Belfast Telegraph

Fundamentalists guiding once broad Presbyterianism down a narrow path

By Alf McCreary

Lord Alderdice did not miss the Presbyterian Church and hit the wall in his scathing criticisms in the aftermath of last week's General Assembly, and it is no surprise he announced his resignation as an elder and church member.

The General Assembly voted by a large majority to continue its practice of not allowing partners in a same-sex relationship to become communicant members of the Church, and also not to baptise their children.

Mr Alderdice, the son of a Presbyterian minister, said: "In theological terms, it will soon be difficult to make any differentiation between the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and Ian Paisley's Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster.

"The Presbyterian Church is no longer the spiritual heir of the Protestant martyrs of the 16th century, and is instead becoming more like a present-day representation of those who lit the fires that burnt them."

He also warned, rightly, that women's ordination may be the next target.

The Presbyterian hierarchy, stung by such devastating rhetoric, said his criticisms were "ungracious, unbecoming and deeply regrettable".

This week, the Church was also subject to another fierce broadside from a former Presbyterian minister, the Rev Roy Simpson.

He said he was ashamed the Church had become so "narrow-minded and backward looking".

"It appears now to be utterly anti-women, homophobic, anti-abortion and utterly intolerant of others," he added.

The Rev Simpson claimed the Presbyterian Church "at its teaching heart... we have an anti-woman bias and an intolerance of sexual orientation".

He added: "I'm reading a lot of absolute rubbish - even God would not pass their theological tests."

Lord Alderdice and Mr Simpson were saying in public what many Presbyterians are thinking in private, but they are afraid to speak out.

For years, I have been warning in this column that the fundamentalists in the Presbyterian Church are taking over.

Now, the ecclesiastical birds have come home to roost.

Even well-known senior figures, on whom I could depend for a quote on major issues, remain tight-lipped about same-sex relationships.

This came to a head with the disgraceful decision by the Irish Presbyterians to snub the Scots by not sending their Moderator to Edinburgh for the General Assembly and by not inviting their Moderator to Belfast.

Presbyterians have told me they are dismayed and angry. One woman said she felt "almost ashamed" to be Presbyterian.

The fundamentalists believe they alone are right about the Bible's teaching on same-sex relationships.

There seems no room for compromise, so what will happen next? Some of the fundamentalists are already accusing the media of 'fake news'.

They stress that the Church offers communion to all, including gay people, but that is misleading.

The Church will offer communion to gays, but not communicant membership - a distinction which most people fail to understand.

A gay person can turn up for communion, but sooner or later a Kirk Session will want to know the background.

The truth will out, and gay people will not be given communicant membership, nor will their children be admitted to baptism.

This discriminates against innocent children.

Other fundamentalists are claiming there will still be cooperation with the Scots in areas of mutual benefit, but this is a fig-leaf.

In essence, the Irish Church has just said to the Scots, "We don't want your Moderator to visit us and we won't send our man (always a man) to visit you".

What are the Scots expected to think?

The fundamentalists have taken over, and they brook no opposition.

So many moderators will leave in quiet despair .

Many of them now believe that the old, broad Presbyterian Church, which was tolerant, loving and Biblical, has now all but disappeared.

How very, very sad that is for the Church and for Christianity in general.

Belfast Telegraph

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