Suffer the little children - baptism and Irish Presbyterians


Yesterday, the General Assembly the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) voted to exclude (literally excommunicate) LGBTQi+ members and to refuse baptism to the children of same-sex couples. It comes after the decision to break relations with the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church in Great Britain because of their decisions to move towards inclusion of LGBTQi+ people.

I began my Christian life in the PCI. Both my parents were Presbyterians and I was baptised by one of their ministers. I ended up a Methodist, first by accident, then by conviction, but have never forgotten my Reformed heritage. But I also remember growing up in the North in the late 1980s when, despite homosexuality being decriminalised there in 1982, the Presbyterian Minister who chaired our school's Board of Governors made sure that any reference to homosexuality was blacked out in A-level biology text books.

Many have been shocked and appalled by this decision. But the reality is that discussions like this have been taking place in local churches across Britain for some time. In more than one Methodist Church, the idea that the child of a same-sex couple should be baptised has necessitated a discussion at the Church Council. As far as I know, when it comes to the baptism of an unmarried couple's child, or the child of a single parent, or the child who has been adopted, or the child who has been born through assisted conception or egg donation, Church Councils have not been consulted, and the offering of God's blessing has not been contingent on a majortity vote. To question whether a child can be baptised is not only antithetical to the evangelical Arminianism of the Methodist tradition - for all my Lord was crucified - but also ends up in tacit agreement with those Irish Presbyterians who say that the children of same-sex couples are somehow defective or tainted.

Like many LGBTQi+ people, I am an incredibly proud parent of an extraordinary son. It is so often assumed that being gay somehow means being sterile and incapable of producing a child. I do remember an occasion when I was asked to speak to a group of 'liberal' Christians about LGBTQi+ inclusion in the Church and mentioned that I was a parent as wel as being gay. The day proceeded with small groups and feedback until, over coffee, an ordained person came to offer personal feedback from his small group. 'We spent the whole of our small group talking about the fact you were a parent,' he said. 'So was it natural or by adoption?'

I was so shocked by the question, I answered. Only later did I get a chance to reflect on