Very few northern Presbyterian liberals are brave enough to speak out publicly, but everyone is watching for the outcome of this struggle for the soul of the church. Meanwhile the parting words of outgoing moderator Dr Charles McMullan hang heavily over the current controversies. He said in June: “In a rapidly changing and secularising Ireland, we need to speak the truth in love and not be perceived to be closing the door to those who would see our churches as a cold place when we know that not to be the case.”
The Presbyterian Church has published a new book titled Considering Grace: Presbyterians and the Troubles which tells the moving story of 120 people’s experience of the recent conflict in the North.
However the church is battling with another set of troubles – namely the concern of rank-and-file Presbyterians who are dismayed by its evidently increasing conservatism, and the perception that it is heavy-handed in dealing with same-sex issues.
This has been a sore point in the church for several years, but matters came to a head when its general assembly voted in June 2018 to exclude same-sex couples from taking Communion, and also approved a move not to baptise children from a same-sex relationship.
This led to an outcry from the dwindling numbers of broader-minded Presbyterians, but the general assembly’s decision was not rescinded. Some people argue that the church is right to uphold its rulings on same-sex issues if members feel that this is biblically justified, though others strongly disagree with this.
What distresses many Presbyterians is the perceived coldness with which these rulings are implemented.