On a number of occasions I have challenged the publicly expressed views of ALF McCREARY who is the religious affairs correspondent of the Belfast Telegraph. By his own public admission he is an ordained Elder within the Irish Presbyterian Church although how in conscience he can maintain that in view of the regular conflict between the views expressed in his writings and the truths contained in his Supreme and Subordinate Standards of faith, namely The Bible and The Westminster Confession of Faith is to say the least ‘baffling’.
At this time of the year the 21 Presbyteries of the Irish Presbyterian Church vote to elect a new Moderator who then takes up his year of office in June each year. Last year was a very close vote with 11 Presbyteries voting for Rev Ivan McKay and 10 Presbyteries voting for Rev Ken Newell. Rev McKay would be identified with the ‘evangelical and non-ecumenical’ strand within Irish Presbyterianism whereas Rev Newell would be in the forefront of the ‘liberal and ecumenical’ strand.
On 31 January 2004 in his perspectives page ALF McCREARY wrote a short article called ‘It’s that time of year again’ and in it he said –
‘It is hard to believe that the annual election of a Presbyterian Moderator is taking place next week…last year there was a tie in the first round. In the subsequent election between two candidates, the current Moderator, Dr Ivan McKay received 11 votes to the 10 of Rev Ken Newell. I have no idea what will happen this year but I would like to think that a Presbyterian sense of propriety would ensure that Mr Newell would have the benefit of a fair wind this time round. The more I become an embedded reporter within Presbyterianism, the more I try to appreciate its ability to encompass a wide variety of beliefs and witness. I hope that my trust will be justified next week’.
Subsequent to the news of the vote referred to above ALF McCREARY again addressed the topic of the election in his perspectives page published on 7th February 2004 and this is part of what he wrote –
‘The news of the tied election this week for a new Moderator may seem to some people as exciting as watching paint dry…The Presbyterians held a perfectly legitimate election which produced a credible result…What was unusual…was the fact that it produced a tied vote for the second year in succession…this time the Rev Ken Newell, a progressive [for that read ‘liberal and ecumenical’] from Fitzroy Presbyterian Church tied with the Rev Dr Harry Uprichard, a conservative [for that read ‘evangelical and non-ecumenical] from Ahoghill…
According to the rules of the Church the 21 Presbyteries will now have to chooses between Mr Newell and Dr Uprichard on March2…Common sense might have suggested that, given last year’s voting figures, the Presbyterian Church might have given the nod to Ken Newell this time round…I have known Ken Newell for many years and I have respected his gifts of outreach to other denominations [for that read ‘ecumenical compromise’] and to other faiths…The wild card (if one can use that term for such a process) is that in both years the Monaghan Presbytery voted for Rev Alistair Kennedy from Bangor. If they had voted for Newell last year he would have been Moderator and the same would have applied this year in the first round.
If the current patterns hold, Monaghan also has the key to next year’s Moderator…I do hope however in the meantime there will be no telephone hotlines or arm-twisting to “keep Newell out” or “get Uprichard in” or vice versa.
I THINK THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH SHOULD BE BIG ENOUGH TO VOTE IN KEN NEWELL THIS TIME AND TO LOOK POSSIBLY AT HARRY UPRICHARD NEXT YEAR.
I was utterly appalled to read these comments by ALF McCREARY as with one breath he pleaded for no ‘arm-twisting’ and yet by his repeated pleas for Ken Newell to be ‘given the nod’ he was by another breath abusing his position with the Belfast Telegraph to apply some powerful journalistic ‘arm-twisting’. His misuse of his position and power did not escape the notice of a ‘Presbyterian Elder in Newtownabbey’ who had the following excellent letter published in the Belfast Telegraph of 14 February 2004 –
‘ALF McCREARY (Belfast Telegraph February 7) refers to the tied vote for the new Presbyterian Moderator. He states that Presbyterians held a perfectly legitimate election, which produced “a credible result”. This is correct because the voting was conducted in the 21 Presbyteries in accordance with the “code” of the Church. He goes on to express the hope that there will be no telephone hotlines or arm-twisting to try to sway the next phase of voting for either candidate. I also agree with this plea. However in the same paragraph he proceeds to tell the Presbyterian Church that it “should be big enough to vote in Ken Newell this time”. Would it not have been better of ALF McCREARY to accept the advice he gave to others? The Moderator, whoever is elected will be chosen as a result of a “credible” vote and will take up office in June as a result of that vote.
