… a very uninviting place for Bible believers

You may be surprised that the Rev David McIlveen (Sandown Free Presbyterian church) wasn’t referring to Belfast Pride when he spoke the words in this post’s title, but was instead referring to an institution of the state whose membership includes a Presbyterian minister (who is also free – though in the retired sense).

While this morning’s Irish News carried the story of Jim Well’s ‘repugnant’ text, the News Letter confirmed what I half expected when I posted last Wednesday:

This year only one group has registered a protest with the Parades Commission. So unless the normal protest from Sandown Free Presbyterian has merged in with the Stop the Parade Coalition, they must be staying at home on the afternoon of Saturday 30 July this year. (Or else planning to protest illegally!)

While the Parades Commission state that “a non-notified protest is illegal”, Sandown Free Presbyterian church is planning to go ahead with its protest at Saturday’s Belfast Pride Parade. Rev McIlveen explained to Tuesday’s News Letter why he had lost confidence in the Parades Commission:

We officially registered with the Parades Commission last year but when the adjudication was made the chairperson, in our view, expressed a biased position in terms of the gay pride parade saying it was a great asset to the city of Belfast. We felt out position was just totally ignored.

We therefore feel it’s no longer profitable to go to the Parades Commission and that it’s a very uninviting place for Bible believers. I’ve communicated that to the commission.

The church hold an open air witness in front of the City Hall each Friday lunchtime which doesn’t require permission from the commission. You could argue it’s a form of protest against disbelief in a reformed faith. McIlveen calls it “a gospel witness against sodomy” in the News Letter.

However, on Saturday afternoon Sandown Free Presbyterian won’t be at their normal City Hall gate spot, but will instead be outside St Anne’s Cathedral. The Lord Mayor Niall Ó Donnghaile plans to greet the parade in front of the City Hall … which may have prompted the church’s shift of location.

In January 2011, a completely new set of commissioners sat down around the Parades Commission table, having been appointed by the Secretary of State a few weeks before. Last year’s chairperson is no longer there. With such a significant turnover of personnel, unless the church feel that the structure is institutionally uninviting, it’s difficult to understand why they’d not want to argue their case in front of the new commissioners.

While the Parades Commission may be ‘a very uninviting place for Bible believers’, Belfast Pride events aren’t in the same category. Rev McIlveen is advertised as participating on the Hymn or Us? debate on whether LGBT and Christianity can co-exist, in the Europa Hotel (Glengall Street entrance) on Thursday 28 at 7.30pm. Other panellists include Rev Chris Hudson (All Souls’ Non-Subscribing Presbyterian) and Dr Mike Davidson (Core Issue). The event will Chaired by William Crawley. £2 (in advance), £3 (on door). Now free. Update – Rev McIlveen pulled out of the event and didn’t attend.

Saturday’s act of civil disobedience – at which the PSNI could gather evidence and forward onto the DPP – seems of character, though not unheard-of: a religious group deliberately violating the state’s wishes.

Coincidentally, speaking at the New Horizon Christian conference in Coleraine last Friday morning, the ex-PCI moderator Trevor Morrow outlined his six rules that should guide any collective civil disobedience by Christians. He was speaking in the context of what to do if the state – specifically European legislation – was to cross the line and encroach into church affairs such as education and appointments.

1. Assemble together to pray for obedience.

2. Tangibly demonstrate to those in authority that faith matters.

3. Engage in a reasonable defence – find a point of context/consensus from which to reason.

4. Use strategic persuaders to influence – eg, media or political commentators whose voice is listened to.

5. Practice amazing grace – not a belligerent defence or defiance of the state.

6. Whatever the state says, just keep on living and acting in obedience to Jesus Christ, communicating the truth.

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