Response to the Slieve Russell Conference on homosexuality
It has been almost two weeks since the two day conference in the Slieve Russell Hotel and time to pen some thoughts on what emerged. My initial reaction is that nothing new has emerged, no consensus, no agreement and to be very honest very little real engagement. The programme was incredibly packed and one can only conclude that either this was a deliberate control mechanism or the house of bishops is seriously out of touch with the reality of time management.
Whilst no one could fault the wide range of seminars on offer there was little opportunity for real engagement with the issues raised. Each session seemed to be constantly being called to a close before any real discussion got going. There was no real engagement with the biblical texts, despite some valiant efforts by contributors. One must say that hearing JEDP trotted out almost brought on laughter. Even the liberals were rightly embarrassed by this contribution. I do wish people would engage with the actual bible text, the lack of clear exegesis was astounding. Instead what we were often treated to was emotive language (Hitler even got a mention), social policy statements and sound bites, but then time constraints played a part in this as well. When we got round to discussing the passages in the groups it was amazing to see how few bibles were opened which reflected the true nature of the discussion. Tokenism towards the authority of Scripture was the order of the day. 15 minutes to discuss the Old Testament texts relating to human sexuality – just goes to show how seriously the Church of Ireland wanted to hear from God’s Word. A token gesture is all that could be said of this.
In my own group the lack of biblical knowledge, even basic knowledge such as Leviticus condemns homosexuality, was quite frightening. Again and again any serious engagement with the text and the issues at hand was curtailed by time and avoided if it at all possible.
The seminars seemed to be well presented and provided some useful information. However, once again the lack of engagement with Scripture was very apparent and the emotive language continued. We had one contributor state that Paul was a repressed homosexual, quoting Spong as if he was on par with Scripture. Emotive language, metaphors, imagery and illustrations in favour of the acceptance of homosexuality was a recurring feature of many of the pro-gay contributions over the two days.
My lasting impression is that the Church of Ireland is in a worse state than I actually thought it was. Any talk of a ‘middle ground’ on this issue was shattered by this conference. There is no middle ground. To be very honest I am not sure if a motion went to General Synod upholding the current orthodox teaching of the Church of Ireland on human sexuality it would receive the necessary majorities to pass. It really is that serious. The orthodox have been sleeping whilst the liberal revisionists have tunnelled under the very foundations of the Church of Ireland. It is an edifice with no foundations at present due to the biblical ignorance of its clergy and laity. We find ourselves in a very precarious position at this moment in time. I have no doubt many came away very positive as it was the Church of Ireland at its nicest, no arguments, no disagreements and no votes. Everyone could go back to their parish, views unchanged, satisfied they had listened, but to what as it certainly wasn’t to the Word of God, the spirit of the age maybe??? I came away quite depressed and saddened by it all with the words of an Episcopal priest friend from the USA ringing in my ears: “Don’t waste 15 years of your ministry in this listening process as we did. The liberal revisionists will call for endless conversations which just mean berating you to till you either agree or leave.” I can already hear the ‘we have started the conversation’ brigade siren calling us towards the liberal revisionist rocks on which the Church of Ireland will be shipwrecked. Maybe we need to listen and learn from our brothers and sisters who were forced out of TEC and not to waste our time, energy and resources but to actually bring it to a head at this synod so that we can truly know where we all stand.
Having spoken to other members of general synod who were present at the conference they, like me, came away depressed and very fearful for the future of the Church of Ireland. Like me they had heard of this ‘middle ground’ which this conference has exposed as a fallacy. I think the only positive is that for some it was a wake-up call as they thought it was only the more conservative voices being alarmist in the past. Now they realise they have been sleepwalking into a nightmare, the only problem is that it is reality and not a dream.
Where to from here? All we can do at present is to await the proposal put forward by Standing Committee. I think we do need to make it clear that this is the line in the sand for the orthodox believer in the Church of Ireland and there can be no compromise on this issue. Anglican fudge will not be accepted, it cannot be accepted if we believe the plain teaching of Scripture and the historical teaching of the Church. We can and we must pray for the members of General Synod to have their eyes opened by God to the plain truth of His Word. We must pray for our clergy that they would hold to the plain truth of Scripture and not only teach it but order their lives according to it. We must pray for our House of Bishops that they would remember the promise they made at their consecration to chase error from the Church and that they would have the courage to do this at this time, despite the spirit of this age. Finally, we must pray for ourselves that we too would remain faithful to Scripture and live lives of holiness before God and the world.
Rev Dr Alan MCann 21th March 2012