Dismissed Presbyterian lecturer Rev Prof Laurence Kirkpatrick speaks out

Professor Laurence Kirkpatrick
Professor Laurence Kirkpatrick

A professor who was dismissed from a Presbyterian-run college because of comments he made in radio interview, this morning said on air that he was considering leaving the church.

Rev Prof Laurence Kirkpatrick was found guilty by a church disciplinary panel of “gross misconduct” due to a contribution he made to BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme and was dismissed from his 22-year teaching post at Union Theological College (UTC).

The comments which offended the church were made in June 2018 after the Presbyterian Church’s decision to loosen its ties to the Church of Scotland partly because of the latter’s more liberal attitude to same-sex relationships.

His comments saw him suspended from his lecturing post and following a disciplinary hearing he was dismissed on March 20.

Today he told BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence: “I gave my personal view and I’ve been charged with setting myself up as the only enlightened person and that did not go down well with – I believe – a right wing management.”

He said he would be making an appeal against his dismissal on the basis that the processes followed were not “proportionate, fair or just”.

Prof Kirkpatrick said leaving the church was an option to consider, adding if he left it would be with a “heavy heart”.

He said: “I feel I’m more being pushed out than deciding to leave though others would say that’s my decision. I can stay of course, but that’s like saying to gay people ‘you’re welcome to come to our church but we’ll not give you sacrements.”

Prof Kirkpatrick said: “If I left I would be one of about 77 this week. That’s the average number of people draining away from PCI for the past 20 years.”

He said: “I have devoted my entire working life to the Presbyterian Church... I’ve seen it grow, I’ve seen it shrink, I’ve seen the recent choppy waters that we have sailed into. It is with a heavy heart that I have felt it of late to be rather a cold place. I must say I’m saddened by the decision of the university [to dismiss him], but not surprised.”

A spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said: “We are aware that Dr Kirkpatrick chose to go onto BBC’s Sunday Sequence programme and are also aware of the remarks he made. However, it would be improper for us to comment in detail at this time. While we would obviously differ with many of the points he sought to make, to respond to them in any specific way while a personnel matter is still ongoing, and subject to due process, would be very inappropriate.

“With regard to wider issues relating to Union Theological College, the College is and always has been part of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, fully under the control of the Church’s General Assembly.

“We were naturally disappointed and deeply regret this week’s decision by Queen’s University, Belfast. In our understanding this was largely because there was only one remaining college teaching undergraduate courses in the Institute of Theology at Queen’s, which was Union Theological College. In the view of Queen’s this made the Institute no longer viable with regard to diversity.

“Moving forward, the College will continue to ensure that students from home and overseas will benefit from theological study in a warm and positive Christian environment, being taught by academic theologians of the highest standing, some of whom are indeed world leaders in their field.”