A Presbyterian elder who put his name to a letter criticising the church’s policies on same-sex relationships has called on the controversial decisions to be reversed.
Over 230 ministers and elders signed the public statement – entitled ‘A Cry From The Heart’ – which speaks of their “hurt, dismay and anger” over the General Assembly’s decision to bar people in same-sex relationships from full membership and to refuse baptism to their children.
Signatories included former moderator Rev Ken Newell, the church’s first female minister, and former clerk of the General Assembly, Donald Watts.
The News Letter attempted to speak to several of the signatories yesterday to ask why they had put their names to the statement.
However, we were met with a wall of silence as no one was prepared to expand on the points contained in the letter.
One of the ministers we contacted said the letter “speaks for itself”, while another told us: “I have nothing further to add to what has already been said.”
However, one of those who did speak out in an interview with the BBC was church elder Arthur Acheson.
Explaining why he signed the letter, Mr Acheson said the policies on same-sex relationships “go against my conscience”.
And he also called for the church’s General Council to meet this summer and reverse the church’s official position.
Speaking on BBC’s Talkback programme, Mr Acheson added: “The code of the Presbyterian Church tells me it is the right and duty of every person to examine the Scriptures, and having formed a definite conviction, it is each person’s duty to accept and obey it.
“The church is not giving out the message that I believe I read in those Scriptures.
“I must exercise my conscience and the code says I am not to be led by the doctrines and commandments of men.”
Former Presbyterian elder Alan Meban, who circulated the letter on behalf of the signatories, described the move as a “modest but significant intervention”.
While he acknowledged that the letter “doesn’t commit to much”, he said it was still significant in that “people put their heads above the parapet”.
“There are probably 232 different reasons why people signed the statement,” he told Talkback.
“I think this is about trying to reassure ordinary Presbyterian members that there are those who are willing to speak up and have these discussions internally, so that people don’t feel like they want to leave the church.
“I think we are a long way off from any significant exodus from the church.”
The letter referred to an “unprecedented” level of concern among the 232 ministers and elders and said they acknowledged and shared the “profound sense of hurt, dismay and anger currently being expressed”.
It added: “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.”
In response to the statement, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said: “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.”