The Church of Ireland is governed by General Synod, made up of three Houses: the Laity, the Clergy, and the Bishops. This week, the three houses will meet in Dublin at Christ Church in Dublin to transact the business that ensures the Church continues to work.
General Synod is rather like a mini-parliament: to effect change you need to bring a Bill and form legislation. This week, however, one change is being sought by the back door. And it is being brought by those who should know better: two Bishops.
The bishops tabling the motion are His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, and His Lordship the Bishop of Down & Dromore, Harold Miller. The motions have not been brought to General Synod by the usual methods. No, they have been brought by the back door; they have been sprung on the members of the General Synod without wider debate in the Church. The motions were not submitted in time for the Standing Committee of General Synod to include them in the normal business of the General Synod. It seems that the Bishops have no regard for the due process of the Church of Ireland: this is completely unacceptable.These motions arrived late, and thus have to have two-thirds support from the members of the Synod present and voting as well as the support of the President (usually His Grace the Lord Archbishop of Armagh) to be allowed to be debated1.
The resolutions are, of course, on the issue that apparently is the line in the sand for some: sexuality. Whilst the resolutions can be read in all manner of ways by all manner of people, there is growing concern about the content of Resolution 8A in particular.
The text of Resolution 8A is given below:
Having regard to the present discussions in the Church of Ireland on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief, the General Synod affirms that:
• The Church of Ireland, mindful of the Preamble and Declaration, believes and accepts the Holy Scriptures as revealing all things necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ;
• The Church of Ireland continues to uphold its teaching that marriage is part of God’s creation and a holy mystery in which one man and one woman become one flesh, as provided for in Canon 31:
‘The Church of Ireland affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching that marriage is in its purpose a union permanent and life-long, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity’.
The Church of Ireland recognises for itself and of itself, no other understanding of marriage than that provided for in the totality of Canon 31;
• The Church of Ireland teaches therefore that faithfulness within marriage is the only normative context for sexual intercourse. Members of the Church of Ireland are required by the Catechism to keep their bodies in ‘temperance, soberness and chastity’. Clergy are called in the Ordinal to be ‘wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Jesus Christ’.
The final paragraph is the most nasty of all. For it is the one that will legitimise witch-hunts against gay clergy; it is the one that will allow gay people to be excluded from Holy Communion; and it demeans the relationships of remarried divorcees.
It is clear that the Church of Ireland needs to listen to its LGBT members. The Conference on
Human Sexuality Homosexuality in March in the Slieve Russell Hotel in County Cavan had no input from LGBT members of the Church of Ireland. I am not a member of General Synod, but I do ask those who are to reject Resolution 8A and allow a real listening process to begin. After all, we were promised this by the House of Bishops back in 2003… surely nine years later it is about time to get started. The Pastoral Letter on Human Sexuality of 2003 also states
the conversation surrounding sexuality is not suited, at this stage, to large legislative assemblies.
I would contend that since there has been no real process by which the views of the LGBT members of the Church can be heard, there has been no fundamental change in the mind of the Church and so that statement still stands.
1. Standing Order 31(d)(ii) Standing Orders of the General Synod
- Resolution 8A – it’s Anti-Gay. (8anoway.com)
- Bishops’ Conference: ‘Human Sexuality in the context of Christian Belief’ (kiwianglo.wordpress.com)
- Book Launch: Moving Forward Together: Homosexuality and the Church of Ireland (faithandpride.org)
- Church of Ireland hold conference on gay issues – one gay speaker (mamanpoulet.com)
- Thinking Anglicans: Church of Ireland conference on human sexuality (queeringthechurch.com)