NEW PRESBYTERIAN MODERATOR HAS A MONAGHAN LINK
Michael Fisher Northern Standard Thursday 4th June
The new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Reverend Ian McNie, who was installed at the start of the General Assembly in Belfast on Monday evening, has an important link with County Monaghan. One of Dr McNie’s two sons is also a clergyman and is based in North Monaghan. Reverend Stephen McNie was installed last year as Minister at Ballyalbany Presbyterian Church outside Monaghan town, and Glennan Church near Glaslough.
Dr Ian McNie is Minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Ballymoney. He was elected by presbyteries from across Ireland when they met in February to elect a successor to the Dr Michael Barry from Newry. Dr McNie was nominated by twelve presbyteries, including Monaghan, out of the nineteen.
He describes himself as a conservative evangelical and this was apparent during the installation service at Assembly Buildings. Unlike some previous years, there was no official representative of the Catholic Church among the guests, although the Irish Council of Churches was invited. The Bishop of Clogher Right Reverend John McDowell represented the Church of Ireland.
Ian McNie is the 176th Moderator since the election of the Very Reverend Dr Samuel Hanna in 1840. He sees his ministry substantially as a parish ministry, confining himself to work within the congregation and district.
“As a conservative evangelical, I recognise that we are living in the 21st Century and therefore seek to steer the congregation in such a way that we do not cling to the traditions of the past, but seek to be relevant today. At the same time, I also recognise that the truth of the Gospel has not changed and we should not allow society to pressure us into departing from the core values of the Scriptures.”
Dr McNie was brought up in Antrim town and attended First Antrim Presbyterian Church, becoming a Christian at the age of 13. Having attended Belfast Royal Academy, he went on to Queen’s University, Belfast graduating with a Bachelor of Divinity. In his address at his installation the Moderator said the church today was facing an ever increasing intolerance:
“Opinions are expressed and laws enacted that are at variance with what we, as Christians, stand for. Values associated with the beginning and ending of life, the family dynamic, freedom of conscience and the sanctity of marriage are all under threat”, he said.
In the aftermath of the large ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum in the Republic on same-sex marriage, Dr McNie reaffirmed the Prebyterian church’s traditional view of marriage. “As a church we want to unashamedly and unambiguously reaffirm our total commitment to the Biblical and historical position of marriage, that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman, believing that this is God’s blueprint for the well being of society, and any redefinition of this position is not within His plan for His creation”, the Moderator said.
He said there was a perception that the Christian viewpoint was not always dignified with the credit and tolerance it deserved and the law had left too little room for religious belief. But as a church they also believed that society had the right to express its opinions, opinions that the church might well disagree with, and yet as a church they must defend the right of society to freely express their opinions, but in so doing they must not be behind the door in articulating clearly what they believed and why. Dr McNie said the church had the right to expect the same level and proportion of tolerance afforded to them that other groups expect to be afforded to themselves. Tolerance is a two-way street, he said.
Earlier in the service the outgoing Moderator, Reverend Dr Michael Barry of Sandys Street Presbyterian Church in Newry, reflected on his year in office, which included a visit to congregations in Monaghan and Cavan. He said the church was saddened by the result of the marriage referendum in the Republic. He also stressed the church’s traditional view on marriage. Dr Barry told the gathering:
“We are clear on what we believe about biblical marriage, that it is between one man and one woman. And there is much more. But our beliefs are grounded on Scripture as the Word of God, which is as relevant today as it was when it was written. Not everyone likes what we believe. But we do not conform to the world’s opinions. We do not change our beliefs to fit in with the ways of the world. There will be times (when) we are out of step.”
“I want to speak to one other group who accuse us as Presbyterians of bias and attack, and that is the LBGT community. In recent campaigns we have been accused of being homophobic. I can state categorically that we as a church are not homophobic. We do not agree with such a life style. We believe it is contrary to the Bible’s teaching on marriage. We were saddened by the referendum in the Republic of Ireland, but we must be allowed to disagree without being smeared. And if there are any who take the name of Presbyterian and who are carrying on a hate campaign against the LBGT community. then they must stop.”
During the General Assembly’s debate on Tuesday on the report of the Council for Church in Society, church members had the opportunity to discuss some of the recent high profile matters dealt with by the Council, including the Ashers’ Bakery Court Case in Belfast and the marriage referendum.
In presenting the report of the Council, its Convenor, Very Reverend Dr Norman Hamilton spoke of the issues raised by the referendum on same sex marriage, calling them profound and “extremely challenging to both church and state – North and South.”
He also said that the Church needed to think hard and rigorously about how it presented its convictions to a society which was less and less inclined to accept core biblical teaching, and how those convictions were to be worked out compassionately and graciously in a myriad of different circumstances.
On freedom of conscience in the public square and the recent Ashers’ judgement, Dr. Hamilton spoke of promoting the concept of ‘reasonable accommodation’ and how it should be incorporated into law. “We are not seeking either an exemption from the law for people of faith or anyone else…We are simply arguing that people who have reasonable and deeply held convictions be allowed to express them in a reasonable way in every sphere of life, and that, if necessary, the courts can determine what is and what is not reasonable,” he said.
During the ensuing debate many Ministers from the Republic of Ireland spoke, including a number of former Moderators. One Dublin Minister said, “We need to engage with the diversity in our own Church.”