The origins of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (the Covenanters) were uncompromising times. The most infamous story was of the two martyrs, the two Margarets (Wilson and MacLauchlan) who refused to renounce their faith to the authorities in Scotland.
Each was tied to stake on a Solway Firth beach (just south of the hamlet of Wigtown in Galloway) and left to drown as the surging tide rushed in. That was in the 17th century (May 1685), and nowadays freedom of worship is enshrined in the Rights of every civilised country. But religious fervour and schisms remain all-too-common. Christians still suffer in so many countries throughout the world, with horror stories beamed into the living rooms almost daily on television.
Christian churches in the British Isles still seem to have a real talent for imploding. The establishment in Portadown of its first Covenanters Church is an example of how rows in the pews can escalate out of control. We wish the new Upper Bann Reformed Presbyterian Church every success, but it’s the latest in a line of ecclesiastical feuds that have rocked so many churches in the area.
Before that, came the seething row at Knocknamuckley Parish Church. The modernistic Rector, Rev Alan Kilpatrick, doesn’t seem to be to everyone’s taste. His penchant for wearing earrings and for upbeat music has split the traditional, rural congregation. It came to a head when he refused the Black Institution access to the church, with the backing of Bishop of Down and Dromore Harold Miller. That immediate situation has been resolved, but the controversy lingers on, with calls continuing for the rector to move on.
Mainstream Presbyterians have also had their spats. Edenderry (First Portadown) had virtually appointed Rev Chris Kennedy to succeed Dr Stafford Carson as their minister a year. But it transpired that Mr Kennedy had taken part in an ecumenical event in Dun Laoghaire where he was minister, and the appointment fell through.
And there was the well-documented controversy between the two main Presbyterians churches when Rev Christina Bradley (Armagh Road) was barred by Dr Carson from entering his pulpit, even though the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has permitted woman ministers for 40-plus years.
Add to that, the Church of England splits over women vicars and bishops (the Anglican Church of Ireland, happily, avoid that chaos), and the deep heartache and mayhem created within the Catholic Church, with the reports of clerical abuse flooding the media in recent years.
On the women’s issue, one wonders how the churches get away with such discrimination. This week, the media buzzed with the story of the ‘same-sex-marriage’ Ashers cake fiasco, and yet women are treated abominably when it comes to everyday matters in some Christian churches.
Tolerance has moved a long way from the Solway Stakes to the Asher cakes. But there is still a long way to go before there is universal acceptance of basic rights. The record of the Christianity is befuddled with these side issues, masking the message of loving one’s neighbour, as set out in the Scriptures.