The clerk of the Presbyterian Church today apologised for the pain caused by a report which ultimately led to the exclusion of gay people from becoming members of the church.
At last year’s general assembly the church in Ireland adopted a new policy that means anyone in a same-sex relationship cannot be a full member of the church nor can their children cannot be baptised.
Rev Trevor Gribben said the two-year report presented and passed at last year’s assembly had been a very narrow report based solely on theological issues.
He said a new task force led by Very Rev Rob Craig had been set up to correct the initial report and explore same-sex attraction issues in relation to the church more extensively.
He told the general assembly that last year’s report was missing a “warm, open, pastoral, caring compassionate section”.
He said: “If as a church, by the way we’ve done our business, by the fact that perhaps we didn’t have a holistic report last year and caused hurt and pain, we should say sorry.
“But we should also struggle as we have to do as Bible-believing Christians with the full balance of God’s word and try to apply that truth in a loving way to a world that is fallen, broken and in pain.”
Earlier in the session the general assembly heard from the convenor of the Implementation Task Force, former moderator Very Rev Alastair Dunlop.
He said as part of his role he had listened to three past and present PCI members talk about their experiences with the church in regard of gay relationships.
He said: “I couldn’t help but be impressed by the honesty and courage of all three in telling their stories in a hall full of strangers as they bared their souls, shared their fears and concerns, and expressed the frustrations and tensions they feel about the church and its approach to this subject. It was very moving.
“We must pay more attention to the angst that some of our fellow Christians go through due in part to the uncertainty about how openess disclosure of same-sex attraction will be greeted within the family circle and within the church, and due in part to how this might impact on young people’s mental health.
“At times we can speak very glibly about fellowship and pastoral care and the church as a loving community but how many of us actually practise these things in our own congregations?”
He added: “We must not be dismissive of people or not judgmental. People matter to God, all people, including our members and families who live with same-sex attraction.”
Another former moderator, Rev John Dunlop, spoke of gay Christians like Padraig O’Tuama who have shared their painful experiences with select members of the Presbyterian Church, adding: “I regret that it has not been possible for the whole assembly to hear him and other such stories first hand from our fellow Presbyterians; it’s not enough to send people like Rob Craig out on our behalf, for there is no substitute for face to face and mouth to ear, and heart to heart encounters.”
Rev Cheryl Meban, chaplain at Ulster University Jordanstown, said: “The presence of difference among us is a gift. That’s what makes it possible for us to learn to love, to grow in patience and humility and to listen. Let us cherish our diversity. Surely on this we can agree, all our relationships go as short as the glory of God.”
Rev John Dickinson of Carnmoney Presbyterian said that last year’s decision came as a “hammer blow” to members of his congregation with sons who were gay or daughters who were lesbians.
He said: “It’s good that this report reflects how some officers went above and beyond the call of duties. It would be helpful if the report has also said sorry to those who we so deeply hurt.”
Rev Dickinson’s contribution was followed by an apology from Rev Gribben.