The recent announcement that a serving Church of Ireland cleric, the Rev. Tom Gordon, the Dean of Leighlin, in Cashel and Ossory diocese in the Republic of Ireland, has entered a civil partnership with the connivance of his bishop, the Rt. Rev. Michael Burrows, has brought about a huge crisis in the life of the Church of Ireland. Without debate, and seemingly without consultation with others, these two men have effectively put their personal agendas before the unity of the church. Apparently, without the slightest regard for whatever implications there might be for the witness of the church, the pain it would cause many in the Church of Ireland, the biblical standards of the Church of Ireland in upholding sexual morality and marriage, and the Church’s relationship with other Christian denominations on this island, they have in one arrogant action put the future of the Church in jeopardy.
Others are working hard to try to limit the extraordinary damage their selfish action has brought about. The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Rev. Alan Harper, in a recent communiqué to the Standing Committee of the General Synod has called for no debate in that representative body of the Church until the House of Bishops meets and sets up some sort of damage-limitation control. However, both the communiqué and the meeting of the House of Bishops give real cause for concern to faithful Church of Ireland members who want to see the traditional Christian and biblical standards of the Church of Ireland upheld.
In his communiqué, the Archbishop has not given any indication of the enormity of this action as a departure from biblical and Anglican standards. He has refused to condemn as sinful, a lifestyle which Scripture clearly does and Anglicanism worldwide has clearly indicated in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10. Indeed, his failure to do so is breath-taking for two reasons: his own ordination vows as a bishop require him to do so; and secondly, he is obviously aware of recent developments in the Anglican Communion, notably the world wide re-alignment of orthodox Anglicanism behind the Gafcon Primates in the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. This group represents more than 70% of Anglicans worldwide and no longer recognizes those Anglican provinces such as The Episcopal Church (TEC) of the USA and the Anglican Church of Canada that have rejected biblical and traditional Christian views on sexuality and marriage. Surely, the Archbishop is aware that the Lambeth Resolution 1.10 that he quotes in part goes on to uphold the traditional Christian and biblical view on sexuality and marriage and that acceptance by the Church of Ireland of the action of Bishop Burrows and Dean Gordon will lead not only to internal division and demise, but also to separation from worldwide Anglicanism? Failure on his part or by the House of Bishops to acknowledge this will lead the Church of Ireland into to some stagnant liberal backwater where it will decay and die.
A secretive meeting of the House of Bishops also holds little comfort for the majority of Irish Anglicans who want the Church to remain faithful to Scripture, to its biblical standards, and to traditional Christian views on sexuality and marriage. First of all, the lack of courageous, outspoken, godly leadership condemning this action and upholding the biblical standards of the Church of Ireland would seem to indicate that some sort of compromise will be sought within this secretive meeting. The overarching desire for collegiality rather than faithfulness to Christ and Scripture seems to be the chief concern of the House of Bishops. But how sincere is their collegiality? One of their number, Bishop Burrows, has shown that when it suits, collegiality will take second place to his private opinions. This being the case, how much more should those bishops who hold to biblical standards on these matters put collegiality aside in favour of standing clearly for the truth?! Furthermore, when one considers how the 2003 Pastoral Statement of the House of Bishops demonstrated that there are bishops who no longer hold to traditional Christian and biblical standards in this area, how can we expect that the House of Bishops will do anything other than ‘fudge’ the issue?
We may agree with the Archbishop that this civil partnership and decision by Bishop Burrows has created ‘a new situation’ for the Church of Ireland, but in the light of Scripture and the long tradition of the Church of Ireland in biblical faithfulness, it is hardly one we want to embrace. Rather, the only acceptable outcome is a clear rejection of this ‘new situation’ by the Church of Ireland, and in that, the House of Bishops must give a clear lead. The Church of Ireland is not a private club where those who reach the upper echelons impose their agenda on the rest. It is the body of Christ under his Word and authority and those who want to serve him must live faithfully by it. That is after all, what every baptized, confirmed member swears to do and what every minister solemnly swears on ordination to do. This is the one standard that all are called to, whether male or female, heterosexual or homosexual, ordained or lay. There is one God, one Saviour, one Lord of all, one standard for every professing Christian. If there are those, like Bishop Burrows and Dean Gordon, who no longer accept this, then let them depart the Church of Ireland rather than let the Church of Ireland depart from Christ.