Belfast Telegraph

Same-sex issues at very core of cross-channel schism

By Alf McCreary

The major reason for the current divide between the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Church of Scotland centres on same-sex issues.

Irish Presbyterianism was founded by Church of Scotland settlers in the 17th century.

Relations were close for decades but recently they deteriorated.

Alan Meban, a Presbyterian blogger, said: "In 2015 the Scottish Church voted in favour of appointing and accepting gay ministers who entered into same-sex marriages.

"Two years later the Scots backed a Theological Forum Report calling for approval of same-sex, and calling for an apology to homosexuals for past mistreatment. Then last month they passed a vote by 345 to 170 tasking a committee to draft Church law on same-sex marriage for their 2020 General Assembly."

Mr Meban said that there was no major disagreement on most other social issues.

"The real divergence is about the interpretation of what the Bible teaches about same-sex partnership and associated issues," he added.

Rick Hill, a former Presbyterian cleric who left the ministry 10 years ago, agreed that the main issue between the two Churches is same-sex. He trained as a minister in Aberdeen and when his father died a year before he could finish his theology course the Church of Scotland paid for his last year.

Mr Hill, who is deputy chairman of the Press Regulatory Board, said: "I now feel more at home in the Church of Scotland.

"The relations between the two Churches have been close, and when only Anglican ministers could train in Trinity College in Dublin, many Ulster clergy trained with the Scottish Church."

He added: "I have no problem with the Scottish Church's attitude to same-sex relationship. They are much wider and inclusive than the narrow Presbyterian Church in Ireland. It was very hurtful to hear about the Irish Presbyterian Church slamming the door on the Scots.

"If the Irish Presbyterian Church paid more attention to social issues and less to sex, we might all be better off.

"The current situation really depresses me."

Former Irish Presbyterian Moderator Rev Dr John Lockington summarised the objections of those opposed to maintaining the link.

"The Church of Scotland has been following a trajectory which effectively rejects the authority of the Bible, and this has caused us increasing distress," he said.

"Most, if not all, who voted to discontinue sending and receiving delegations did so with very heavy hearts, but also in the hope that future circumstances will enable the practice to be restored."

Even though the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church voted in Belfast to consider working together with the Scots on issues of mutual benefit if and when they materialise, in practice it will take time for the wounds to heal.

It was also significant that after the result of the vote was declared on Wednesday the Scottish delegation left Church House in Belfast almost immediately, and some observers claimed that the Scottish Moderator the Rt Rev Susan Brown seemed visibly upset at the outcome.

Belfast Telegraph

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