P.A. MagLochlainn, chairman of the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association, attended the controversial conference in Belfast last week entitled, “The Lepers Among Us: Homosexuality and the Life of the Church.” Surprisingly, MagLochlainn found the event to be more positive than it may have been portrayed in the media.
The News Letter reports that the conference was organized by Core Issues, a Northern Ireland group, and took place at Orangefield Presbyterian Church in Belfast. Upon attending the conference, the News Letter reports that MagLochlainn found there to be a marked difference between “the perception and reality” of the event.
The title of the Belfast conference came from a book penned by Texas pastor and lawyer Reverend Jim Reynolds.
“Rev Reynolds was arguing that churches must offer a much more welcoming approach to gay people. The conference had a panel on Friday with a representative of the gay perspective sitting on it, which was most welcome to see,” said MagLochlainn, who also added that he “really liked the guy [Reynolds].”
“The relationship between the organisers and our protesters is actually very good. They provided a dedicated space for us to protest and brought us out hot coffee and scones. About 10 of us sat through the conference and I asked several questions.”
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MagLochlainn found Reynolds to be of different character than what the media may have portrayed him to be. Of Reynolds, MagLochlainn said that he “has actually a more liberal, Christian attitude to gay people in the church. I totally understand what he was saying in using the title ‘The Lepers Among Us’ for his book.”
No doubt, the title of the book and its corresponding conference has drawn heat from some protesters.
“It was an unfortunate choice of words,” said MagLochlainn about the title. “Jim is a very affable person. I agree with him that the church has treated the gay community like lepers. He says that the church accepts the worst of murderers back and tries to work with them but displays a very different attitude to gay people, which is what he is challenging.
MagLochlainn went on to explain that he and Reynolds essentially agreed on the point that the Church as a whole does not spend enough time attempting to eradicate homophobia, and rather too much time on trying to get people to change their sexuality.
“This is an improvement in their approach, I can see the Holy Ghost’s work in all of this. People’s eyes have been opened. It is always encouraging to see the church adopting a more Christian attitude.”
While it may be an “improvement,” MagLochlainn and Reynolds still couldn’t find common ground for their final understanding.
“He reckons the gay lifestyle is not acceptable in the Christian faith,” said MagLochlainn about Reynolds’ attitude towards gays in the Church, “but gay Christians like us see no conflict.”