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Irish church elder says he was ‘bullied’ and ‘dehumanised’ for being gay and married to a man

Lily Wakefield October 18, 2019
Presbyterian Church leaders told elder Steven Smyrl his marriage was 'incompatible' with his role

Presbyterian Church leaders told Steven Smyrl his marriage was 'incompatible' with his role. (BBC)

Steven Smyrl, an elder in the Irish Presbyterian Church who was dismissed from his position for being gay, has lost his appeal, and said the church “bullied” and “dehumanised” him.

The genealogist, 53, was dismissed as an elder at Christ Church Sandymount in Dublin last month over his marriage to his partner of 20 years, Roy.

He appealed the decision but, according to the BBC, he received a letter on Wednesday, October 16, written by the clerk of the church’s general assembly which said: “Having considered the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s settled position, being in either a same-sex civil partnership or a same-sex marriage is not compatible with being in the ordained leadership of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

“Mr Steven Smyrl’s stated grounds of appeal do not meet the requirement of being adequate and appropriate to be heard… and his appeal is dismissed.”

Smyrl was ordained as an elder in 2007, and told the Irish Times that his congregation was accepting of his relationship and realised that “the love between us is something genuine”.

But in April this year, he was told that there were “concerns” about his position as an elder, and that there had been a complaint.

He refused to attend any meetings until he was told what the concerns were, and it was eventually revealed in late May that they were about his marriage.

Presbyterian Church leaders ejected elder Steven Smyrl despite support from his local congregation at Christ Church Sandymount
Presbyterian Church leaders ejected Steven Smyrl despite support from his local congregation at Christ Church Sandymount.

A Presbytery commission was set up to “investigate” him, so he requested any information held on him under GDPR.

An email was released to him, with the name of the sender redacted, that contained photos of him and his husband from his Facebook page.

He told the Irish Times: “It was unbelievably distressing. I wasn’t sleeping at this stage, I couldn’t eat properly… I felt really degraded and dehumanised by it.

“When I saw the photos of Roy and I being used in this way, I thought, is this a Christian church doing this? It is absolutely appalling.” He added that he fell into a “downward spiral of depression”.

Smyrl wrote on Twitter on Wednesday: “My appeal has been denied. Over the course of the last six months PCI’s Commission has left me feeling harried and bullied, they have shown me discourtesy and misrepresented me. They should hang their heads in shame!”

Even though the church has dismissed him and rejected his appeal, he said that he will return to his church as a member of the congregation “holding my head high, because I have nothing to be ashamed of”.

In a statement to the Irish Times, the Presbyterian Church said it “had the right to order its own affairs under the Word of God, our supreme standard”.

More: church elder, Dublin, Irish Presbyterian Church, Religion

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