But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
For some reason that scriptural text arrived in my head when I heard the announcement the other day That the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland had voted to disallow those in a same sex relationship from being full members of the church. The impact of the vote has other implications because it also means that the children of Gay or Lesbian couples will not be allowed to be baptised. This happened a couple of days after the PCI voted to loosen its affiliation with the Church of Scotland again over the gay issue. Well you can’t argue with democracy: the PCI could not be clearer that members of the LGBTQ Community and their children are not welcome. No ambiguity in that decision.
The scriptural quote I opened with of course is for effect - all preachers do it all of the time. The intention is to establish Biblical Authority for what you are about to say. Indeed some believe a sermon has no intrinsic value if it is not firmly based on scripture and correctly affirms the teaching of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I am sure I heard one voice saying that a majority cannot make a wrong right. Sorry, that was in regard to the referendum in the Republic and not the vote to demonise members of the Gay and lesbian Community.
As in Matthew 19:14 Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.
But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
For me it is a nice piece of scriptural writing to emphasis an image of refusing children to signal the view how could you turn away the children of any parents from baptism. However others will remind me that it Jesus telling his followers to be like little children to enter the Kingdom of God and that is true also.
Lets us briefly deal with the issues of baptism. Pope Francis when asked if the sinful state of parents is sufficient grounds to deny baptism? Now I will come back to the perceived sinful state of the parents. Pope Francis told a group of newly ordained priests: It is never necessary to refuse baptism to someone who asks for it!
However Catholic Bishop Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, instructed his priests that when a gay couple presents a child for baptism, this matter must be referred to his office for a formal decision. It is presumed he wants to leave open the possibility that he will deny baptism in some cases. He is being opposed by other clergy.
In a perusal of the ministry of Jesus, in any of the gospels, there does not appear to be a mention of him telling anyone they need to be baptised. He was forever telling people how to have a relationship with God and these discussions are recorded in the Gospels. But I do not see in any of these Biblical texts that baptism is crucial. You would have thought he might have mentioned it at least once and to my knowledge I don’t recall Jesus baptising anyone. He did have some of his disciples perform the ceremony of baptism. Jesus usually healed, cured, advised and was on his way, no baptism. So according to some views of scripture baptism may not be central to being a follower of Christ.
However that being said, we do have baptism and in the Presbyterian Tradition both Baptism and Communion are sacraments. We only have two sacraments. They are there to be offered to all that desire them. I have no authority to refuse them to anybody nor would I desire to do so. With reference to Communion in All Souls' we clearly say all are welcome to our table. With regard to Baptism no child would ever be turned away. Also if parents choose not to baptise their child all would still be welcome no matter their form. I said I would come back to the issue of the sinful state of the parents.
How dare any one suggest that the love, affection, commitment, friendship, support of a same sex couple is a sinful state. They should have a millstone round their neck. Is it the intent to drive people from the Love of God. Please if you know of any one has been hurt by this terrible decision, please tell them they will be blessed and find sanctuary here in All Souls. It is a sad week for the Christian Community. We can only pray for God’s forgiveness.
Christopher Hudson is Unitarian Minister, All Souls Church, Belfast.