Don’t walk away from Stormont

I was recently sent a letter by a pro-life lobby group which I was asked to sign. I did not feel that I could sign it and I want to set out the reasons why here. You can find the letter here.

I am appalled at the ways in which the Westminster Government have sought to impose legislation on abortion here in Northern Ireland. You can read a little more about the fatal flaws of this process and its rationale and why so many people in Northern Ireland have opposed it here, here and here, as well as in many other places on the web. It has undermined democracy, ignored the Stormont Assembly, caricatured those who oppose the imposition of abortion on Northern Ireland, made sweeping generalisations about the issues at hand and rode roughshod over the expressed will of the people of Northern Ireland. Not only that, but it has presented badly drafted legislation that was hurriedly passed and piggy-backed on wider parliamentary bills.

I am deeply committed to a pro-life position socially, morally and theologically. I think it is deeply flawed to pit the rights of women against the rights of unborn children. My decision not to sign the letter is not, and should not, be taken as a tacit approval of abortion, or of the political chicanery that has brought us to this place.

My decision not to sign the letter is because it calls for MLA’s to walk out of the local assembly if Westminster does not withdraw from its proposed approach. Such a step would collapse an already fragile Stormont at a time when we need it most. It was, after all, the absence of the local assembly that was used by Westminster politicians to impose this change upon us in the first place. I see no wisdom, and a great deal of harm, in walking away from the Assembly, however difficult remaining might be. We need our politicians to be in the Assembly, and we need to throw our weight behind those elected officials who oppose the imposition of abortion legislation upon us as much as we do. To demand they withdraw is to make the fatal flaw of exiting the chamber at the very time when we need them to remain. I am deeply grateful for the many elected officials of good will and those of Christian faith who have continued to make the case that the legislation being imposed upon us is wrong. I offer them my continued support and assure them of my continued prayers.

My views, expressed here, are my own, and are not written in my role as the chair of Elim’s Public Theology and Pastoral Ethics Task Force, although I am very aware that many of my Elim colleagues, and many of my colleagues in ministry across the churches of NI, share my views and my concerns. The public space is not one in which we can force people in or out. We need our politicians to hear us, but calling for a walk out is a fatal mistake at a time when we need to be talking, listening and working harder than ever. As hard as it is, we need our politicians to stay in Stormont, not to walk away.

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