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Church of Ireland set to vote on Pastoral Acceptance of Same-Sex Unions

Church of Ireland set to vote on Pastoral Acceptance of Same-Sex Unions


By Rev. Dr. Alan McCann
April 24, 2017

At the General Synod of the Church of Ireland 2017 a motion to recognize same-sex unions (see motion below) will be presented, debated and voted upon. At this moment, it would be impossible to say what the outcome of that vote would be. Back in 2012 the General Synod of the Church of Ireland overwhelmingly passed a motion which clearly and unambiguously stated that marriage was between one man and one woman and that this was the normative relationship for sexual relations.

The synod could not have been any clearer on the teaching of the Church of Ireland in relation to Human Sexuality and Marriage. Five years later what has changed? We have had a 'listening process' in the intervening period. However, in that period the Republic of Ireland has passed legislation allowing same-sex marriage whereas the Northern Ireland assembly, through motions of concern, blocked the same legislation being passed. This leaves the Church of Ireland in an awkward situation because it is an all Ireland church.

For the past three years, the Church of Ireland has had a Select Committee looking at Human Sexuality in the context of Christian Faith. The report of that committee is included in this years book of reports to General Synod. The report is pretty bland and, as per its remit, did not make any recommendations or proposals. Dr. Kilroy and Rev. O'Rourke are both members of that committee and obviously, by their motion below, feel the committee's report did not go far enough.

I have to say I admire their honesty and integrity in bringing such a motion to the floor of synod to be debated. To be honest, it is, and has been, the proverbial elephant in the room for many years now. We have had clergy enter in to civil partnerships and leading clergy advocating, at every opportunity, for not only the blessing of same-sex relationships but also for same-sex marriages to be celebrated in the Church of Ireland. Priests in the South of Ireland find themselves in the position that what they are allowed to do by the state they are not allowed to do by Church law. However, that has yet to be tested in a court of law or in a court of the Church of Ireland.

This motion will bring the matter to a head at this years' synod. I have no doubt Archbishop Richard Clarke wishes the motion had not appeared on the synod agenda. However, it is here now and we must prepare for it and seek to have it rejected by synod. This motion is subtly clever in that it will bring, for the next three years, the issue of same-sex relationships to the fore at each general synod. The potential, despite the claim here to seek to maintain unity, is actually to bring disunity, division and dare one say it a possible schism in the Church of Ireland. The Human Sexuality report states on several occasions that there are definite lines drawn in the Church of Ireland on this issue and that neither side will give ground, and rightly so!

We can see the writing on the wall in this motion. Whilst it implies that we are not changing the doctrine of marriage as stated in Canon 31, we will in practice be doing just that, if this was passed. What is spoken of here as an option will in future, if TEC etc. are anything to go by, will be mandated and eventually those who will not succumb to the revisionist agenda will be hounded out of their parishes etc. We have watched our brothers and sisters in Christ go through this journey that we are only at the beginning of and so we are well aware of what lies ahead of us.

Personally, over the past few years I have listened and watched as more and more clergy and laity within the Church of Ireland have embraced society's sexual ethics as if they were Biblical. I have watched and listened as the 'pastoral' argument has been put forward time and time again as justification for departing from Biblical orthodoxy and the historical Church (catholic) teaching on this matter. We are deluded as a Church if we believe that by embracing this sinful way of life we are going to fill our church pews each week. The very opposite is true. In my own parish, I have already lost families who no longer wished to belong to a denomination that could not be clear on the plain teaching of the Bible on sexual matters, and I fear that may well become and exodus in the future.

I take no delight in seeing the Church of Ireland in such turmoil. I foresee even more turmoil and pain ahead. I cannot see this motion doing other than causing deep hurt and division, irrespective of how the vote goes. I know that many orthodox Anglicans on this island are dismayed that we are now facing this vote. However, I have to say many of them have only themselves to blame because some of us have been lone voices saying this is where we were headed and we were accused of scaremongering etc. We have also lacked clear leadership at times and we have had no conservative evangelical bishop to lead us and to take a stand behind whom others could gather.

Maybe now those who have been 'sleep walking' in to this scenario will awaken from their slumber and take a firm, but loving stand, on what the Scriptures plainly teach and what the Church of Ireland has always held to doctrinally on this matter.

The Rev. Dr. Alan McCann is an ordained clergyman in the Church of Ireland. The views he expresses here are solely his


12. PRIVATE MEMBER'S MOTION Proposer: Dr. Leo Kilroy
Seconder: Rev Brian O'Rourke

Notwithstanding the diversity of conviction regarding human sexuality, and in order to maintain the unity of the Church of Ireland, the General Synod

A. Acknowledges the injury felt by members of the Church who enter into loving, committed and legally-recognised, same-sex relationships, due to the absence of provision for them to mark that key moment in their lives publicly and prayerfully in Church.


B. Respectfully requests the House of Bishops to investigate a means to develop sensitive, local pastoral arrangements for public prayer and thanksgiving with same-sex couples at these key moments in their lives, and to present their ideas to General Synod 2018, with a view to making proposals at General Synod 2019.

The development of any such pastoral arrangements should not infringe Canon 31 and the facilitation of such arrangements would not impair the communion between an individual bishop or diocese with any other bishop or diocese of the Church of Ireland.


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