THE Presbyterian Church has been accused of double-standards after it refused to comment on the Rev David Latimer’s controversial Sinn Fein conference speech, weeks after criticising comments by another of its ministers.
At least one Presbyterian member has contacted the clerk of the Presbyterian general assembly urging the church to distance itself from the Rev Latimer’s claim that Martin McGuinness is “one of the true, great leaders of modern times”.
But the church has declined, despite recently criticising another minister’s attack on the Parades Commission as “unacceptable”.
The concerns about the Rev Latimer’s address to the ard fheis were raised by Dr David Morgan, a member of Bloomfield Presbyterian Church in east Belfast.
He wrote to the clerk, the Rev Dr Donald Watts, raising concerns that the Rev Latimer had harmed the church’s witness by lauding members of Sinn Fein but not telling them that they had to repent.
He urged Dr Watts not to discipline the Rev Latimer but to “issue some form of statement acknowledging the hurt Mr Latimer’s comments have caused to many...and affirming the Presbyterian Church’s position that people need to repent of their sins”.
In response, the senior cleric said: “You will appreciate that the Rev Dr David Latimer made a personal decision to speak at the Sinn Fein conference. He was not present as a representative of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.”
However, just weeks ago Dr Watts wrote a letter distancing the church from another Presbyterian minister – who was also not acting on behalf of the church – who had come in for public criticism.
In a letter to the Parades Commission last month, Dr Watts said that comments by the Rev Mervyn Gibson criticising the Parades Commission were “unacceptable”.
Dr Morgan said: “The clerk does not have a disciplinary role as I understand it so therefore when the Parades Commission wrote to him about Mervyn Gibson the appropriate response would have been to say that the Rev Gibson had been acting in a personal capacity or at least not in a capacity as a Presbyterian minister.
“But actually he wrote and said that what the Rev Gibson had said was inappropriate.
“However, when there are complaints about the Rev Latimer he turns round and replies that effectively the Rev Latimer was acting in a personal capacity and it has nothing to do with him.”
When Church House was asked about the apparent discrepancy, it said that the Rev Latimer “was not present [at the conference] as a representative of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland”.
However, when the News Letter asked why therefore the church had criticised another of its ministers acting in a personal capacity, there was no response.
The Rev Gibson said he believed it showed that there were double standards being exercised by the church authorities.