The Presbyterian Church does not have the right to deny full membership to same-sex couples


I haven’t been to church since they reopened. It is not the Covid 19 that I fear. I was vaccinated against it. But there is no vaccine against judgment, double standards and discrimination. Well, not yet.

I have been a Presbyterian, attending regularly, for 80 years. For decades, I have been part of local governance. More recently, I have been deeply uncomfortable about the attitude of the church towards same-sex unions. I have absolutely no personal interest other than defending the dignity of every human being and seeing justice done.

Our faith and understanding must be grounded in the scriptures but informed by discoveries of the physical sciences

Presbyterians by nature are dissenters: they question everything and refuse to blindly follow the line. The right to private judgment in matters of faith is fundamental to Presbyterianism. So, for example, a generation before most Irish people, many Presbyterians made up their minds about contraception.

Alan Bell is a former advisor to the Fine Gael of Greystones. He has been a part of the Presbyterian Church since his childhood and has been an elder for decades. He has been an active advocate for the poor and disadvantaged for almost 50 years

Presbyterians recognize the scriptures as the fundamental rule and standard of faith. But knowing what the scriptures say is not enough. We strive to understand what they mean, both when written and in our current context.

I very much appreciate two fundamental Presbyterian principles. The first is the recognized right, privilege and duty of each person to examine the scriptures and to determine, in private, their meaning.

The second is not to refuse the light on any side, and not to put our own reason above the scriptures. In other words, our faith and understanding must be grounded in the Scriptures but informed by findings from the physical sciences, sociology, anthropology, cosmology, or any other branch of scientific knowledge.

It is a living, vibrant, engaging, informed and relevant faith.

By examining the scriptures, some have come to positions that affirm same-sex relationships while others have reached an opposite position. It is their right, privilege and duty.

General assembly

In 2018, the governing body of the Presbyterian Church, the General Assembly, intervened and, in effect, denied these rights, privileges and duties.

That year, the doctrine committee reported to the general assembly: “In light of our understanding of the scriptures and of the Church’s understanding of a credible profession of faith, same-sex couples do not. are not eligible to become Communicating Members, nor qualified to receive Baptism. for their children. . . We believe that their outward conduct and lifestyle are at odds with a life of obedience to Christ.

What about anger, pride, envy, greed, selfishness, arrogance, deception, gluttony, lust, drunkenness, laziness and lust?

Many are deeply disturbed by this decision, which remains “on the books”. Of course, the church has both the right to determine its understanding of all types of relationships and to say what it believes is acceptable and unacceptable. But it does not have the right to create double standards, which it does by denying full membership to same-sex couples.

Since theologians around the world have not reached consensus on matters of sexuality, it is difficult to see how this church reconciles its stated position with the privilege of individuals to determine in prayer God’s direction over questions of sexuality and come to a different conclusion.

Hierarchy of Sins

The result of this decision raises a perceived hierarchy of sins. The church has, and is entitled to, its own definition of marriage. Communicating membership is not denied to couples living in other sexual relationships outside of this understanding of marriage.

So why deny membership to same-sex couples who, like countless Christians around the world, have examined the scriptures and come to a different understanding? It is difficult to imagine any reason other than fear, ignorance, judgment or prejudice. None of these is a Christian virtue.

Whenever I raise the question, I quote the Genesis story of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is shown how the “Sodomites” were destroyed in showers of sulfur.

But another Presbyterian practice is to interpret a scripture with other scriptures. Ezekiel in his writings includes a wider range of reasons for Sodom’s judgment: arrogance, being overfed and indifferent, neglecting the poor and needy, being haughty, and a list of other hateful things.

If the church is to be consistent, full membership should also be denied to those of us guilty of these sins – and a host of other sins. What about anger, pride, envy, greed, selfishness, arrogance, deception, gluttony, lust, drunkenness, laziness and lust? There would be a rapid decline in membership.

I am undecided about going back. The last time I expressed my point, before Covid, I think I may have experienced social distancing before it was a thing in Ireland.


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