Leading Presbyterian Prof Sam McConkey condemns church’s threat to dismiss Dublin minister

Church ‘bringing shame on itself’ with order to recant appointment of gay council member

The threat of dismissal facing a Presbyterian minister in Dublin and the disciplining of a parish council has been criticised by one of the State’s best-known members of the church, Prof Sam McConkey.

Rev Katherine Meyer and the Christ Church, Sandymount parish council have been ordered to recant following the appointment of Steven Smyrl, who is in a same-sex marriage, to a place on the council.

A commission of the church's Dublin and Munster presbytery gave Rev Meyer and the council until last Monday to back down, or else face disciplinary proceedings on January 18th.

However, Prof McConkey, an elder at the Clontarf Presbyterian church in Dublin, but better known as the head of the Department of International Health and Tropical Medicines at the Royal College of Surgeons, said: "Command and control, and sanction from on high, is not the Presbyterian way."

‘Scandal’

Following an investigation, the commission said Rev Meyer and the church council had caused “scandal injurious to the purity and peace of the church”, recalling how St Paul how instructed believers “not to associate with sexually immoral people if they bear the name of brother”.

Highly critical of the commission’s action, Prof McConkey said: “What they are doing is bringing shame on the church and should stop trying to apply sexuality standards from thousands of years ago.

“Have they similar views about slavery and the subjugation of women? If they don’t, they are being inconsistent,” he said, adding that most Presbyterians in the Republic “favour a tolerant, open church which embraces people who are different”.

Most church members do not favour “a literalist interpretation of the Bible”, said Prof McConkey, adding that the Presbyterian Church “has had women in leadership positions for years. Do they want to stop that too?

“Presbyterianism has very diverse voices, they are going in the opposite direction,” he said.

‘Witch-hunt’

Robert Simmons, an elder at Rathgar Presbyterian Church in Dublin, criticised what he described as "the witch-hunt by the Presbytery of Dublin and Munster against the minister and church council of Christ Church Sandymount".

He described it as “a totally unacceptable form of behaviour, and one which rightly brings shame upon the church or other body which allows it to take place. There is no place this side of the Border for kangaroo courts and ecclesiastical ‘kneecapping’.”

Christ Church Sandymount is shared with the Methodist Church. The southern chair of its Council on Social Responsibility Rev Steven Foster said he is "quite simply disgusted at the relentless pursuit of Rev Katherine Meyer and the Church Council at Sandymount".

There was, he said, “a lot of discussion among southern Methodists who are expressing their disgust at these things” and “a sadness more broadly among Methodists about the influence of a northern-based fundamentalism, that southern Methodists, and Presbyterians, do not recognise as part of their faith”.