Those of us in Northern Ireland who read the Newsletter letters page are well aware of Dr J E Hazlett Lynch. He makes another appearance in today’s letters page with the following:
MAY I use your columns to ask if anyone knows what the position of the churches is after the close victory in the Assembly (50:45) in favour of the traditional view of marriage?
I know that some of those politicians who voted against marriage as understood in the scriptures and who abstained or absented themselves from that vote claim to be church members.
Do the churches of which these politicians are members still hold to the biblical understanding of marriage and, if so, are they prepared to tolerate those within their membership who have publicly either voted against and undermined church teaching and/or absented/abstained from the vote?
What steps will churches take to discipline those who acted thus?
There have been many cases in ecclesiastical history that the church has taken different views on a number of issues. Something that an historian like Dr Lynch should be aware of. The abolition of slavery, universal suffrage for women and before that female property rights and mixed race marriage; all have these have seen Christians on different sides of the argument. Here in Northern Ireland we even saw one Christian side gerrymandering election districts to keep the other out as recently as the 1960s and 70s at the behest of their Churches. Also one of our Churches leaders as an elected representative to the European Parliament was ejected for calling the Pope the anti-Christ as recently as 1988. So when we call for our politicians to follow the
Indeed if any lesson should be drawn from history it is this pastor from a church in Missouri recently.
So in answer to Dr Lynch’s question there hasn’t been an established church in the island of Ireland since 1871 and the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. So the church does not have a direct role in the government of our nation. We also have The Agreement which sets out a number of freedoms which include:
1. The parties affirm their commitment to the mutual respect, the civil
rights and the religious liberties of everyone in the community. Against
the background of the recent history of communal conflict, the parties
affirm in particular:
• the right of free political thought;
• the right to freedom and expression of religion;
• the right to pursue democratically national and political aspirations;
• the right to seek constitutional change by peaceful and legitimate means;
• the right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity;
That right to free political thought applies to members of churches as much as the non-churched. There is also a freedom and expression of each individual’s religion, which includes to what extent they separate their personal faith from their public responsibilities. This may be the issue that Dr Lynch cannot comprehend, it is possible to have a faith yet listen to the needs and wants of those that do not share that faith, or even just one interpretation of that faith, and come to a conclusion of what is best that isn’t solely blinkered by one’s religious world view.
What Dr Lynch and many others who take the view that those of faith betrayed their faith missed from the motion was that there was a call for strong protection to be put into legislation so that those who held a particular faith few that was contrary would not be persecuted for disagreeing. Therefore managing to cover a number of the freedoms listed above, ironically while also supporting possibly the position of their own faith group while voting in favour of equal marriage.
Of course there are biblical laws on all sorts of issues including adultery that result in a death penalty, yet we don’t follow all those rulings from Leviticus and Deuteronomy to the letter. Yet I don’t see cries for church discipline to be brought in for those other underminings of the tradition view of marriage, just to keep it in context.
However, the myopia of Dr Lynch over the way the motion was worded does not prevent him calling on those who have exercised both their freedom of political thought to have the same bearing as their freedom to expression of religion. He is saying that the latter should take precedence over the former when to govern fully both need their freedom, something that the original motion did take into consideration.
That my dear Doctor is my response to you on this issue.