‘Blessed are the Queer’: Sacked Presbyterian professor is keynote speaker at LGBT faith conference

Former Presbyterian UTC Professor Laurence Kirkpatrick gave his reasons for speaking at the conference.
Former Presbyterian UTC Professor Laurence Kirkpatrick gave his reasons for speaking at the conference.

A former lecturer at the Presbyterian theological college in Belfast is to be the keynote speaker at a LGBT affirming conference – about one year after being sacked by the church over a sexuality row.

The date for Mid Ulster Pride Parade, billed as NI’s first rural LGBT parade, was announced in the Royal Hotel in Cookstown last night.

Rev Andrew Rawding with a large poster reading 'Blessed are the queer'

Rev Andrew Rawding with a large poster reading 'Blessed are the queer'

But the event also saw the launch of a conference on April 1 at the Glenavon Hotel, Cookstown, ‘Blessed are the Queer’ – with keynote speaker, Rev Prof Rev Laurence Kirkpatrick, with fellow Presbyterian Rev Cheryl Meban from Ulster University.

In March last year the Presbyterian Church in Ireland dismissed Prof Kirkpatrick on grounds of making unacceptable comments to the media without seeking prior approval.

He was on the teaching staff at Union Theological College (UTC) in Belfast, but was dismissed for making adverse comments about his employer on BBC Radio Ulster, after the church severed links with the Church of Scotland over the issue of same-sex relationships.

His dismissal letter said: “You stated that you would be ‘horrified’, using that word twice, if a student at Union Theological College was taught that a same-sex, sexually active relationship was sinful, knowing full well that was the doctrinal position of your employer.”

Asked by BBC presenter William Crawley what would happen if a gay student at UTC was offered “only one view” that a “same-sex sexually active relationship is sinful”, Prof Kirkpatrick (pictured) replied: “I would be horrified if they would be getting that in our college.”

The ‘Blessed are the Queer’ conference was announced last night by Coalisland rector Rev Andrew Rawding, who is also deputy chairman of the Mid Ulster Pride Parade organising committee.

The rector has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT endorsement by mainstream churches.

Rev Rawding said of the forthcoming conference: “We need to listen to LGBT voices, particularly from a faith background and affirm them with unconditional love.”

Last night at the launch – after a drum roll and the sounds of Diana Ross singing ‘I’m Coming Out’ – the parade date was formally announced by the chairman of the local authority, SDLP councillor Martin Kearney.

“As chair Of Mid Ulster District Council I am hugely privileged and honoured to officially launch Mid Ulster Pride,” he said.

“I wish it huge success. This is going to be a truly inspirational day for our rural community and I hereby now launch Mid Ulster Pride, by announcing that the first ever rural Pride will take place here, in Cookstown, on Saturday June 13, 2020.”

The compere for the evening was drag queen Alexis Cox, with committee chairman Jonathan Campbell speaking about his own journey as a gay man from Dungannon, the background to the parade and how he believes the Mid Ulster Pride committee “is changing the world together”.

Also in attendance last night was PSNI Supt Patricia Foy.