Get Involved

Guest Post Policy

Candour welcomes contributions from guest bloggers. To be considered for publication, guest blog posts must adhere to the following guidelines:

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One thought on “Get Involved

  1. Turning towards each other

    The membership of the Presbyterian Church is declining. A church where homophobia is deeply entrenched. Is it possible these two things are related?

    Last month in Belfast, at the 2018 General Assembly, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) voted in favour of the Doctrine Committee’s “Credible Profession of Faith”. In practise, this means that people in same sex relationships will no longer be able to become members of PCI: they will not be allowed to take communion or have their children baptised. Following this, a vote to dissolve ceremonial ties with the Church of Scotland, who are moving towards permitting same sex marriage, received 255 for and 171 against. The decision received significant backlash, including “A cry from the heart” statement from 200 PCI ministers and elders. (https://sluggerotoole.com/2018/07/06/soapbox-a-cry-from-the-heart/)

    Last month in New Zealand, the Wilberforce Foundation published their report “Faith and Belief in NZ”. This report listed “teaching on homosexuality” as the number one “issue blocker” that is preventing non-Christians who are open to change from exploring Christianity. They found that for two out of three participants it blocked engagement to some extent, and for half of this group (34% overall) it completely blocked their openness to engage. (https://faithandbeliefstudynz.org/ pg.42)

    I have spent enough time in the pews of both churches to know they are not the same church, but I think
    it would be foolish to dismiss the similarities. Ireland is an island of 6.5 million people, New Zealand is 4.7 million. The history of Ireland, particularly the Northern counties, settled by many Ulster-Scots, is steeped in Presbyterianism. Many of the parishes of PCANZ have lasting links to this heritage. From 2006-2016 the number of people who said they were not religious on the Irish census increased by 50%. In New Zealand, although the original proportion of “nones” was much larger, the increase was also remarkable, by 26%. The impact of secularisation is being felt in both places, in mirroring and diverging patterns.

    Within the wider story of secularisation, is the story of our own church. The national census has shown an accelerated decline in Presbyterianism in NZ regularly since 1961. In 2001 Presbyterians composed 12.43% of the population, by 2013 it was 8.47%. This pattern is predicted to continue.

    Professor Laurence Kirkpatrick (Union Theological College Belfast), has run the statistics for the Presbyterian Church of Ireland. Of the 220,000 current members, they are losing 3900 members a year. He says:
    “I have projected that is the average for the last twenty years. If that continues we have got fifty
    five more years before the last Presbyterian switches the light off. It is as bad as that. 2073 will
    all end if the trend of the last twenty years continues.”

    I believe this research from the Wilberforce Foundation and Laurence Kirkpatrick support the thesis that persistent discrimination of LGBTQ+ people by PCI and PCANZ and a decline in their membership, are not separate occurrences. Instead, they are disastrously linked. I suspect this would be reinforced from testimonies of LGBTQ+ Christian families who have left these churches.

    I do not believe we should change who Jesus was or what the bible teaches in order to be palatable to people. I agree with anyone who says that being Christian is a call to live a different kind of life, and that this call should change us in all aspects, from our relationships, to vocation. However I am deeply saddened that somewhere along the way this call has become a justification to formally exclude and discriminate. In New Zealand this is through the preventing of ordination to eldership or ministry and officiation of marriage ceremonies. In Ireland the church has recently taken this even further to forbid people from receiving communion and the baptism of their children.

    And in all of this, how often do we listen to LGBTQ+ Presbyterian voices?
    Perhaps most of those voices have already left our churches.
    Perhaps they are too afraid to speak.
    Perhaps they are excluded from speaking through our procedures.

    By banning LGBTQ+ people (or those who are in same sex relationships) from eldership or ministry we have also taken away their ability to vote at assembly. We have silenced people from conversations which are about them, in our highest court.

    We at PCANZ are not much different to PCI in this regard. It seems we are entrenched in behaviours which further alienate ourselves from LGBTQ+ families all over the country. Families who might otherwise seek to be followers of Christ and join with PCANZ congregations to transform the world around us towards the justice and peace he teaches. We are intentionally promoting and condoning exclusion in the name of our higher calling, while simultaneously scratching our heads trying to figure out why people are no longer interested in that same calling: to follow Jesus. The response to the PCI decision from the Corrymeela Community articulates the alternative well:
    “For us, our focus is not so much on the hereafter, but first on the here. Rather than worrying who
    will get into heaven, we are concerned with who is excluded from our own doors. For us, this is
    the practice of following Jesus. We remember that true discipleship is shown in the practice of
    love. And as we wonder whether our practice of love is adequate, we ask, we listen, we believe:
    we try to change. This hurts, but this is how we understand the gospel.”
    Let us join with Corrymeela in prayer:
    God of Reconciliation
    You demand much of us,
    inviting us to tell truths
    by turning towards each other.
    May we leave our trinkets where they belong,
    and find our treasure
    by turning towards each other.
    Because you needed this with us.
    So may we turn towards each other.
    Amen.
    It’s time to listen to those we have silenced, to turn towards them and be open to change. If we are unwilling to do this, we cannot complain when New Zealanders in 2018, especially those we have persistently excluded, want less and less to do with our church.
    God be with you.

    Rachel Tombs studies History at Otago, she is interested in how the church’s past can relate to its future. She grew up in Belfast, in the Presbyterian Church of Ireland and Corrymeela Community, and currently serves as an elder at Knox Church Dunedin.

    Resources:
    If you are intrigued by this argument, but not convinced it is supported by the scriptures, I recommend the NZ documentary Time for Love: http://timeforlove.co.nz/.
    Full response from Corrymeela: https://www.corrymeela.org/news/102/a-response-from-corrymeela-to
    More information about the details and justification for the Presbyterian Church of Ireland policy can be found in their Blue Book: http://www.presbyterianireland.org/getmedia/395ba570-3152-4464-94f8-0cffea0f5fae/PCI-Annual-Reports-2018.pdf.aspx
    Other news articles used:
    https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-44487070
    https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-44384389
    https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-44412860
    https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-40036225
    Cartoons used from Naked Pastor, David Hayward:
    https://nakedpastor.com/
    Thanks to Tanya Findlater, David and Ben Tombs providing comments during the editing process.

    Like

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