The Mid Ulster Pride committee has defended using an image of Christ kissing a child to promote their forthcoming ‘Blessed are the Queer’ conference, after a cleric challenged them over the matter.
The row came the day after the official launch of the Mid Ulster Pride Parade, billed for June 13 in Cookstown, announced in the Royal Hotel in town on Thursday.
Free Presbyterian minister Rev Marcus Lecky led a peaceful protest of 80 people across the road outside, while inside committee vice chair, Coalisland rector Rev Andrew Rawding made another announcement; a conference at the Glenavon Hotel in Cookstown on April 1, entitled ‘Blessed Are the Queer’.
Rev Lecky said later: “Concerning the title of this proposed ‘conference’ – to represent lifestyles as good and blessed which the Bible clearly describes as sinful, is in my opinion a huge misrepresentation. The graphic used in the conference poster is particularly obnoxious - why are they using a photo of Christ kissing a boy as the main image for the conference?”
But Rev Rawding firmly defended the image. “My experience from people I know and from listening to people in the LGBT community is that children could know that they are LGBT from primary school age, and every child needs to know they are loved and cherished by God,” he said.
The keynote conference speaker is Prof Laurence Kirkpatrick, who was sacked last year from the Presbyterian Union Theological College over on air comments on homosexuality.
“I have accepted an invitation to speak on why different Christians hold different views on LGBT issues,” he said. “It has a lot to do with how we regard the Bible - should we always take it literally?
“I believe everyone in our society should treat each other with respect and dignity, irrespective of differing opinions and practices. This event is an opportunity to hear various contributions and therefore merits our attention.”
He has an employment tribunal hearing with the church in May.
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland responded: “As a Church we continue to affirm that all people are loved, valued and cherished by God. To love someone in Christ does not mean you have to agree with their lifestyle, or point of view. For example, PCI’s biblically faithful position that marriage is between one man and one woman, is well known.
“With little knowledge of the event, the format, or topics that the speakers will be addressing, it would be difficult to comment further. Dr Kirkpatrick is no longer a minister in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and no longer holds a professorial chair at Union Theological College. We would assume that Rev Cheryl Meban, who is one of our ministers, will be speaking in a personal capacity.”
The poster for the event bills Rev Cheryl Meban as linked to Ulster University. She declined to offer any comment at this time.
It is reported a woman disrupted the launch event on Thursday night. The PSNI said they are treating it as “a hate incident”.
Rev Lecky said such conduct was “inappropriate” and this his group had been directed to act “with the utmost civility” towards Mid Ulster pride.
He said he did not see there was much point in a meeting with them as they had “opposite world views”.