Belfast Telegraph

Church's same-sex ruling leaves it with a painful dilemma

Editor's Viewpoint

Just as the Catholic Church found itself at the centre of controversy over its reaction to the abortion referendum in the Republic, the Presbyterian Church's decision to deny full membership to those in same-sex marriages has raised emotions.

The General Assembly agreed that children from same-sex marriages cannot be baptised, although that does not prevent those in same-sex marriages attending church.

Today in this newspaper the man who was a driving force behind the new policy, former Moderator the Very Rev Dr Stafford Carson, sets out the reasoning behind it.

As with all Christian Churches, policies are rooted in the words of the Bible, and while some may argue that life today is far different from that of two millennia ago, Dr Carson's counter is that the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament are eternal.

His words are carefully chosen and he says that the Church is there to help people who find the journey of Christian life a difficult one. As he rightly points out, no one goes through life without facing some hard challenges and decisions.

Yet he supports fully the decision taken last Friday. There was never any chance that he would resile from what was agreed, even in the face of public criticism.

To him and many other Presbyterians - as with members of other Christian denominations - the teachings they are expected to live by are exacting, but immutable. As he puts it, Christians are called to love and honour Christ, even if that means coming into conflict with prevailing societal views on various issues.

That traditional view finds little favour with critics of the Church, yet it should be remembered that Churches have rules and teachings which have served them well for a very long time and that any change, if indeed it comes, only emerges at a glacial pace. They will not adopt modern mores simply because they are fashionable.

However, that does not ease the pain of those who find themselves at odds with the teachings of the Church.

In this instance it would take a heart of stone not to be moved by the equally considered article written for this newspaper by Lesley Macaulay in explaining her decision to resign from the church following last week's decision.

Church leaders might argue that people must choose the teachings of Jesus over their own emotions, but Mrs Macaulay said she was defending her daughter Beth, who is in a same-sex relationship.

The Macaulay family were active and committed members of the Presbyterian Church and Mrs Macaulay's decision to leave shows how deeply hurt she feels.

Ultimately, she felt she had no other option and believes the Church is becoming more fundamental in outlook.

Inevitably, others share her view, and therein lies the dilemma for the Presbyterian Church. It is obvious that there are strongly held views on either side and it will hope to minimise the fallout.

Clearly it would task even the wisdom of Solomon to begin to heal the hurt that some feel. It is encouraging that Dr Carson has set out in some detail his beliefs, and although that is unlikely to influence his opponents, they should accept that his stance is sincere and that he wishes to heal where possible.

Ultimately, it is best that these complex social and personal issues are openly debated and, while emotions may run high, people of good faith on all sides should be mindful of the power of words to hurt as well as to heal.

Belfast Telegraph

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