Belfast, Ireland – Day after day, we receive news of the Downgrade in the world’s Christian denominations when it comes to the issue of sodomy (unnatural affections). The Presbyterian Church USA, American Baptists, United Church of Christ, United Methodists, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Southern Baptist Convention’s ERLC and the Presbyterian Church of America (in the Revoice Conference controversy) and many more denominations have compromised on what – in their opinion – constitutes sin. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI), however, adopted a policy in June that reiterated homosexuals may not join the church and their children may not be baptized. The PCI also cut ties with the Church of Scotland because of their lax views on human sexuality and the nature of sin. During that June meeting of the general assembly of the PCI in Belfast, a debate was held on the topic of homosexuality for approximately an hour, with 20 individuals speaking on both sides of the issue. Ultimately, the PCI chose the Biblical and conservative path forward. The 220 thousand-member denomination decided rightly on the issue, a rare occurrence in Western Christianity today. The decision has not been without complaints, however, with hundreds of ministers writing a letter of opposition this week, which was published by the BBC and other European news outlets.
Entitled, “A Cry From the Heart,” these 200 or so clergy members wrote to express their “profound sense of hurt, dismay and anger currently being expressed in the wake of decisions taken at our 2018 General Assembly.” Signers include several large church pastors, a former moderator and clerk of the general assembly, and the denomination’s first female bishop.
The letter says:
As teaching and ruling elders in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, we acknowledge, and indeed share, the profound sense of hurt, dismay and anger currently being expressed in the wake of decisions taken at our 2018 General Assembly. This level of feeling is unprecedented in our pastoral experience.
We are committed to doing all we can to ensure that the decisions which have prompted such a level of concern will be subject to the urgent attention they deserve, and for which many in the Church are calling.
We gladly acknowledge that we ourselves have been constantly enriched and challenged by the diversity of views found in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Therefore, as we participate in this work of critical engagement and discernment, we hold that any unnecessary narrowing of the range of acceptable theological perspectives within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland will damage our credibility and limit our future.
We make this statement: as a prayerful expression of appropriate loyalty to the Presbyterian Church in Ireland at this moment in our history; as a necessary consequence of our ordination vows, which we take with the utmost seriousness; and by the grace of God, as an imperfect yet credible witness to our trust in Jesus Christ alone.
To God alone be the glory [emphasis ours]
The letter says, in no uncertain terms, that to narrow the range of “acceptable theological perspectives” (IE, whether or not homosexuality is acceptable) will damage their credibility. Oddly enough, the ministers claim that not limiting the range of perspectives on the issue is a part of their discernment.
The PCI responded to the ministers’ letter on their website:
In a Church with over 6,400 ministers and elders, we recognise that many will hold different views and some will choose to express them publicly in this and other ways. In a recent pastoral letter to ministers following this year’s General Assembly, the Moderator, Rt. Rev. Dr. Charles McMullen said that ‘…the mind of our General Assembly was very clearly expressed at the end of debates which, I believe, were conducted fairly and sensitively. Sadly, however, considerable hurt has been caused among various members of our denomination…’
As the Clerk of the General Assembly, the Rev. Trevor Gribben, said in his accompanying letter – and repeated in a recent BBC interview – people are free to debate in public, but it is the nature of the discourse that is important. Therefore it is worth positively noting that the 200-plus ministers and elders who were signatories, state that they were making their statement ‘as a prayerful expression of appropriate loyalty to the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’. Discussions will also, no doubt, take place within the structures of the church, in presbyteries and kirk sessions. Indeed in his letter the Clerk also gave guidance as to how any decision of the General Assembly could be changed.
The PCI’s response was woefully weak in exercising moral authority, but kindly reminded the ministers that they had not been overlooked, and no one was being censored or silenced, a claim that was made by some opposing the measure.