Top churchman: Freedom of speech is vital, but so is freedom from fear

Rev Peter Murray
Rev Peter Murray

New Irish Methodist President, the Rev Peter D Murray, said last night that if Northern Ireland people are to live together peacefully they must speak about others as they would want themselves to be spoken about.

Mr Murray, superintendent of the North West Methodist circuit in Londonderry, said Methodists must seek better relationships with other Christian denominations; with partners in the world church and people of other faiths.

The new president was installed at the opening night of the Methodist conference in Dublin, succeeding the Rev Dr Heather Morris for a year’s term.

Mr Murray, whose presidential theme is ‘Moving Out Together’, said: “Our church has clearly stated: ‘Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right and a very important tenet of democracy, but so is freedom from fear. We need to learn to speak in a way that does not humiliate, frighten, denigrate, make people vulnerable or incite others.’

“There are some things that are fundamental, which we must hold to whatever, with love. There are some things we hold dear but which are not fundamental, mostly about the way we do things, that do not matter a bit to God,” he said.

“And if we are so precious about them that we will not change when we need to change, we will be the poorer and God our Father, is grieved. Let’s not grieve Him that way. Let’s not grieve Him at all. Let’s move out together with other churches.”

Mr Murray, referring to recent comments made in Northern Ireland about Islam, added: “As we think of how we can grieve God in our attitude to other Christians, it has become painfully obvious in recent weeks that one of the ways we can grieve Him sorely is by a failure to respect those from other political traditions and other religions.”

Mr Murray said the challenge for Methodists is to make real connections with a neighbour, a work colleague or parent at a school gate, who is from the Muslim community. “Ministers and church leaders should make connections with Muslim leaders in your community. This is not about diluting our theology or our belief in Jesus. Just the opposite – it is about embodying the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and letting it be seen in real life action.”

He said that, with no agreement in Northern Ireland on contentious issues, the Methodist Church met with the political parties to urge them to consider five core principles: developing trust; offering generosity; being accountable; acting responsibly; and seeking common good.