Brian Kennaway, writing in this newspaper on the cusp of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI), bluntly states that “by backing gay marriage, the Church of Scotland has given approval to sin” (June 2) and further, that “by departing from the clear teaching of scripture the Church of Scotland is in danger of becoming a ‘synagogue of Satan’”, startling language and certainly redolent of a very different time and even place.
It’s also unhelpful, and runs the risk of further alienating those members of PCI, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGB&T) who identify the church as a spiritual home.
Surely, Christians recognise “we who are many are one body, and each member belongs to one another. We have different gifts according to the grace given us.”
A development of this may be to look positively at each other, at our respective communities, at our diversities and at our personal relationships.
Scotland has got to the point that they now accept and affirm their LGB&T members. They’ve taken care over this, by talking with (not at) their LGB&T members.
Their conversations have been marked by humility and grace. That has been absent over the years since 2006 when I first engaged with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
Therein may lie the ‘sin’, the failure to listen, to hear, to understand, to talk with us as equals.
Brian talks about the ‘sin’ of homosexual acts. He mentions “homosexual activity” a few times. Some clerics may say that they are content just as long as we remain celibate.
There’s an easy answer to this one. We all aspire to express our love for the person we are attracted to, no matter what our sexual orientation is. How do we express this? I’m leaving that to your imagination as that is the private domain of any loving couple. And it’s fair to point out that celibacy when imposed by the Catholic Church has not been a resounding success.
PCI has had a long and proud history of dissent, but how to handle it without rancour is a skill which is often lacking in any Church. The Church of Scotland appears to have taken care to accommodate differing views on this subject.
If PCI continues to alienate its LGB&T members, it runs the risk of denying to the ministry the breadth of diversity and experience needed in providing effective pastoral care in an ever changing and complex world.
Relationships are complicated; some people don’t choose to marry, some have children outside marriage. Some lesbian and gay couples have been together for many years, 20, 30, 40, 50+ years.
Are those relationships not to be valued, affirmed, and celebrated as any other? Is it not for the good ordering of society that marriage was ordained?
Is not our love one for one another as gay or lesbian people of the same extent and quality as that of any heterosexual couple?
But to give hope to those Presbyterians who identify as LGB&T, there are quiet conversations in congregations and elsewhere being conducted in an atmosphere of utter respect for these diversities and with that humility and grace which marked out the way in which the Church of Scotland conducted its conversations.
I’m also convening LGBT Irish Presbyterians so that members have a voice so often stifled at various levels of the church.
I do hope that the General Assembly here in Belfast can learn from the Scottish experience.
Colin Flinn, Belfast BT5