Church ponders Ford’s position

David Ford
David Ford

Presbyterian church authorities have been challenged to say whether David Ford can continue as an elder while opposing church policy on gay marriage.

The justice minister is an elder of his local church at Second Donegore Presbyterian near Templepatrick in Co Antrim.

In April 2013, Mr Ford temporarily stepped aside from the post he had occupied for two decades while church authorities looked into his stance.

Speaking just weeks after standing down, Mr Ford said he first publicly backed same sex marriage five or six years previously, having been persuaded by people affected by the issues.

He also said his return was “very much” in the hands of the church elders.

However, 22 months on, essentially nothing has happened.

Presbyterian church rules, contained in a lengthy document called ‘The Code,’ state that an elder temporarily stepping aside must do so for a “specified time”.

Under the Kirk Session’s code section on membership, it states: “A ruling elder may be given permission by the Kirk Session not to carry out the duties of the eldership for a specified time.”

When the Templepatrick Presbytery launched its investigation into the controversy in 2013, the Presbyterian Church stressed that the politician was not being disciplined.

Earlier this week a spokesman for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland refused to be drawn on whether a time for Mr Ford’s absence had been specified, but said: “We understand that this internal matter continues to be before the appropriate church body and no conclusion has been reached.”

A member of the Presbyterian church contacted the News Letter to say he had written to the Clerk of the Presbytery asking for clarification on the apparent breach of the rules on elders.

He said he was extremely unhappy with a “very evasive” response.

“I think it brings the church into disrepute for an elder to be at odds [with the church] so it is imperative to sort this out as soon as possible.”

The disgruntled church member added: “Can an elder adhere to a doctrine which is contrary to the church?”

When contacted by the News Letter Mr Ford said he was not prepared to comment.