Presbyterian Church responds following backlash against dismissal of elder over same-sex marriage

Church elder Steven Smyrl was dismissed after an investigation into his same-sex marriage.

An older man wearing glasses looking distressed as he is interviewed in a small room
Image: Steven Smyrl BBC interview

Reverend Jim Stothers of the Presbyterian Church has published a response in the Belfast Telegraph following the backlash against the dismissal of church elder Steven Smyrl for his same-sex marriage.

Earlier in 2019, an internal church commission set up an investigation into elder Smyrl and his husband, Roy Stanley following a raised “concern”. From the probe’s findings, the commission ruled that to be in a same-sex marriage was incompatible with being in ordained leadership in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and Mr Smyrl was dismissed with immediate effect.

Speaking to the BBC, at the time, Smyrl described the impact of his dismissal, “When they sent me what had been submitted against me, I felt sick to the stomach… In a personal way, I was just, how can I say, worn out, distressed.”

Commenting on behalf of the Presbyterian Church, Rev Stothers wrote, “While nobody denies that Mr Smyrl has the right to enter into such a relationship, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it was found to be contrary to the Church’s clear and settled position that being in a same-sex marriage is not compatible with being in the ordained leadership of the Church. Referring back to the biblical account of creation, Jesus teaches that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman.”

Stothers continued, “While on many occasions we have clearly and publicly affirmed that all people are loved, valued and cherished by God, regardless of their sexual orientation, PCI has been attacked through these pages (Belfast Telegraph) for its decision, and also for its silence. Those involved in the process have been described in various ways as ‘evil’ and of lacking ‘love and compassion’.”

He added, “While Mr Smyrl has expressed hurt and disappointment, the actions and qualities that have been attributed to members of the commission and leadership of PCI through the letters page, has caused me and others great personal distress. It is one thing to disagree with the decisions of a judicial process, it is quite another to question the integrity of the individuals involved in that process.”

Stothers finished, “I believe that newspapers and the Press in general are a fundamental part of the democratic fabric of any free society. To every story, however, there are two sides, and for me, it was time to speak.”

In November last year, members of the Presbyterian Church gathered outside a church meeting in Dublin to protest the dismissal. Smyrl shared that he and his husband “have been bowled over by the support we have received not only from a huge number of fellow Presbyterians but by the public at large. Your average man or woman sees our relationship for what it is: two people who love each other deeply and want what is rightly ours – the right to form a family as provided for in law.”

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