wish to comment.

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