As groups representing both ordained and non-ordained members of the Church of Ireland we wish to express our deep and genuine sorrow at the announcement that a serving cleric of the Church of Ireland has entered into a Civil Partnership with another man. In what follows we seek to express the depth and breadth of our hurt and concern over the specific questions raised in this instance, and by the broader issues that emerge.
First, we regret the apparent lack of regard for the doctrine and teaching of the Church of Ireland in relation to human sexuality and marriage. Founded on scripture, flowing from reason and following tradition, our church, together with her life and liturgical practice, has always affirmed the sanctity of relational and sexual union between a man and woman in holy matrimony. We believe that the kingdom of God rules over every aspect of our lives, from issues of global and social significance to matters of personal morality and choice. Given the position of the Church with regard to human relationships, and the claim of God on the whole of our lives, we are compelled to ask if the partnership entered into is a celibate one. While this may seem intrusive it remains appropriate, especially when one considers the public promises made at ordination to fashion personal life and family relationships according to the way of Christ. Further, the question itself serves as recognition that a Civil Partnership does not necessarily presume a relationship that involves sexual intimacy though it may be considered to imply such a relationship.
Second, we are concerned at the suggestion that Dean Gordon received approval from his Diocesan Bishop, prior to entering into a Civil Partnership. This confusion is further compounded in the response (Newsletter, 05/09) by a Church spokesman that this is a ‘Civil Matter’. If this is a civil matter, why was the permission of the Bishop necessary? If this is not merely a civil matter then on what basis was permission justified? We cannot agree that the matter is simply a civil one. We can see no reason to permit a sense of schism between the sacred and the so-called secular, nor between the received teaching and doctrine of the whole church and the departure from the same by the Diocesan Bishop.
Third, we believe that great hurt and pain will be caused to the life of the church by such actions. There is no doubt that these seemingly unilateral and unprecedented actions will do nothing to promote unity, peace and love among God’s people in the Church of Ireland. It is evident that both within the Anglican Communion and outside of it, for example the Church of Scotland, great pain and division has been caused by similar actions. In such circumstances it is difficult to see how we can hope to maintain, with integrity, a common life
Fourth, we grieve for the impact this will have on the witness of the church. Those ordained into leadership are tasked with searching for God’s children in the wilderness of the world’s temptations, and guiding them out of confusion into salvation. We believe the world to be tragically confused on the issue of sexual identity and practice, and we are both humbled by, and mindful of, the evangelistic commitment of the early church as it grew in highly sexualised world. The damage, let us remember, is not only to the reputation of the church itself but to those who need the message of hope, guidance, forgiveness, grace, and mercy that we offer.
Fifth, we are vexed as to the damage that will be caused to our relationships with other Christian traditions in Ireland with whom we work closely on a local and regional level. At a time in our history when the hurts and divisions of the past are breaking down we are deeply troubled at the prospect of erecting new walls that will leave our church isolated.
Our desire is for a continuing and growing unity within the Church of Ireland and to see such unity expressed in a holiness and morality that is both personal and corporate. We acknowledge our common fallenness and acknowledge too that sexual sin is neither the only digression from God’s design for humanity nor is homosexual activity the only way God’s gift of sex is debased. However, whilst we confess that we fail God in thought, word and deed, earnestly seeking His repentance in daily and weekly prayer, we cannot in all conscience accept that, in such circumstances, we have reached the position in which such actions are approved and accepted as being within the will of God.
Jointly issued by the committees of the Church of Ireland Evangelical Fellowship, the Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy, New Wine (Ireland) and Reform Ireland.
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