Unease in CoI at gay row motions

THE Church of Ireland’s General Synod will next week discuss motions by a liberal bishop and a conservative bishop which would push back a decision about the church’s position on homosexuality.

The church’s ruling synod, which meets annually for three days of discussions and decision-making, will convene in Dublin on Thursday for the first time since the News Letter revealed that a serving Church of Ireland cleric had last summer entered a civil partnership.

Dean Tom Gordon’s same-sex union led to a furious backlash among conservative and evangelical church members, most of whom are in Northern Ireland. Some even said that the issue threatened a split in the church.

However, in recent months most of those people have publicly gone silent after the church’s bishops instigated a lengthy consultation process, which included a behind-closed-doors conference in March to discuss homosexuality.

That two-day conference did not come to a resolution on whether the church would either accept gay relationships or hold them to be sinful.

Now two bishops – one each from the evangelical and liberal wings – have co-authored motions which seek to keep all sides happy.

However, the attempted compromise – which will be discussed next week – has caused deep unhappiness among some evangelicals and particular anger among gay rights activists.

Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson, a liberal, and Bishop Harold Miller, an evangelical, have moved three motions.

However, despite running to 600 words, the motions do not even mention the words “gay”, “homosexual”, or “civil partnerships”.

They recognise that “no other understanding of marriage” has been provided than the church’s traditional “one man with one woman” Canon 31 and that therefore “faithfulness within marriage is the only normative context for sexual intercourse”.

It adds that clergy should be “wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Jesus Christ” but adds that it “welcomes all people to be members of the church”.

The motions oppose “bigotry, hurtful words or actions and demeaning or damaging language” in relation to sexuality.

It also asks the church’s standing committee to “progress work on the issue of human sexuality in the context of Christian belief” and to bring a proposal to next year’s synod.

The carefully-worded motions have not satisfied some evangelicals as none mention the fact that a serving church minister is in a civil partnership, of which his bishop approves, and therefore the church will have de facto accepted that clergy can enter same-sex unions.

However, some gay members of the church are also angry at what they see as a fudge.

Gerry Lynch, a parishioner at St George’s in Belfast, said that he felt belittled by the motions.

Mr Lynch, who is a spokesman for the Changing Attitude pro-gay lobby group but was speaking personally, told the News Letter: “As a gay Christian this reads to me as a bunch of bishops dumping me over the hedge with the croziers about my love life.

“The bishops promised nine years ago that they would listen to LGB [lesbian, gay, bisexual] people before judging their relationships. Here we have a judgmental resolution while the listening process is now delayed for another year.”

He added: “Liberal southern bishops may well have read this as a compromise.

“History is littered with examples of motions that worked in practice completely different from how they were intended. This is a pretext for witch hunts of gay clergy and this is a pretext for barring gay people from receiving communion. Those who dismiss this possibility are being naive.”

The motions, which will be debated on Thursday, will need to pass the church’s House of Bishops, the House of Clergy and the House of Laity to become formally accepted by the church.