A controversial motion to be put to the Church of Ireland’s General Synod stating that only sex within marriage is “normative” could lead to a “witch-hunt” against gay clergy, campaigners have said.
More than 20 gay, lesbian and bisexual Anglicans have signed a letter published in today’s Belfast Telegraph objecting to Resolution 8A, which states that marriage can only occur between one man and one woman for the “procreation and nurture of children”. It adds that monogamous marriage is the “only normative context for sexual relationships”.
Signatories argue that, if passed, Church members in same-sex relationships will be stigmatised.
The term “normative” — meaning right or ideal — is used in three motions on ‘Human Sexual
ity in the Context of Christian Belief’.
They are tabled for discussion at the General Synod, which is effectively the Church’s annual general meeting, in Dublin tomorrow.
The motions are all proposed by Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson, and Harold Millar, the Bishop of Down and Dromore. It would be a major upset if they were not passed — but they will be opposed.
“There is a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’, attitude towards homosexuals in the Church of Ireland,” said Gerry Lynch, a member of the church board of St George’s Parish in Belfast, as well as a delegate to the diocesan synod.
“It allows a very unhealthy situation to develop where you can be gay as long as everyone agrees in public that you are not really.”
Mr Lynch is a former Church of Ireland missionary and former general secretary of the Alliance Party.
Other opponents who signed the letter include David Norris, who ran for the Irish Presidency last year, Canon Ian Sherwood, a Church of Ireland clergyman serving in Europe, and Jeff Dudgeon, the gay rights campaigner and Ulster Unionist Party member.
Mr Lynch said he joined the Church of Ireland in 1997, partly because of his shared faith with a prominent Anglican with whom he has been in a monogamous relationship ever since.
“I felt it was somewhere I could be gay with integrity, I felt it was more open than the Catholic Church, but there were also theological reasons,” said the former missionary.
He added: “A lot of Anglicans are gay. In my experience an unusually high proportion of clergy are gay and in private they can be open about it. People don’t really care as long as nothing is said in public.”
Other motions will say the Church “welcomes all people to be members” and calls for a standing committee to be set up which will report to next year’s synod.
There was controversy last July when Portadown-born Rev Tom Gordon, a former lecturer at the Church of Ireland theological college who is co-ordinator of religious programmes for RTE, entered into a civil partnership with his partner of 20 years. It later emerged that Rev Gordon, now a dean in Carlow, had received prior approval from his bishop.
Officially, however, vicars can lose their jobs if they admit to homosexuality and there is a complaint.
Analysis by Alf McCreary
Worldwide schism has little hope of healing
THE latest protest by the pro-gay lobby in the Church of Ireland over the handling of the same-sex issue is predictable.
The bishops had little option but to confirm current Christian teaching that marriage is a permanent union between a man and a woman.
This is one of three resolutions at the law-making General Synod tomorrow in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.
A large group of Church members describing themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual have written an open letter to complain about not being consulted by the bishops. They claim the resolutions stigmatise any sexual relationship outside opposite-sex marriage as not “normative”.
Same-sex relationships are at the heart of a worldwide schism within Anglicanism.
The controversy became a live issue in Ireland last year after it was reported that Dean of Leighlin Tom Gordon had entered into a civil partnership with his male companion.
The Church of Ireland attempted to address the issue in depth at a meeting in March, but no decisions were taken. Inevitably the General Synod now has to tackle this crunch issue.
The bishops want the synod to reinforce traditional Church teaching on marriage, to ask people to “oppose all unbiblical and uncharitable actions and attitudes” regarding human sexuality, and to allow the Church to start forming a select committee this time next year.
This attempt by the bishops to cool things down and to move the issue forward slowly will not receive sympathy from the pro-gay lobby in what will be a passionate debate on Thursday.
The synod may try to reach a compromise rather than reject the resolutions outright, but — whatever happens — this increasingly intense controversy at the heart of the Church of Ireland and the other main Protestant churches will not go away.
Should the Church of Ireland accept gay marriage?
NO say Archbishop Michael Jackson and Bishop Harold Millar
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 natural instincts and affections.
Faithfulness within marriage is the only normative context for sexual intercourse. Members of the Church of Ireland are required by 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 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.
YES say Church member Gerry Lynch and other campaigners for gay rights
By stating that faithfulness within marriage is the only “normative” context for sex, Resolution 8A imposes a condition that people in faithful same-gender relationships cannot comply with.
The implication that members of the Church of Ireland in relationships other than marriage are in breach of the catechism gives legitimacy, for the first time, to excluding lay people in same-gender relationships from Holy Communion.
Resolution 8A provides a pretext to launch witch-hunts against gay clergy in liberal dioceses. This has happened in the Anglican Church in Australia since similar motions were passed by its General Synod in 2004.
There is a culture of fear in parts of the Church of Ireland, especially for clergy. That is why some of us can only sign this letter anonymously.