There has been a public backlash against the perceived anti-LGBTQ policies of the Presbyterian Church. Many people have left the church over it, and many more are considering their position. The writer Tony Macaulay and his wife Leslie have left the church after more than 50 years of membership, and decades of inspiring service. Tony was a youth worker for the Presbyterian Church on a violent interface during some of the most dangerous years of the Troubles. Their daughter is gay, and they have taken a principled position to stand by her side.
Now you can argue it is up to the church to have whatever rules they like. But the Presbyterian Church’s decision to exclude openly gay couples from full communion and their children from baptism could have wider implications for their relationships with the rest of society.
One relationship that is especially important for the Presbyterian Church is with Queen’s University. The Presbyterian Church trains its ministers at Union Theological College. But Union does more than that. All undergraduate degree courses in Theology at Queen’s are taught at Union. In light of what looks like an official policy of discrimination against LGBTQ people, should Queen’s now break its links with Union Theological College?
I am a proud graduate of Queen’s and I am uncomfortable with the university continuing its links with the Presbyterian Church. I suspect I am not the only one.
Not only is there a moral issue at stake but I suspect there is a legal one as well. Queen’s has a very precise Equality & Diversity Policy that states:
2.1 The University values and promotes equality and diversity and will seek to ensure that it treats all individuals fairly and with dignity and respect. It is opposed to all forms of unlawful and unfair discrimination.
2.2 The University seeks to provide equality to all, irrespective of gender, including gender re-assignment; marital or civil partnership status; having or not having dependants; religious belief or political opinion; race (including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins, including Irish Travellers); disability; sexual orientation and age.
The Presbyterian Church may say that it will not prevent LGBTQ Queen’s undergraduates from studying Theology. But if an LGBTQ Queen’s student is studying at Union is this a safe and tolerant environment for them? Will they be treated ‘with dignity and respect?’
Union has links to Queen’s going back over 150 years so it would be a shame to see the relationship ending. This relationship has even been fruitful outside the halls of academia, giving birth to one of our oldest and most significant reconciliation groups, the Corrymeela Community. Corrymeela was started by Rev Ray Davey, a Presbyterian chaplain at Queen’s, and the students he inspired. As explained in its response to the Presbyterian Church’s new policy on LGBTQ people, Corrymeela has a long history of welcoming LGBTQ Christians. The strain of radical Presbyterianism that gave birth to Corrymeela is still alive within the Presbyterian Church, despite what looks like a new effort by the institutional church to crush it.
But while the decision of the Presbyterian Church may not reflect the views of all the people in its pews, can Queen’s continue to give this institutional church the benefit of the doubt? Queen’s has to put the welfare of its students and staff first and challenge discrimination from all quarters.
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