A FORMER Speaker of the now suspended Northern Ireland Assembly, Lord Alderdice, has resigned from the Presbyterian Church in Ireland after the Church’s decision to ban same-sex couples from “full membership” of the Church or from having their children baptised.
Lord Alderdice has been a lifelong member of the Church, and served as an elder for three decades. His father was a minister in the Church. His resignation comes after the decision by the General Assembly in Belfast to exclude LGBT couples, and also to break ties with the Church of Scotland, which recently voted for draft legislation to be prepared that would allow ministers to conduct same-sex marriages.
He described his decision as difficult and painful, but told the BBC Northern Ireland programme The View that recent events in the Church had made his position untenable: “It is no longer possible for me to defend the position of the Presbyterian Church.”
The Clerk of the General Assembly, the Revd Trevor Gribben, said that any resignation from the Church was to be regretted, but that Lord Alderdice was entitled to his own views, “even when they differ from the clearly agreed position of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland through our General Assembly”.
After deliberations, the Doctrine Committee of the Church said in a statement: “In the light of our understanding of scripture and the Church’s understanding of a credible profession of faith, it is clear that same-sex couples are not eligible for communicant membership, nor are they qualified to receive baptism for their children.”
The committee also expressed the opinion that the outward conduct and lifestyle of same-sex couples was “at variance with a life of obedience to Christ”.
A former Moderator of the Church and current Principal of the Church’s Union Theological College, Belfast, the Very Revd Dr Stafford Carson, also regretted Lord Alderdice’s departure. “All of us are struggling with regard to our sexuality. We all need the loving support and encouragement of other Christians around us, and that happens within the Church,” he said. Dr Carson was a member of the Doctrine Committee which formulated the current position.
He went on: “We believe marriage is much more than just about love. There is a whole structure, there is a whole purpose to marriage that has to do with family, that has to do with procreation, that has to do with God’s will for us.”
Another former moderator, Dr John Dunlop, also urged people who were upset by the Assembly’s decision to stay. It was, he said, possible to be a dissenter within, rather than a deserter.
Professor Laurence Kirkpatrick, a lecturer at Union College, said that, on trends that he has estimated for the past two decades, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is losing 3900 members each year.
“If that continues, we have got 55 more years before the last Presbyterian switches the light off. It is as bad as that: 2073 will all end [CHK] if the trend of the last 20 years continues. Pretty shocking for any organisation.”