The group Faith in Marriage Equality has criticised the Presbyterian Church after it issued a statement last week in which a Portadown minister appeared to retract her views on same-sex marriage.
The Ireland-wide body accused the Presbyterian Church of a “clampdown on ministers who affirm gay people, following the pressure placed on Rev Christina Bradley”.
German-born Mrs Bradley, of Armagh Road Presbyterian Church (ARPC), was the only minister within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) to welcome the Republic’s 62 per cent referendum, supporting same-sex marriage.
The Faith group suggests that her U-turn was effected by her local Armagh Presbytery who set up a commission, and called her to book after her stand-alone statement.
After the May poll, Mrs Bradley sent an email to the Portadown Times, in response to a request - “This warm-heartedness is good to see in a world which often is a cold place as much for women in leadership as it is for gay and lesbian people in churches. I welcome the Yes vote.”
The statement coincided with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s General Assembly in Belfast, and – during a break in proceedings – the Armagh Presbytery decided on the commission, which was held at Hill Street Presbyterian Church in Lurgan.
On Sunday of last week, a statement on behalf of the Presbytery was read out by the ARPC clerk of session Ivan Conner that “Mrs Bradley confirms that same-sex marriage is contrary to the will of God, revealed in the Bible, and accepts that homosexual practice is sinful in God’s sight”.
After Mrs Bradley’s original statement, Canon Charles Kenny, a Church of Ireland minister and spokesperson for Faith in Marriage Equality, said he welcomed the fact that a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland had spoken up for equality for same-sex couples.
But, following the Armagh Presbytery move, Canon Kenny said he was dismayed that “such pressure had been put on her to recant”. He added, “The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is trying to shut down discussion on the inclusion of its gay and lesbian members.”
He claimed he knew members of the Presbyterian Church, lay and clergy, who were affirming of gay people but were too frightened to say so, “and this move send a very damaging message, and makes the PCI an even colder place for them and their families”.
The Armagh Presbytery and Mrs Bradley have made it clear they are making no further comment.