The Presbyterian Church in Ireland and Queen’s University Belfast have sounded apparently discordant notes about their links in the wake of church votes on LGBT issues.
The church said it was confident that the admission system for its students who study under the university’s name at its Union Theological College (UTC) in Belfast was non-discriminatory, while Queen’s emphasised the need for “celebrating diversity”.
The question appeared to be first raised in a social media post last week by former Alliance leader Lord Alderdice.
He was speaking after the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) voted to stop exchanging moderators with two churches holding liberal views on same-sex relationships and after voting to exclude LGBT people in relationships from full membership and their children from baptism.
Lord Alderdice suggested PCI’s “abandonment of any serious intellectual engagement and the historic Calvinist commitment to an educated ministry is likely with a breaking of the links between Union Theological College and The Queen’s University of Belfast”.
The issue was discussed by host William Crawley on BBC Talkback on Wednesday, which asked if QUB as “a publicly funded secular university [should] be relying on the church to teach its theology degrees or should it cut all ties?”
Presbyterian minister Dr Mark Gray warned QUB on the show that it is risking “reputational damage” by its continued association with UTC while Rev Dr Laurence Kirkpatrick, professor of church history at UTC, said that his college had lurched to “the right” theologically, and that he agreed with Dr Gray.
However, PCI responded that it trusted a non-discriminatory university admissions system.
“All Queen’s University students coming to study at UTC apply for their undergraduate courses through UCAS,” it said. “All applications are considered by Queen’s through their processes and students are admitted not by Union Theological College, but by Queen’s. We have every confidence that Queen’s systems for the selection of students are robust and non-discriminatory.”
A spokeswoman for QUB said it was “fully committed to creating and sustaining an environment that values and celebrates diversity”.
It added: “This is reflected in the university’s comprehensive equality and diversity policy which reflects the importance Queen’s University places on the promotion of equality of opportunity. Furthermore, the policy underlines our ongoing commitment to creating and sustaining an environment that values and celebrates the diversity of its staff and student body.”
Also on Wednesday, convener of PCI’s doctrine committee, Rev Stafford Carson, defended PCI’s new policies on same-sex relationships “even if this means we come into conflict with society’s prevailing views”.
Last week 37 QUB staff signed a letter questioning former DUP leader Peter Robinson’s appointment as an honorary professor on grounds of previous comments linked to homosexuality and Islam.