The Church of Ireland is part of the Anglican Communion, a federation of independent Anglican denominations around the world who seek to share a common witness and life together. The Church of Ireland takes seriously its commitment to this international federation and recognizes the four ‘instruments of unity’ which bind it together: the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury; the Lambeth Conference; the Anglican Consultative Council; and the Primates meeting. Since the 1998 Lambeth Conference, these four have spent much of their time in addressing the same-sex controversy that has effectively torn apart the Anglican Communion. This has been caused by the actions of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (ECUSA)- now The Episcopal Church (TEC)- and the Anglican Church of Canada, who have moved away from the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality. These Anglican provinces are currently following a revisionist agenda which includes the acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle as a valid Christian lifestyle. They not only bless same-sex partnerships but also ordain practicing gays and lesbians as clergy, including some as bishops.
In what follows, we will see that the majority of Anglicans have consistently upheld biblical and traditional teaching on human sexuality and marriage and have condemned the actions of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada. This is important in that it clearly tells us that the recent civil partnership of an Irish clergyman with his bishop’s approval is contrary to the mind of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It also alerts us to the fact that acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle as a valid Christian lifestyle has the capacity to tear the Church of Ireland apart and remove it from mainstream Christianity and orthodox Anglicanism.
The Anglican Communion has changed over the past century. With the explosion of Protestant missionary work from the mid-nineteenth century and the growth of the British Empire, Anglicanism expanded around the world. This expansion has had the consequence of changing the complexion of the Communion. The average Anglican is no longer ‘white and western’ but comes from the ‘Global South’ (largely the developing world, including Africa, Asia and South America). The Lambeth Conference of Bishops, inaugurated in 1867 to meet every ten years as a forum for discussion between Anglican bishops, has come to reflect this change. Nowadays, the majority of bishops at Lambeth are from the Provinces of the Global South and represent over 70% of Anglicanism. They are characterized by a firm commitment to the authority of Scripture and to evangelism. This is in stark contrast to Anglican provinces in the west, which tend to be characterized by theological liberalism and indifference, if not hostility, to the work of evangelism.
These theological divisions and diverse views on the authority of Scripture have led to a growing tension within the Communion especially over the last few decades. One aspect of this has been the tension caused by the growing acceptance of the homosexual agenda in the Anglican churches of the west. Sensing the liberal theological drift of the west and its potential to undermine Gospel outreach in the rest of the world, Global South Anglican bishops met in Kuala Lumpur in 1997 in a conference to explore ‘the place of Scripture in the life and mission of the church in the 21st century’. The resolutions it produced called on the Anglican Communion to remain true to the teaching of Scripture on human sexuality and the family. These proved important in the Lambeth Conference in the following year. In his opening address at the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in June 2008, Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria said that the Kuala Lumpur resolutions were ‘used by God to make the majority of the Bishops who participated in the Lambeth Conference 1998 stand together to assert the authority of the Bible against the revisionist agenda that was being peddled then.’ Lambeth ’98, thanks largely to the faithfulness of the bishops of the Global South, re-affirmed Anglicanism’s firm commitment to biblical and traditional Christian teaching on human sexuality and marriage, whilst at the same time offering biblically pastoral re-assurance to listen to and help those of a homosexual disposition to find transformed lives in Christ. Resolution 1.10 stated:
This Conference: … in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;
c). recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;
d). while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialization of sex;
e). cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender union.
This resolution set the benchmark for all subsequent discussion of homosexuality, and should set the benchmark for us in the Church of Ireland. However, at Lambeth ’98 two Irish bishops refused to support the Resolution and ECUSA refused to follow its clear pastoral and biblical lead when in November 2003 it consecrated an openly gay man, Gene Robinson as bishop of the diocese of New Hampshire. This was done despite the warnings and pleas from a meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion in October of that year that such an action not only contradicted the mind of the Anglican Communion as expressed in Lambeth ’98, but would tear the Communion apart. Subsequent to the consecration, the Provinces of the West Indies and the Southern Cone declared a state of impaired communion and others like Uganda, South-east Asia, Kenya, Rwanda and Nigeria broke off sacramental communion with it.
