In delivering his final speech to the Presbyterian general assembly as convenor of the Council of Public Affairs, former moderator Rev Norman Hamilton announced that some of the things he would say “may not go down too well”.
Reflecting on his many years’ involvement in the church’s public affairs he began by commenting “the times they are a-changing”.
He said on Wednesday: “No longer are historic Biblical values accepted as the norm in our increasingly secularised society.
“In some ways I welcome that, for it drives us to actually search the Scriptures again for guidance on many complex issues, and not merely rely on the understanding of previous generations.
“The relationship between church and state – North and South – is being constantly reshaped right across the board. Christians are increasingly being asked major questions about their core identity and loyalty.”
He gave the example of changes to the abortion law and asked those in the assembly who would regard themselves as broadly unionist in their thinking if they would vote based on the democratic process, the constitutional position of Northern Ireland or their own view on the rights of the unborn child.
“That is just one of many new questions on the radar,” he said.
Rev Hamilton expressed his appreciation of the press and media: “Contrary to what many appear to think, they are absolutely not out to get us.
“They have a rigorous professional job to do, and given the still very significant role of the church in our society ... it is quite proper for the media to challenge us not only about what we are doing, but about how we do it. That is important and necessary for a healthy society and for a healthy church as well.”
In closing he told the moderator: “There is a huge opportunity for you, and those who will follow you in the chair, to use the many opportunities that come to you, to help make a Biblical and Christian voice heard loud and clear on these and other issues – such as sectarianism, paramilitarism, immigration policy, agricultural policy, overseas aid to name but a few more.”