In light of the events which have transpired at the General Convention of ECUSA over the past week Reform Ireland believes now is the time for an open, honest and frank debate within the Church of Ireland on the issue of human sexuality, same-sex blessings and ultimately the authority of Scripture within the life of our church. It has been obvious since the consecration of Gene Robinson in 2003 that there have been strains and tensions within the Church of Ireland over the issue of human sexuality. We note that at General Synod this year Canon Brian Courtney called for just such an open and frank debate on this issue. The time has come for the House of Bishops to seriously address these issues and to give a clear statement as to where they stand on this issue. We believe it is fair to say that at present the House of Bishops have been remarkably silent.
Grass root members of the Church of Ireland are concerned with what is going on in the wider Anglican Communion. The person in the pew reads startling headlines about sexuality issues in Anglican churches overseas and is left wondering where we as a church stand on these issues. We note that many dioceses have voted at their diocesan synods to uphold the biblical teaching of the church in the area of human sexuality but we also are aware that many dioceses have not debated the issue. Individual bishops have expressed their opinions in their presidential addresses, and it is not difficult to read between the lines of what is being said or not said. It is obvious that the House of Bishops is divided on this issue, as is clearly illustrated in their Pastoral Letter of September 2003.
Reform Ireland believes that Scripture is clear on this issue. Heterosexual marriage is the God ordained relationship for sexual intercourse. Sexual relations outside of that are sinful and are to be repented of before God. We believe that the liberal revisionist agenda within the Church of Ireland is to accept co-habitation, same-sex relationships and to offer the blessing of the Church and the sacraments to those living such lifestyles. To do so is sinful and wilful disobedience of the Word of God and the historical practice of the Church. Reform Ireland is aware that there are those who are pushing for the full inclusion and acceptance of such lifestyles into the Church. We will seek to give a clear Biblical lead on this issue and to provide the necessary resources to help laity, clergy, parishes and dioceses to remain faithful to Biblical teaching in this area.
Reform Ireland take note of the statement at General Synod by the House of Bishops concerning ‘alternative Episcopal oversight.’ We note that they have committed themselves, if requested, not to offer such ‘alternative oversight’ within the Church of Ireland. Reform Ireland would point out that the statement does not prevent or prohibit any clergy or parish seeking ‘alternative Episcopal oversight’ from doing so. We further note that whilst the present House of Bishops have decided not to offer such ‘alternative oversight’ themselves there is nothing in the statement which prevents, prohibits or forbids such ‘alternative Episcopal oversight’ being sought and offered from outside of the Church of Ireland. We point this out, not to create confusion, but to provide clarity. We can no longer ignore the possibility that there may well come, sooner rather than later, a time in the Church of Ireland when ‘alternative Episcopal oversight’ is required. We pray that such a situation never arises but we must explore and put in place the necessary structures for just such an occasion arising. Once again Reform Ireland commits itself to remaining within the structures of the Church of Ireland in and as far as those structures remain faithful to the biblical and historical faith of the ‘holy, catholic and apostolic church.’
Bob Dylan sang ‘the times they are a changing.’ How true, not least within the Anglican Communion; the Church of Ireland will not be immune from those changes. We are witnessing the re-alignment of Anglicanism and the choices before the Church of Ireland will be quite simple: Do we wish to remain faithful to God’s Word and the faith handed down to us? Do we wish to embrace the liberal revisionist agenda which is driven, not by the Holy Spirit as they claim, but by the spirit of this age? Will we align ourselves with those within Anglicanism who wish to remain biblically orthodox (which would appear to be the global south) or to remain within a communion that is walking further and further away from the truth of God’s Word? These are the questions which we believe need to be addressed by all members of the Church of Ireland, not least by our bishops. We pray that as a church we will remain faithful to God’s Word and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. 29th June 2006