Alex Kane: DUP seems to be preparing to face down the Free Presbyterians

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Christians, according to Free Presbyterian minister John Greer, “are being conditioned into thinking that things that were once reprobated are now acceptable. That’s what the world can do, it can influence a child of God into thinking and into believing that these things are no longer wrong, such as sodomy. And now we have the DUP putting up their candidate, who is an out-and-out lesbian. That’s the kind of thing that is going on in our own little land.”

No Christian in Northern Ireland is being conditioned. They are not being conditioned to condone homosexuality. They are not being conditioned into believing that ‘these things’ are no longer wrong. They are not being conditioned into thinking that ‘certain things’ are now acceptable. Their individual beliefs, based on their reading of the Bible, are not being removed. They can keep on believing what they have always believed.

The Rev John Greer is entitled to his beliefs, but he is not entitled to impose them on other people

The Rev John Greer is entitled to his beliefs, but he is not entitled to impose them on other people

No Free Presbyterian anywhere in Northern Ireland will be forced to vote for a DUP candidate who is gay. If they don’t approve of an ‘out-and-out lesbian’ they don’t have to vote for her. If the Free Presbyterian Church decides that no member of any of their congregations should ever again vote for the DUP, then that is a matter entirely for the church and its members.

But what they cannot do is impose their beliefs on other people. They cannot decide that people who love and live their lives in a non-Biblical-based way are inferior to them. The decision to legislate in favour of a whole raft of issues across the United Kingdom which Free Presbyterians find objectionable, is a decision taken by Parliament and by a majority of those elected. It is called democracy.

I think it’s a safe bet (although they disapprove of betting, too) that 99.9% of Free Presbyterians are pro-Union. And they have remained pro-Union even though the UK Parliament has, over the years, introduced a mountain of legislation which has conflicted with the teaching of the Bible. Abortion reform. Homosexuality. Same-sex-marriage. Alcohol sales and distributions. Sunday opening hours. Gambling. Definition of pornography. School curriculum. Film classifications. Drug policy. Teaching of religion. Divorce made easier. Adoption of children by non-married couples. Feel free to keep on adding to that list; you’ll be surprised how long it becomes.

But I’ve never heard a Free Presbyterian minister argue that it is wrong to send any MP from here to that Parliament. I’ve never heard one argue that the only way to keep Northern Ireland ‘a place apart’ would be outside the United Kingdom. And here’s a fact they are going to have to get used to: at some point, fairly soon by my reckoning, either a majority of MLAs or a majority of MPs is going to vote in favour of same-sex-marriage and abortion law reform. And many, many other things, which the Free Presbyterian Church will be very uncomfortable with. It’s called democracy.

Now, as it happens, even as an atheist I have no objection to the Rev Greer deciding to live his life by the teachings of the Bible. That is his choice. He is lucky to have that choice; in some parts of the world Christians have to meet in secret. In some parts of the world Christians are being brutally and relentlessly persecuted. What is happening to Christians in those countries is wrong. But that is not what is happening to Christians in Northern Ireland or any other part of the United Kingdom. They are free to meet and to worship. Free to believe. Free to put out press statements. Free to make clear their objections to societal change and particular legislation. What they are not free to do is hold up a Bible and call a halt to either the change or the legislation.

Rev Greer’s anger seems to be pointed directly at the DUP. Has he missed the fact that nearly every political party across the UK has gay members, candidates, elected representatives and spokespeople? Has he ignored the possibility that it is ok to be gay and pro-Union? How does he respond to the logic that the same God who made him heterosexual made fellow human beings homosexual? Why pick on the ‘sin’ of homosexuality when it comes to political representation, while ignoring other examples of behaviour which the Bible might interpret as sin? And a more direct question: would the Rev Greer argue that if voting for a gay DUP candidate is wrong, would it also be wrong to vote for the party which endorsed the candidacy and welcomed the subsequent electoral victory?

The answer to that question will be of interest to the DUP, of course. The party – at least those who do the maths and plan strategy – would like to move on. They accept that the DUP being viewed as the anti-everything party could have an impact if there were a border poll. They know, too, just two years from NI’s centenary, that unionism – and their brand in particular – must be seen as more inclusive, diverse and welcoming. And something worth mentioning: I spend a lot of my time talking to unionists of all shades and I could count on the fingers of one hand the number who have told me that the DUP accepting same-sex-marriage and abortion reform etc (making NI the same as the rest of the UK) would cause them to stop voting for it.

The biggest policy change I saw the DUP execute was when they agreed the deal with Sinn Fein in 2007. A shift of policy on key socio/moral issues is, I reckon, less of an electoral danger than that change. They took a risk back then and faced down Jim Allister and a new party. I think they’re preparing to do something similar fairly soon with Free Presbyterians and some other fundamentalists within the party.