Presbyterians consider role of church in the public square

31.1.2014 | Church in Society, Church in the Public Square


‘The Church in the Public Square?’ was the title for a major day conference held on Thursday, 30th January in Assembly Buildings,  Belfast and organised jointly by Union Theological College and the Church and Society Committee of the Presbyterian Church.  It was attended by 200 people including ministers, students and MLA’s and officials from the various political parties and the NI Assembly.

At a time when not only has the Christian voice become incomprehensible in many ears, but is often hated and opposed, the aim of the conference was to bring together a number of leading thinkers in the UK to consider the role which Christians and the Church can play in wider community life.
 
“Those who have lived through the second half of the twentieth century will be aware of the seismic shift that has taken place in terms of morality and ethical standards,” said Dr. Stafford Carson, Principal of Union Theological College and one of the conference organisers.
 
“Whereas it was once the case that a majority of people in our society accepted and ordered their lives according to foundational Christian standards of morality, that is no longer the case. The changing scene has meant that those who hold to a traditional Christian position feel decidedly uncomfortable and marginalised as our society, and increasingly its major institutions, reflect a secular point of view which conflicts with their Christian principles” continued Dr. Carson.
 
The conference tried to answer such questions as ‘What should Christians do, and how should they respond to these changes?’ and  ‘What role does the Christian church have to play in the debates that are taking place on a whole range of issues from education to euthanasia?’
 
Helping guide the thoughts of delegates were three keynote speakers.
 

Professor Donald McLeod is Professor of Systematic Theology at Free Church College in Edinburgh, and a regular commentator on current affairs in Scotland and the UK from a Christian point of view. He reflected on how and where the Church ought to position itself in current debates. Should the church retreat from the public square and only be concerned with spiritual matters or is there a biblical mandate for involvement in the discussion of key issues?

Dr. Jonathan Chaplin is Director of the Kirby-Laing Centre for Christian Ethics in Cambridge and a specialist in Christian political thought. He dealt with the challenge that arises when a diversity of religious communities no longer accept the privatised role allotted to them by liberal secularism but demand public recognition and public influence. Many want public policy to reflect their distinctive religious identity. Can this be done and should we expect, or work for, some degree of practical agreement?

John Larkin QC is the Attorney General for Northern Ireland he addressed the questions, What about rights? Do Christians have rights? Can the competing and opposing rights of individuals and groups be reconciled?

Some photos of the event

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