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IRELAND: Some reflections on General Synod 2017 - Human Sexuality Debate/Motion 12

IRELAND: Some reflections on General Synod 2017 - Human Sexuality Debate/Motion 12

By Alan McCann
Special to Virtueonline
May 9, 2017

Whilst orthodox Anglicans within the Church of Ireland are thankful that Motion 12 was defeated at General Synod 2017 they have nothing to be complacent about. Prior to the debate and vote on Motion 12 the synod debated, and accepted, the Select Committee on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief.

The report met with some favorable comments and was accepted overwhelmingly. However, I feel the reason it was not debated in any detail nor its 'recommendation' challenged was because people thought Motion 12 was the 'big issue.' However, the Human Sexuality report specifically recommended "that the Bishops further examine the unresolved theological differences as represented in the Select Committee, with a view to making proposals to facilitate a way forward." Not very far away from what Motion 12 was asking the House of Bishops to do. I fear some were blindsided by Motion 12 and did not read the text of the Human Sexuality Report closely enough.

Looking at the present make-up of the House of Bishops I am not sure where they would lead us on this issue. This is purely a personal reflection but I reckon there are four possibly five who are theologically opposed to any revision of the Church's teaching and practice on this issue. Of the other seven or eight, depending on the previous comment, I reckon at least all but one, maybe two, are clearly in favor of blessing same-sex relationships and even conducting same-sex marriages in the Church of Ireland. Of the one or possibly two I would be uncertain if they would abstain or go with the majority. The latter being the most likely in my opinion. Therefore, I would not be holding out any great hope for the present House of Bishops to lead us other than in the liberal revisionist direction on this issue.

If it comes to such a change the general synod would be required to vote by orders and a two thirds majority would be needed in the house of laity, clergy and bishops before such a 'doctrinal' and or 'liturgical' change could be made. However, after the vote in Limerick I would not be confident that such a vote would be won by the orthodox??? The comment has been made on the orthodox side "if we can win it in Limerick we can win it Armagh." Behind this comment lies the false thinking that fewer people, especially from the northern province, were present in Limerick due to the distance to travel to be present. However, looking at the preliminary figures shows that there were only 30 or so fewer synod members present on Friday in Limerick compared to the Friday session of general synod in Armagh in 2016. A sobering thought.

The reality is, to use a well-known political phrase on this island, speaking of the liberal revisionists: "we haven't gone away you know!" Having had this issue now debated and brought to the floor of general synod i suspect we will see it return, in one form or another, for the foreseeable future.

Further, Motion 12 asked for the bishops to bring proposals for public prayers for those who had entered in to civil partnerships or same-sex marriages. The word 'public' was an interesting insertion. The implication, at least in my mind, is that such 'prayers' are already being offered in 'private.' The rumor mill, if it can be believed, and that is a big 'if', would have me believe that such 'private prayers' have happened in both the southern and northern provinces of the Church of Ireland, However, as I have written that is only the rumor mill.

I envisage that the House of Bishops will struggle to bring anything other than 'we are a work in progress' report to general synod in 2018. I suspect we may have another private members bill, especially if same-sex marriage enters the statue books in Northern Ireland. I also envisage, as with other liturgical innovations in the past, the rules will be broken and may even be challenged publicly by a cleric or more likely clerics, in a coordinated challenge to the synod's vote on the grounds of 'rights' and 'pastoral response,' offering public prayers for same-sex couples.

The Church of Ireland is in for a very turbulent time and there is no sign that the storm will abate any time soon. In fact, the very opposite is true. The liberal revisionists are emboldened by the closeness of the vote. Orthodox Anglicans within the Church of Ireland cannot rest at all as the vote showed there is no 'middle ground' on this issue in the Church of Ireland. General Synod 2017 will, I fear, come to be seen as a watershed, especially when compared to the overwhelming vote in 2012 which restated, and which is still our official position, that marriage is between one man and one women. The orthodox can no longer remain silent and we desperately need a clearer lead from the orthodox bishops or we need to start to look elsewhere, and I suggest GAFCON, for that leadership.

The Rev. Dr. Alan McCann, rector of Holy Trinity Woodburn, Diocese of Connor. Ordained in 1993 he has spent his ordained ministry in Carrickfergus leading Holy Trinity, a church plant in 1992 by St Nicholas (built 1180AD) Carrickfergus to parish status in 2000. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. McCann speaking and reflecting in a personal capacity and not on behalf of anyone else or any organization or body within the Church of Ireland.

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