Mixed messages on same-sex marriage

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The controversy over the Republic’s same-sex marriage vote is back in the spotlight with a declaration read out at Armagh Road Presbyterian Church on Sunday morning that their minister, the Rev Christina Bradley, “fully accepted that marriage is to be between one man and one woman and homosexual practice is sinful”.

A copy of the declaration was sent to the Portadown Times, as we printed her original statement, which read, “The referendum wasn’t a debate on the institution of marriage as the basis of human society as we know it, but about ending discrimination.

“Who is the state and who is the church in a democratic society? It is the people. The people (of the Republic) have voted by an overwhelming 62.1 per cent majority to be inclusive and compassionate.

“This warm heartedness is good to see in a world which is often a cold place as much for women in leadership as it is for gay and lesbian people in churches. I welcome the yes vote.”

It was an unequivocal, courageous move by Mrs Bradley. Compassionate, understanding, recognising real issues in the real world. Of course, it was controversial, but it must have given solace and comfort to the gay community, especially down south, with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) covering all 32 counties.

Here in Northern Ireland, the PCI often has an image of being shackled to the past. Mrs Bradley, who is from Germany, was embroiled in the female gender row of six years ago, when the PCI confirmed its tradition that women ministers can be barred from the pulpits of male clerics who (through some obscure Biblical text) can discriminate against them.

The gay issue, though, is more complicated. And again Mrs Bradley’s Germanic background probably prompted her statement which stepped out of line with mainstream Irish Presbyterianism.

The Armagh Presbytery’s decision to place her in front of the ‘Sanhedrin’ (a commission) resulted in a rather fudged statement that her action was “open to misunderstanding and she had no intention of bring the church into disrepute”. Of course she had no such intention, and while her statement caused ructions in certain quarters, many local people agreed, finding it a breath of fresh air.

The church at large (not just Presbyterianism) often gives a mixed message on the same-sex issue. For example, Portadown-born Dean Tom Gordon is living within a civil same-sex partnership in County Carlow without a murmur from his Church of Ireland parish. The Episcopal Church of Scotland – led by former Seagoe Church of Ireland Rector, now Primus, David Chillingworth – has passed Canon Law allowing its own ministers to enter same-sex marriage.

It’s all so confusing. But it must be said that the gay lobby is often loud and unreasonable in its campaigns. The uproar over the Ashers’ ‘Bert and Ernie’ cake did their cause no favours whatever. And the Christian Church is often under pressure from the hard left. On Friday night, for example, the Craigavon Branch of the Samaritans held their 40th anniversary service at Armagh Church of Ireland Cathedral.

One speaker commented that he’d once been asked if he found the ‘Samaritans’ tag embarrassing, given its Christian-Biblical connotations. That mentality is difficult to comprehend. More mutual understanding is required.