Presbyterian figures stress little appetite for gay Presbyterian debate

Rev Trevor Gribben
Rev Trevor Gribben

Top Presbyterian figures have indicated there will likely be no appetite for rethinking the church’s opposition to gay clergy in the decades ahead – or maybe at all.

Following the decision to back the ordination of gay clergy by most presbyteries of the Church of Scotland, the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said it has not considered the idea and nor is it likely to.

Trevor Gribben said the Scottish vote will have caused “sorrow” and “regret” for many this side of the Irish Sea.

Adding to comments from a colleague earlier in the week, he said: “It’s not an issue that’s on the agenda for our church.

“Our church is very clear in its position. There is no move to change that position, or even to discuss changing it. We haven’t considered that at all.”

Asked if he would expect it to be on the agenda in 10 or 20 years’ time, or never, he replied: “I can’t forsee our church changing its position.”

When asked if he expects any change in his lifetime, Donald Watts, former clerk of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland, thought it unlikely.

Figures this week revealed the breakdown of the Scottish vote, showing that 1,391 of its presbytery members backed the ordination of gay clergy, with 1,153 against.

A final decision on the matter will be made by the Scottish church in May.

This reporter asked if Rev Gribben means this position will hold “full stop – ever”.

“How far can we see, I suppose is the question,” he said.

“It’s not on the horizon.”

His remarks add to comments in Friday’s paper from the Rev Jim Stothers, deputy clerk of the Irish Presbyterian General Assembly, who said the issue was not on the church agenda in the foreseeable future.

Retired minister the Rev Watts, 66, former clerk of the Irish Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly, was asked if he could see an endorsement of homosexual clergy by his church within his own lifetime.

He said: “I don’t know how long my lifetime is going to be.

“I think it’s a topic that we have to look at seriously at some time. But I don’t think the church is, on the whole, engaged in that debate right now.

“It may come in my lifetime, but I wouldn’t expect it really.”

Does he think that debate should be happening today?

“I think the much bigger debate is our acceptance of people who have a homosexual orientation within the church.

“I think the clergy debate is a bit of a distraction from the much bigger issue.”

Asked what his stance on this was, he said: “I think we should be accepting of people as they are, whoever they are.

“We’re not talking about leadership – we’re just talking about people who want to worship God...

“My position is really I don’t think there is a lot of room for debate.

“The church’s position is quite clear – we do not believe that people should practice homosexuality.

“So the only discussion really is how we treat people who have a homosexual orientation and how accepting we are of them.”

He added that the church draws a distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual practice.

The vote in the Church of Scotland had happened across its various Presbyteries over a number of months recently.

The question was whether to “allow Kirk Sessions the possibility of allowing ministers and deacons who are in a civil partnership to apply for vacant charges”.

A full tally of all the results was published on Wednesday.

This revealed that 32 Presbyteries voted in favour and 13 against (71 per cent to 29 per cent), with individual members split roughly 55 per cent in favour and 45 per cent against.

Trevor Gribben said his church had not taken a formal stance on the Scottish vote.

However, he said: “Many in our church will regret the decision for Scotland to move away from what we see as [the] Biblical position on marriage and to weaken that.”

Ministers, elders and ordinary members will “feel a degree of sorrow” about the Scottish position, he added.

Meanwhile, the Rev John Dunlop, a former moderator of the General Assembly, said: “The Church of Scotland has been dealing with this over a number of years in a very careful and thorough way... it’s a very sensitive issue.”

As to his own view he said: “I am not expressing an opinion on the substantive question.”