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A good debate

June 9th, 2011

Yesterday, the General Assembly of PCI passed a resolution in which it “viewed with concern” the direction of the Church of Scotland General Assembly to move towards approving those in same-sex relationships as being eligible for the ministry. The resolution was proposed by Very Rev Dr John Lockington, and seconded by Rev Nigel McCullough (Hill St Lurgan), who both spoke in a very measured way about the important link between PCI and the Church of Scotland and the overall feeling of dismay and sadness that the Church of Scotland would consider allowing congregations to call openly gay or lesbian ministers.

The Church of Scotland Moderator, The Right Rev Dr David Arnott, responded to the proposed resolution and made an excellent speech. Those who watched the debate in Edinburgh had been impressed by the dignified and gracious way in which he had chaired their Assembly. He confirmed that their Assembly had set up a theological commission to report on the theological perspectives on same-sex relationships at their 2013 General Assembly. He reminded the Assembly of the point that was well-made in Edinburgh that in any controversy there is no “them and us”, it’s just “us”.

In concluding his warm-hearted remarks, Dr Arnott apologised to the Assembly that he would have to leave the debate early in order to catch up with his Aunt Mary who had travelled to Belfast from County Tyrone to see her moderatorial nephew. Interestingly, Dr Lockington the proposer of the resolution, confirmed that he was Aunt Mary’s former minister, underscoring again the many personal and familial connections between PCI and the Church of Scotland.

There were a number of excellent speeches to follow. Rev Scott Woodburn (Edengrove, Ballynahinch), in a lively and humorous speech, called on the Assembly to be clear in its stance, and to adopt an aggressive stance on this important issue. Subsequent speakers thought that the military metaphor was inappropriate and could easily be misinterpreted. Rev Cheryl Meban (Chaplain UU) wanted the church to affirm a genuinely caring and compassionate attitude towards those who had same-sex attractions.

Rev Chris Kennedy (Dun Laoghaire) reflected on our sinful brokenness, whether heterosexual or homosexual, and affirmed the importance of maintaining a clear position on the biblical doctrine of marriage. Rev Eddie Kirk (1st Ahoghill) spoke of Christ’s grace to the sinful woman, and of his word of command to her, “Go and sin no more.” Rev Dr Gary Millar (Howth and Malahide) spoke of the significance of the Church of Scotland’s decision and how that those who had called for a deferral of any move were voted down. As a result many people were within that denomination were greatly distressed with the direction their church had taken. Several speakers referred to remarks made in the Church of Scotland debate that “we know better than the Bible”.

The out-going Moderator, Dr Norman Hamilton, who had been present in Edinburgh for the debate, confirmed what he had written in his report to the Assembly:

“There is a widespread view that the traditionalist position on the ordination of those who are gay/lesbian was rejected for what was described as the “revisionist” position…The traditionalist view was articulated by many in the Kirk and by every visiting delegate who spoke (myself included) and there is no doubt that many of those who hold this position within the Church of Scotland seem seriously demoralised and deeply apprehensive about future developments.

It also has to be said however that the Assembly was unambiguously clear that there should be no antagonism towards or marginalisation of those who are gay/lesbian within congregations. This is as important a principle for us in PCI as it is for the Church of Scotland.”

By passing this resolution, PCI has not only distanced itself from the trajectory taken by the Church of Scotland, but has indirectly affirmed its position on the qualifications required of those holding office in the church, believing that the Bible is clear in its statements on God’s will for us with regard to sexual relationships.

But the tone of the debate reflected a real desire to be gospel-centred in our message, and to recognise the struggles that many experience with regard to sexual attractions, whether homosexual or heterosexual. We follow a Saviour of whom it was said, “This man welcomes sinners” (Luke 15:1).

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