THE Church of Ireland will debate gay relationships tomorrow after a decision to stop the debate taking place was effectively overturned following behind the scenes negotiations in Dublin today.
A motion brought to the church’s General Synod by two bishops to re-affirm the church’s teaching that marriage is only between a man and a woman was ruled out of order by the Archbishop of Armagh, Alan Harper, on Thursday in dramatic scenes which led to two other motions about same-sex relationships being withdrawn.
But between Thursday night and Friday morning, conservative members of the church succeeded in bundling all three motions together and re-introducing them for discussion on Saturday morning under Standing Order 31 (d) in what could be a bitter debate.
Tomorrow’s motions will allow for the church to publicly discuss homosexuality for the first time since the News Letter revealed last September that Dean Tom Gordon had become the first serving Church of Ireland cleric to enter a civil partnership.
The three original motions had been presented by the liberal Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson, and the evangelical bishop of Down and Dromore, Harold Miller in a public show of unity.
But on Thursday as the first motion came to be debated the liberal Bishop of Cashel and Ossory, Michael Burrows, raised a point of order about his fellow bishops’ motion which led to Archbishop Alan Harper ruling that it could not be discussed.
Bishop Burrows, who was aware of Dean Gordon’s civil partnership before it took place, was openly jeered by large sections of the synod in Dublin’s Christchurch Cathedral but applauded loudly by others in a public sign of the considerable strain within the church.
Reintroducing the motion has infuriated some liberal members of the church who yesterday believed that they had defeated a motion which they believe will make it harder to get the church to accept gay relationships at a later point.
The Church of Ireland press office said that while the text of the three motions had now been incorporated into a single motion, the ‘preamble’ to the original motions had been dropped.
That preamble had said: “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...”
* For full reports from General Synod, see Saturday’s News Letter.
The full text of the motion now reads:
HUMAN SEXUALITY IN THE CONTEXT OF CHRISTIAN BELIEF
To the Honorary Secretaries:
I wish to propose the following motion under Standing Order 31(d)
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 Church of Ireland welcomes all people to be members of the Church. It is acknowledged, however, that members of the Church have at times hurt and wounded people by words and actions, in relation to human sexuality.
Therefore, in order that the Church of Ireland is experienced as a ‘safe place’ and enabled in its reflection, the Church of Ireland affirms:
A continuing commitment to love our neighbour, and opposition to all unbiblical and uncharitable actions and attitudes in respect of human sexuality from whatever perspective, including bigotry, hurtful words or actions, and demeaning or damaging language;
A willingness to increase our awareness of the complex issues regarding human sexuality;
A determination to welcome and to make disciples of all people.
The Church of Ireland is mindful that for all who believe ‘there is no distinction’ and that ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:22 - 23) and are in need of God’s grace and mercy. We seek to be a community modelled on God’s love for the world as revealed in Jesus Christ. We wish that all members of the Church, through the teaching of the scriptures, the nourishment of the sacraments, and the prayerful and pastoral support of a Christian community will fulfil their unique contribution to God’s purposes for our world.
That the General Synod requests the Standing Committee to progress work on the issue of Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief and also to bring a proposal to General Synod 2013 for the formation of a Select Committee with terms of reference including reporting procedures.