Church leader feels sorry for ‘spiritually blind’ Stephen Fry
New Presbyterian moderator says broadcaster’s comments about God were sorrowful
The newly elected moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland Reverend Ian McNie said the church would have his full support if it elects a woman moderator within the next few years. Photograph: PA
The Rev Ian McNie, who on Monday night was elected to be the next moderator for Ireland’s 240,000 Presbyterians, said on Tuesday that what comedian, broadcaster and atheist Stephen Fry said to Gay Byrne only confirmed the “truthfulness of the bible”.
“Because the bible says that the God of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers that they cannot see the light of the gospel,” he said when speaking to the press in Belfast.
“He only confirms what the bible itself teaches and has been an asset to the Christian cause enabling us to know that the bible is true.”
“I felt sorry for the man that his understanding of life is simply confined to the here and now and that from his position of atheism there is no hope for the future. I did not so much find his remarks hurtful as just sorrowful that here was somebody who was so spiritually blind.”
Asked about Mr Fry’s complaint that God allowed evil, Mr McNie said that “God created a perfect world but that it was after the perfection that God had created that man fell and imperfection then took over”.
Mr McNie (64), who as Minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Ballymoney, Co Antrim serves a congregation of 400 families, will be the church’s 176th moderator serving for a year-long term – the first moderator under the church’s General Assembly rules was Rev Dr Samuel Hanna elected in 1840. Mr McNie will take over from the current moderator, Rev Michael Barry in June.
Mr McNie was elected by 12 of the churches 19 presbyteries throughout Ireland. One of the unsuccessful candidates was the Rev Liz Hughes of Whitehouse Church in Newtownabbey on the outskirts of north Belfast, who also lost out last year. In 2014 she was involved in a three-way tie for the moderatorship with Mr Barry elected on the second count.
Earlier on Tuesday on BBC Radio Ulster Mr McNie said he would have concerns about a woman taking over as moderator. But in the later press conference Mr McNie said that he believed the church was correct in allowing the ordination of women.
He said that so shortly after his election on Monday night he may not have expressed himself adequately to the BBC. “If the Presbyterian church elects a woman moderator within the next number of years it will have my full and complete and utter support,” he said.
He added there were some in the church who believed a woman should not be elected to that role. “There is a discussion that goes on in the church about this particular matter. I would not be so dogmatic as to say one side is particularly right and the other is wrong.”
Mr McNie, as an “evangelical conservative” said he must acknowledge theological differences and therefore would prefer not to attend Catholic Masses. He added however that he had attended Catholic funerals and would be happy and was indeed looking forward to jointly working with the leaders of the Church of Ireland, Methodist and Catholic churches in Ireland.
Asked whether he was a unionist, he said he was “very happy living where I am living... as a citizen of the United Kingdom”.
Mr McNie said there could be a role for the church in trying to deal with difficult issues such as parading in north Belfast. “I think we have got to talk, we have got to get that situation sorted out as soon as possible.”
“I do think that the Ashers bakery has the right to take the decision that they took because of the Christian convictions and views that they have,” he said.
Mr McNie said previously the definition of tolerance was that people could agree to disagree but now the notion was that tolerance meant people were “supposed to not only accept that there are a whole lot of views, which there are, but we are supposed to accept and embrace as equally correct every view that is expressed”.
Mr McNie expressed opposition to the House of Commons decision on Monday to allow so-called three-parent babies arguing that it was not in accord with what the bible taught and appeared to be “going down the road that bit further to cloning”.
“It is up to God to determine what we are like and who we are. The biblical basis is for two-parent families as far I would be concerned.”
He also opposed assisted suicide warning that legislation to permit such action could create a situation where older people felt compelled to prematurely end their lives so as not to be a burden on their families.
Asked about the Church of Scotland voting in favour of the ordination of gay ministers, Mr McNie said this was “not a decision that probably will be on the agenda of our church in the foreseeable future”.