MR McCREARY on the other hand appears to have set himself up as a non-elected, self-appointed adviser to the 21 Presbyteries in general and the Monaghan Presbytery in particular. Members of Presbyteries should be left to make their decision, voting in accordance with their conscience, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, without pressure, ESPECIALLY FROM AN ELDER OF THE CHURCH WHO IS, QUITE CLEARLY, ENDEAVOURING TO USE HIS POSITION AS A PRESS CORRESPONDENT TO INFLUENCE THE VOTING IN FAVOUR OF HIS PERSONAL CHOICE OF CANDIDATE. I am sure that this is how both candidates would wish to see the election conducted.
What a gracious but effective exposure of ALF McCREARY’S abuse of his ‘journalistic position and power’
Cecil Andrews – ‘Take Heed’ Ministries – 16 February 2004
Did ALF McCREARY accept this rightful rebuke from a fellow ‘Presbyterian Elder’ in a fitting, apologetic, repentant manner? Did he hold his hands up and say – ‘It’s a fair cop; I’m guilty; I’m sorry’?
This is what he wrote in his column on 21 February 2004
Laying it on the line
On Tuesday week the Presbyterian Church in Ireland will vote again to elect a new Moderator after a tie earlier this month- unusually, the second in two years.
Until after the election (if even then) I intend to make no further editorial comment as to the outcome, save to make the point that the Church will indeed make up its mind – not my mind – as it always does, subject to Divine Guidance. That said, however,there is no reason in general why anyone should not make a comment on an issue of some public note, and I cannot see why an office-bearer, such as an elder, should be precluded from having a view on the matter.
Similarly, I cannot see how a citizen with a vote should not comment, say, on the outcome of an Assembly or local council election.
Like other correspondents I welcome all letters on issues of public interest, critical or otherwise, though I would much prefer that they were signed by the writer and that the name was published.
If someone is prepared to add his, or her, voice to a public debate I cannot understand why he or she should wish to hide behind a pseudonym, apart from reasons of personal security. I suppose its called having the courage of one’s convictions.
It really is difficult to accept that ALF McCREARY is an ordained Elder of the Presbyterian Church given the Biblical qualifications laid down for such a responsible role. Rather than setting a commendable Christian example by acknowledging his journalistic error in this whole ‘Moderator election affair’ Mr McCREARY has sought here to defend the indefensible and in doing so he misrepresented his ‘over the top’ electioneering on behalf of Ken Newell by reducing it to the level of ‘making a comment’.
 ‘I would like to think that a Presbyterian sense of propriety would ensure that Mr Newell would have the benefit of a fair wind this time round’ [31 January 2004];  ‘Common sense might have suggested that, given last year’s voting figures, the Presbyterian Church might have given the nod to Ken Newell this time round…  I THINK THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH SHOULD BE BIG ENOUGH TO VOTE IN KEN NEWELL THIS TIME’ [7 February 2004]
In the run up to an election in which Mr McCREARY clearly has a publicly stated ‘theological preference’ where the outcome is concerned, these canvassing views on behalf of one of the candidates amount to a lot more than simply ‘making a comment’.
As for his cheap comments about ‘Presbyterian Elder’ exercising a perfectly legitimate and in my book, in this particular case, a perfectly understandable right to remain anonymous, they really do betray a less than gracious trait in Mr McCREARY’S character. In the context of ‘things Christian’ this was a tasteless example of ‘I don’t like the message so I’ll shoot the messenger’.
In the light of this incident and others on record is it not time for both Mr McCREARY and the Belfast Telegraph to take a fresh look at his suitability for this position?
Cecil Andrews – ‘Take heed’ Ministries – 21 February 2004