Same-sex policy won't be changed, insists former Presbyterian moderator
A former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland says there will be no backing down from its new policy that means anyone in a same-sex relationship cannot be a full member.
The policy also means that children from same-sex relationships cannot be baptised, although it has been made clear that the new policy does not prevent people in a same-sex relationship attending church.
The Very Rev Dr Stafford Carson, convener of the church's Doctrine Committee, insisted "we should set aside our own choices and preferences willingly, to live in a way that pleases Him who loves us beyond measure".
"We are called to honour and love Christ, even if this means we come into conflict with society's prevailing views on this and other issues," he said.
And Mr Carson has encouraged Presbyterians to carefully examine what the report from last week's General Assembly states.
"The report was not about preventing anyone from attending worship, coming into church, receiving communion, or having access to pastoral care.
"Neither was it about being attracted to someone of the same sex," he said.
"In the context of the Church's position on biblical marriage, the report was providing guidance to our ministers and Kirk Sessions with particular reference to couples in same-sex relationships.
"A credible profession of faith is something that goes to the heart of Christian discipleship. The General Assembly reaffirmed what the Presbyterian Church has always taught, namely that everyone who professes Jesus Christ as Lord are committing themselves to being faithful and obedient followers of Jesus Christ and his teaching."
Earlier this week, high-profile businesswoman and lifelong Presbyterian Lesley Macaulay - whose daughter is in a long-term same-sex relationship - quit the church over its decision and urged others to rethink their allegiance to it.
"I would love church members to say enough is enough, we're not supporting this any more. This is definitely the start of a more fundamental approach," she said.
"Resignation is a big decision. I don't want to force anyone to do that, but I do want them to examine themselves. Can they support an institution that's making these sort of decisions and causing this hurt and pain?"
Former Speaker of the Stormont Assembly Lord Alderdice, whose father was a Presbyterian clergyman, also suggested the church was on course to become indistinguishable from the Free Presbyterian Church founded by the late Ian Paisley.
And joining the social media condemnation, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long MLA wrote on Twitter: "As a Presbyterian this grieves me greatly: my heart is broken."
But Mr Carson said: "Looking on and reading much of what has been said and written it's not surprising. Since the days of the early church, the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord has often placed Christians at odds with their surrounding culture.
"The Bible makes clear what God's will is for us as sexual beings, and it speaks unambiguously about the nature and purpose of marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman. We cannot ignore this clear teaching. We should set aside our own choices and preferences willingly."
Last month, the Church of Scotland took a step towards allowing ministers to conduct same-sex marriages.
The head of the Scottish church, which is considered the mother organisation of the Irish Presbyterian Church, will no longer be invited to the annual meeting of the Presbyterian General Assembly in Belfast.
And the leader of the Irish church will no longer be sent to the Scottish General Assembly.