The Episcopal Church a History Lesson for the Church of Ireland on Human Sexuality within the context of Christian Belief

For nearly a half century, the Episcopal Church {formerly the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA)} wrestled with issues of sexuality generally and homosexuality in particular. These centred around two primary concerns: the ordination of LGBT persons to clerical and Episcopal orders and questions surrounding same sex relationships.

Beginning in 1964, the Convention passed a resolution expressing the mind of the convention which cited "changing patterns in human action (which) have raised inquiries regarding the Church's position on sexual behaviour." The Convention authorized its Executive Council to gather data, formulate studies and make specific recommendations to the 1967 Convention.

Every convention since that time has ordered studies of these issues. Conventions in 1991 and 1994 directed parishes and dioceses to engage in intentional dialogue regarding issues surrounding the status of LGBT Episcopalians and to report their findings back to the succeeding conventions, directives which were observed more in the breach than with compliance.

The initial statement of the Church on homosexuals per se, passed as a resolution in 1976, asserted that "homosexuals are children of God and have a full and equal claim with all other persons to the love, acceptance and pastoral care by the Church."

Since the Bellwether 1976 Convention, the Episcopal Church's governing body periodically reaffirmed resolutions recognizing LGBT persons as "children of God" entitled to full civil rights while simultaneously resolving that "physical sexual expression is appropriate only within the lifelong monogamous union of husband and wife…(as) intended by God…" (Please note this is the position stated at the General Synod of the Church of Ireland in 2012). That such a position might appear inconsistent with the Episcopal Church’s other resolutions on human sexuality was acknowledged by the Convention's resolution recognizing the "discontinuity between this teaching and the experience of many members of this body."

By the time of the 2003 General Convention, equal access had been extended to the rights, status and access of the laity to "an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church."  Episcopal Church canons officially prohibited bishops from refusing to admit priests chosen to lead parishes within their dioceses on the basis of sexual orientation or lifestyle. Similarly, bishops were restrained from prohibiting priests from other dioceses within the church from entering their dioceses to serve there solely on the basis of sexual orientation/lifestyle. When enacted, these laws reflected the actual practice of a portion but not all of the Episcopal Church's dioceses.

A milestone was reached at the 2003 General Convention at which the election of the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, was ratified by both the Convention's House of Bishops and its House of Deputies composed of parish clergy and lay deputies. The election of an openly gay bishop produced an explosion of negative reactions from national churches within the Anglican Communion, primarily in the so-called Two-Thirds World of the Southern Hemisphere.

At a meeting of archbishops of the Communion in Windsor, England, a Report was issued calling for a halt to ordination of gay clergy and the blessing of same sex unions occurring on an ad hoc basis in the Anglican Church of Canada, warning that if “call to halt” is ignored “then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart.” A leader of the southern hemisphere churches, Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria, said, "The Episcopal Church and Diocese of New Westminster (Canada) are already walking alone on this and if they do not repent and return to the fold, they will find that they are all alone. They will have broken the Anglican Communion."

In July 2012 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, ignoring the call for restraint and a moratorium from the Anglican Communion, passed resolution A049 allowing diocese to authorise same sex blessing.  The initial trickle of Episcopal dioceses that have authorized same sex blessings has now become a veritable flood.  69 of the 100 dioceses have authorised these rites and a further 11 are considering them.

So what are the lessons to be gleaned from this brief history:

Those who advocated a move away from, and contrary to, the historical, traditional and biblical teaching of Anglicanism on human sexuality worked for over 40 years to gain the full acceptance and blessing of same sex relationships within the Episcopal Church.  A similar, though not as long, campaign has been orchestrated within the Church of Ireland.

The Episcopal Church kept restating the orthodox viewpoint that "physical sexual expression is appropriate only within the lifelong monogamous union of husband and wife…(as) intended by God…" whilst simultaneously accepting lifestyles contrary to this.  The same is now happening within the Church of Ireland with the continued acceptance of the present Dean of Leighlin’s civil partnership.  The Church of Ireland is blindly going down the same path as the Episcopal Church by restating the orthodox teaching of the Church Catholic whilst accepting behaviour and lifestyles that are contrary to this teaching.

The liberal revisionist lobby within the Church of Ireland are following the example of the Episcopal Church by continually seeking for the issue of human sexuality to be discussed, debated, researched and examined.  They strive to remove the context in which it will be examined etc – namely ‘within the context of Christian Belief.’  Whilst human sexuality is a complex issue and we have much to learn concerning it, the General Synod was Biblically correct in stating that:

‘The Church of Ireland affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching that marriage is in its purpose a union permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for  the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity’.

The Church of Ireland recognises for itself and of itself, no other understanding of marriage than that provided for in the totality of Canon 31. The Church of Ireland teaches therefore that faithfulness within marriage is the only normative context for sexual intercourse.

The Standing Committee of the General Synod would appear to be struggling to agree a way forward for a Select Committee as requested by General Synod 2012.

Those who wish to remain faithful to the historical, traditional and biblical teaching of the Church Catholic must be aware of the campaign that is being orchestrated to lead the Church of Ireland down the same revisionist path as that travelled by the Episcopal Church in the area of human sexuality.  It would appear that the actions of Bishop Burrows and the Dean of Leighlin are deemed acceptable, despite being contrary to the teaching of the Church of Ireland.  Bishop Burrows has remained strangely quiet, refusing to answer any questions concerning his actions in appointing the Dean of Leighlin knowing of his relationship and intention of entering a civil partnership. 

There has been an orchestrated campaign through the pages of the church press and at diocesan synods for the acceptance of a lifestyle which is contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture, the BCP and the General Synod of 2012.  The call for a continued listening process is similar to that engaged in for over 50 years in the Episcopal Church.  This listening process would appear to be a deliberate plan of action to wear down the orthodox position whilst at the same time premeditated actions which are contrary to and ignore church teaching go ahead.  We can only conclude that this is a deliberate ploy, maybe with the unspoken blessing of some of the hierarchy, to change the situation on the ground in the hope that it will be deemed the accepted norm in years to come. 

Reform Ireland believes that we are at a crossroads in the life of the Church of Ireland.  Scripture is clear that sexual intercourse outside the context of heterosexual marriage, of one man to one woman, is sinful.  The Church of Ireland has no authority to say that what the Bible calls sin is not sin. 

Reform Ireland asks the members of the Church of Ireland to pray for our denomination that it may remain faithful to the historical and orthodox teaching of the universal church on human sexuality.  We encourage you to write to your Select Vestry, to your diocesan councils, and to your Bishop encouraging them to remain faithful to the teaching of the Scriptures on this issue.  We also ask you to speak out and to challenge this drift towards the acceptance of the liberal revisionist agenda.  To do otherwise is to acquiesce in the battle for the orthodox teaching and practice of the Church of Ireland.

Please pray for our Church of Ireland to remain faithful to God’s Word, and to the historical and orthodox teaching of the Church Catholic on human sexuality in the context of Christian Belief.

Reform Ireland – November 2012

 

 

29th Nov 2012
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