Many years ago Ian Paisley stood outside Stormont ready to throw snowballs at the then Irish Taoiseach Séan Lamass. On Friday of last week the snow again intervened when the Free Presbyterian Church were due to elect a new moderator.
Although there have been requests for Paisley to stay on and he will not comment; it seems likely that there will be a new Free Presbyterian moderator who is not also heavily involved in politics.There is a common misunderstanding amongst those outside the fundamentalist evangelical community that the Free Presbyterian Church preaches a great deal of politics. Whilst it is true that Rev. Ivan Foster seems to be so inclined; (though I have never attended the Kilskeery church and, as such, am loathe to comment) many Free Presbyterians are interested in the preaching of the gospel and have little time for politics. Indeed though the Free Presbyterian Church may once have been seen as the DUP at prayer that can hardly be entirely the case now with DUP members such as Peter Weir being Presbyterian, Arlene Foster being Church of Ireland and Nelson McCausland being Independent Methodist (and a good preacher and theologian in his own right). Also of course one of the DUP’s nemeses Jim Allister is a member of Ballymena Free Presbyterian Church.
An additional surprise for many outside the fundamentalist evangelical community in Northern Ireland is that the Free Presbyterians are by not the most doctrinally conservative or hard line. Free Presbyterians generally take a relatively relaxed view of women wearing trousers (at least outside church) and indeed women have been known not to wear hats in church. By comparison the Brethren and Independent Methodists would be stricter, though in fairness the Brethren deny being a denomination and of course the Independent Methodists (or Indies for short) are not Calvinist.
Many within the Free Presbyterian Church may well welcome the very clear separation of church and politics as it has been suggested by some that although Dr. Paisley is widely regarded as one of the best preachers of the gospel in Northern Ireland; his involvement in politics may have made some of the task of evangelism especially to Roman Catholics, politically liberal Protestants and outsiders more problematic.