Debate doctrine, not sex say Irish evangelicals: The Church of England Newspaper, December 9, 2011 p 7. December 9, 2011Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Ireland, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue.
Tags: Church of Ireland Evangelical Fellowship, New Wine Ireland, Reform Ireland, the Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy
First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.
Evangelical leaders in the Church of Ireland have questioned the parameters of the church’s forthcoming debate on human sexuality, warning that beginning the debate on this point might provide a political solution to a theological problem.
In a 29 Nov 2011 letter written under the signature of the Church of Ireland Evangelical Fellowship, the Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy, New Wine Ireland and Reform Ireland, Irish evangelicals took the bishops to task for their passive approach to the divisions that appear set to tear the church apart.
The bishops’ response to one of their colleague’s approval of the same-sex civil partnership ceremony contracted by a senior clergyman “could convey the impression that the bishops are simply responding to issues that are not, in part, of their own making.”
In July the Dean of Leighlin registered a same-sex civil union with his partner, apparently with the tacit approval of the Bishop of Cashel and Ossory. When news of the event broke, it caused an outcry in the Irish Church and on 5 October 2011 the bishops released a pastoral letter calling for a moratorium on clergy entering into same-sex civil partnerships. They also asked critics of gay civil unions to moderate their language too while the Church begins debate.
The bishops said they had been planning on reviewing their 2003 statement on human sexuality, however, “recent well–publicised events within the Church of Ireland concerning the issue of serving clergy and civil partnerships have caused considerable hurt and confusion to many. Others saw what had happened as a positive development. In the Church of Ireland as a whole, in consequence, this has led to a painful experience of disunity.”
The bishops stated they would organise “a major conference in spring 2012” to discuss the issue, but noted the meeting “is not envisaged to be an end in itself” and would not settle the issue.
However, the bishops must realize that their indecision played a key part in “allowing the debate to unravel as it has,” the Irish evangelicals said.
“There has been a failure to engage in any process following the 2003 statement,” the evangelicals said, and this coupled with the “perception” that the gay union was contracted with the “foreknowledge and/or approval of a serving bishop” created an environment “not conducive to facilitating constructive dialogue.”
“We would seek a greater acknowledgment by the bishops of their own role in not building upon the letter of 2003 and, either individually or collegially, overseeing the present situation that has caused considerable hurt and confusion to many,” the said.
While they endorsed the call for debate, they stated that beginning the conversation with a discussion on human sexuality was the proper course. “The defining issue is our vision of God, and what it means for His people to represent Him in His mission of love to redeem His world. If we start with the ethics of human sexuality the danger is that we will end up with rather legalistic and regulated forms of wording as to what is or is not acceptable, with potentially some very hurtful and divisive dialogue along the way.”
But if the debate began with a discussion of “our vision of God we might just end up with a renewed confidence in what it means to be a redeemed and transformed people,” the evangelical leaders said.