Presbyterian Church threat over gay man sparks outrage

Sandymount minister and council appointment decision ‘injurious’ to purity and peace

Threats by the Presbyterian Church to remove a Dublin minister and her church council over the appointment of a gay man to the council have been sharply condemned by senior clergy and academics.

The action followed a decision by Rev Katherine Meyer and the church council at Sandymount in Dublin 4 to accept Steven Smyrl, a gay man in a same-sex marriage with another church member there, onto its council.

A commission, set up by the church's Dublin and Munster Presbytery, found the leadership at Sandymount had justified "approval for that which in scripture God condemns" and demonstrated "their persistent deviation from the confessional standards of the Presbyterian Church".

Rev Meyer and church council had "caused scandal injurious to the purity and peace of the church", it said, and gave her and the church council until Monday to back down and remove Mr Smyrl, or face disciplinary proceedings.


‘Followers of Christ’

However, it is is understood that neither Rev Meyer nor the church council plan to recant or to remove Mr Smyrl.

Dean Maria Jansson, recently retired Church of Ireland dean of Waterford, accused the Dublin and Munster Presbytery of undermining the Sandymount community where all are welcomed "irrespective of ethnicity, religion, class or sex".

Dr Maureen Junker-Kenny, professor of theology at Trinity College Dublin, accused the Dublin and Munster Presbytery of "hounding blameless, committed followers of Christ": "What kind of future does the Presbyterian Church envisage for itself if it loses sight of the core Christian message?" she asked.

‘Fundamentalist clique’

In a letter to The Irish Times, Dr Ruth Whelan, professor of French at Maynooth University, referred to those investigating Sandymount as "a fundamentalist clique in the Dublin and Munster Presbytery".

Every Presbyterian congregation has members of the LGBT+ community “unless they have been driven away by the relentless homophobia”, she said, asking if they would now face investigation also.

The "ecclesiastical prosecution" of Rev Meyer "surely flies in the face of law and gospel", said Sr Geraldine Smyth, of the school of religion at TCD, who called for an "eleventh hour" change by the Presbyterian Church.

Robert Simmons, a Presbyterian elder at Christ Church Rathgar in Dublin, wondered if the Presbyterian Church understood Ireland's strict anti-discrimination laws.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times