As Christians once had to “redo” the theology around the Earth’s position within the Universe, then perhaps similar thinking could be brought to bear on the same-sex relationships issue, a former Presbyterian moderator has said.
Rev Dr John Dunlop also said there are those within the church who suggest the Scriptures could be reinterpreted on the issue, in the way they were to acknowledge the injustice of slavery in the early 19th century.
Dr Dunlop was commenting in the wake of the Presbyterian general assembly’s decision to formally block people in same-sex relationships from becoming full members of the church.
He said there are many people within the Presbyterian Church who are “very happy with the decisions that have been made,” but said others, including the LGBT community and their families “have found this very unsettling”.
He said: “We have got this tension that we have to live with.
“All theology at the end of the day has to be pastoral theology. The church has a responsibility to explain why it has adopted this position.”
Dr Dunlop said he has been “on a journey” in trying to understand the experience of LGBT people and had to “listen very carefully,” to their viewpoint.
“Your theology has got to be done through the lens of the compassion of Jesus.
“I live inside the tension of being a part of the Presbyterian Church, and a faithful minister and member of the church, and at the same time having dialogue with LGBT people.”
As a guest on the BBC’s Sunday Sequence radio programme, Dr Dunlop was asked if he thought the current policy was the result of a “poor interpretation” of the Bible. He said it should always be interpreted using acquired wisdom.
“The Bible has got to be interpreted in light of our understanding of current situations, that is inevitable,” he said.
“Whenever [mathematician and astronomer] Copernicus came along, and Galileo said, that the Earth was not in fact the centre of the universe – that the Sun didn’t go around the Earth and that the Earth went around the Sun – and it looked as if the Bible was saying that, then you have got to redo your theology.
“People looked at the Scriptures for centuries and never saw anything wrong with slavery. William Wilberforce looked at the Scriptures and then looked at the historical experience of slave people, sets up a dialogue between the Scriptures and works the theology out.”
Asked if he was suggesting that, just as the church “came to terms with its false position on slavery,” it must stop discriminating against same-sex relationships, he said: “There are some people who say that. Internally within myself I struggle with that precise question. It would be lovely to be removed from the dilemma of having to deal with that.”
“Now, I wish it would all disappear, but it hasn’t disappeared and it won’t disappear.”
At the recent Presbyterian general assembly, delegates voted by 255-171 to cut formal ties with the Church of Scotland after the ‘mother church’ officially endorsed same-sex marriage – a decision described by one delegate as a “theological Brexit”.
Following that decision, a spokesman for the Presbyterian Church said the church is “trying constantly to respond biblically, theologically and pastorally to different situations in a changing world,” and added: “Members were not discussing whether to prevent anyone from attending worship, coming into church, receiving communion, or having access to pastoral care, as our church is open to all.”
A further report will now be commissioned which will provide practical guidelines for church elders on how the new policy should be implemented.
The former moderator added: “Perhaps that answer should have been more informed with pastoral theology and pastoral concern because it came across as if it was a very harsh judgment.
“There are then pastoral consequences which come out of this and the church has been, over the years, attempting to grapple with the pastoral implications of this. You have got to do the theology and pastoral work simultaneously.”
Report by Mark Rainey in the News Letter 02 July 2018