Presbyterian Church must not be viewed as cold place, says outgoing Moderator
The outgoing Presbyterian Moderator has told the General Assembly that there is a need for greater sensitivity when dealing with the Church's teaching on marriage.
Last year the Church brought controversy with its policy on same-sex issues by denying full membership to LGBT people and refusing to baptise their children.
In his reflections on his year of office last night, the Very Rev Dr Charles McMullen referred to the scriptural teaching on marriage and said: "As a consensual person who is always troubled by confrontation, the most challenging aspect of my year were the consequences of decision taken at last year's General Assembly in relation to same-sex marriage.
"I agree wholeheartedly that marriage is between one man and one woman.
"It is our duty to uphold what the scriptures teach but to do so in a manner that is pastorally sensitive does not turn our Assembly into a series of case studies, or a place where we create a hierarchy of sin.
"In a rapidly-changing and secularising Ireland, we need to speak the truth in love and not be perceived to be closing the door to those who would see our churches as a cold place when we know that not to be the case."
He referred to the decision by Queen's University Belfast to cut its links with Union Theological College.
He added: "I have enjoyed immensely my visits to Union College and have been so impressed by the sense of Christian community, the formation of character among students and the dedication of our staff, many of whom are acknowledged to be world-leading scholars.
"I speak as the proud father of our David now graduating after three years of study at Union, who has been enriched by friendships formed from diverse backgrounds and the excellent teaching of staff, who have an international reputation.
"It is interesting to note that these high academic standards were reflected on Queen's University website advertising theology."
In his address Dr McMullen referred to equality issues and said: "The soundbites that define our age often revolve around tolerance, inclusion and equality. There is much here I am sure that is commendable, but sometimes as we scratch a little deeper below the surface, for all our talk of tolerance in a pluralistic society, the demand seems to be that we all adopt the characteristics and beliefs of the prevailing social norm, or otherwise risk being branded phobic or bigoted.
"Or again issues can arise as society seeks to include and equality affirm every perspective with no longer any overall sense of right or wrong.
"The choice is stark. Either as followers of Jesus Christ we assimilate ourselves to the spirit of the age and find ourselves orphans in the next, or we develop a strong apologetic that will counter the dogmas of the present age. We look at contemporary society in its selfish individualism, moral confusion and fractured politics where there are underlying questions of confidence and trust.
"Surely we can make a difference to such vacuousness as followers of Jesus Christ."
Dr McMullen said that during his year of office he had visited many congregations across Ireland and was impressed by their faithfulness and dedication.