Though it was clear that both ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada were pursuing a course of action contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture and Lambeth Resolution 1.10, the Primates asked Archbishop Eames to lead a commission to find a way through the crisis that Robinson’s election had provoked. The Eames Commission produced the Windsor report in 2004 recommending that there should be a moratorium on same-sex blessings, consecration of homosexual clergy and further interference by other Anglican Provinces in giving alternative Episcopal oversight to congregations and clergy that could not go along with the unbiblical revisionist course of their denomination. It also called for an Anglican covenant to try to find a way of preserving unity within the Anglican Communion. After a number of drafts the final text of this covenant was sent to the provinces of the Communion in 2009 for their consideration but so far has received a lukewarm, even negative, response.
Many meetings were held and much effort expended in an attempt to manage the crisis. Eventually, at a meeting of the Primates in 2005 in Dromantine, N. Ireland, ECUSA and Canada were given time to respond to the questions put to them by the Windsor report and to consider their place within the Anglican Communion. Would they uphold a biblical approach to sexuality and refrain from their revisionist agenda? They would not. Faithful Anglican leaders found their views being dismissed by arrogant revisionist western Primates and clergy. The last major meeting that considered this issue was the Primates' Meeting in Tanzania in February 2007. After long and painful hours of deliberations the primates gave TEC a last chance to clarify unequivocally and adequately their stand by 30th September, 2007. Akinola said: ‘Strangely, before the deadline, and before the Primates could get the opportunity of meeting to assess the adequacy of the response of TEC and in a clear demonstration of unwillingness to follow through our collective decisions, which for many of us was an apparent lack of regard for the Primates, Lambeth Palace in July 2007 issued invitations to TEC bishops including those who consecrated Gene Robinson to attend the Lambeth 2008 conference.’
In other words, revisionists from within the instruments of unity have been, and still are, actively seeking to undermine the biblical lead given by both Lambeth ’98 and the majority of Primates. In response, faithful Anglicans met in the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in 2008 in Jerusalem. This was presented as ‘a rescue mission’ for Anglicanism, re-affirming the commitment of the majority of Anglicans around the world to the authority of the Word of God, and offering hope to the many thousands of faithful Anglicans, especially in the USA and Canada, who disagreed with TEC’s revisionist agenda. The statement issued at the end of the conference signalled a new era and a new dynamic for the Anglican Communion. It called for a worldwide network or fellowship of confessing Anglicans, committed to the preservation and progress of the Gospel to make disciples of Christ (according to the 'Great Commission of our Lord in Matthew 28:18-20); that its doctrinal basis is the 39 Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal; and that its agreed manifesto (The Jerusalem Declaration) could form the basis, under God, of a bright future for Anglicanism. This Declaration calls for repentance on the part of those Anglican leaders who follow a revisionist agenda and offers ‘a roadmap’ for the future of a faithful Anglican Communion. De facto, it replaces the limp, ineffective Anglican Covenant and offers a positive way forward for those Anglicans who want to remain true to the Scriptural and traditional Christian teaching of their church. Following the launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (UK & Ireland) in July 2009, individuals, clergy and churches in the Church of Ireland have the opportunity to join this network, sign up to the principles of the Jerusalem Declaration and reject the policies and actions of revisionist clergy and bishops.
In conclusion, for the past few decades, the Anglican Communion has been torn apart by the unbiblical and un-Anglican agenda of revisionist bishops, mainly from the west, who have arrogantly broken fellowship with the majority of Anglicans around the world. Not content with that, these revisionist bishops have initiated a vicious campaign of suing and breaking up churches in their own provinces that dare to remain true to the biblical principles of Anglicanism. The liberal agenda of revisionist bishops has proved a disaster, not only for the unity of the Anglican Communion, but also for their own provinces which are in terminal decline. This is the international Anglican backdrop against which the present crisis in the Church of Ireland is being played out. Church of Ireland people should be under no illusion: if the Church of Ireland accommodates itself to a revisionist agenda and allows for clergy to be in civil partnerships, or blesses same-sex unions, then we cease to be a Gospel church or even an Anglican church. We will find ourselves in a liberal backwater, with nothing to say to say to our society except what it has moulded us to say. For the sake of our Lord Jesus, for the sake of his glory in his church, and for the sake of the salvation of others, we need to ensure that the Church of Ireland stays true and faithful to the Gospel upon which it is solidly built.