Monday, 12 September 2011

Civil Partnership: Changing Attitude Ireland responds

Updated Tuesday morning

Changing Attitude Ireland has published the following statement:

Changing Attitude Ireland Responds to Dean Gordon’s Civil Partnership and Resulting Statements in the Media

Firstly, Changing Attitude Ireland would like to extend its hearty congratulations to Dean Tom Gordon and his partner on their civil partnership, and wish them God’s continued blessing on their life together as it enters a new phase.

We would also like to commend them on their courage. It is never easy to be a path-breaker, and some of the reaction to the news of their partnership was singularly lacking in charity; it must have been quite bruising to be on the receiving end of it. We assure them of our gratitude and our prayers.

In the Church of Ireland, we have always lived with profound differences in our understanding of issues of significant theological weight, such as the nature of God’s revelation in Holy Scripture and our understanding of the Sacrament of Holy Communion. We have lived with significant differences in our approach to personal sexual morality, for example in our approach to divorce and remarriage. Despite these differences, relations within our Church have always been characterised by tolerance, charity and good humour.

The decision of a priest in the Church to enter into a civil partnership is certainly of no more theological significance, and arguably of considerably less, than other issues where the Church of Ireland has accommodated diversity with mutual generosity and grace.

We are therefore saddened and perplexed by the joint statements released by four Conservative Evangelical and Charismatic groups following the announcement of Dean Gordon’s civil partnership. These have only served to raise the temperature within the Church of Ireland, and have not contributed to reasoned discussion; and their content raises a number of other concerns.

Dean Gordon’s partnership of 20 years has been widely known in the Church of Ireland for almost that entire period. These statements have not been a consequence of a Church of Ireland clergyman living in a same-sex partnership per se, but of a Church of Ireland clergyman choosing to formalise that partnership in law.

The attitude of the four Conservative Evangelical and Charismatic groups seems, therefore, to be that it is alright to be in a same-sex relationship as long as one is not public about it. Previous generations of gay people in Ireland were forced to hide their love for fear of prison. When Irish society has become overwhelmingly tolerant of homosexuality, it is distressing that these groups seem primarily interested in perpetuating a culture of secrecy in the Church.

The intrusive, public, questioning of Dean Gordon’s private life in the two statements displayed incredible arrogance and poor taste. More seriously than that, it seems to violate the Scriptural command to turn judgement first on ourselves before we judge our neighbour. It also displayed un-Christlike double standards – it is inconceivable that the private life of any other clergyperson in the Church of Ireland would be subject to such impertinent prurience.

But this is only the tip of an iceberg of an unhealthy obsession with the subject of homosexuality from Conservative Evangelical groups in the Church of Ireland. Seven of the eight statements published on the homepage of the Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy, for example, concern the issue of homosexuality. As Christians, we worry that this elevates dogmatic legalism above spreading the good news of salvation in Christ. Those looking in from outside the Church are more likely to see a weird fixation on what gay men and women get up to in the privacy of their own homes.

The people of this island, especially our young people, are fearful of the future, cynical about church and state leaders who promised much but betrayed their promises, and unwilling to give credibility to anyone who has not earned it. Our people have seen church leaders who imposed their view of sexual morality on others and bullied and abused those who disagreed revealed to be corrupt and corrupting. Is an obsession with homosexuality really likely to bring them to Christ?

There are also issues of personal sexual morality where those on all wings of the Church could work together. The advertising industry sexualises our children at a frighteningly young age. In this internet age, the temptation to look at pornography is only a mouse-click away, and yet we do nothing to build up our people to resist. Indeed, these are issues where we could work with groups who are often deeply cynical about the Church, such as secular feminists, and break down misconceptions that frustrate mission. With so many areas where we could work together, it is all the more sad that some seem intent on driving people apart.


Changing Attitude Ireland is a Church of Ireland group with ecumenical friends, campaigning for the full acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and intersex people in the Church.

updates Tuesday

Church News Ireland has published a report of the radio discussion on Sunday Sequence last Sunday, see BBC airing of clergy and civil partnerships issue.

The Belfast Telegraph has published Bishop under fire over cleric’s gay marriage.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 12 September 2011 at 6:56pm BST | TrackBack
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Church of Ireland

I have just re-read the 2003 Pastoral Letter from the Bishops of the Church of Ireland, which was re-iterated during the Communion-wide 'listening process'. This recognised that it was wrong that Christians had sometimes engaged in the 'demonising, demeaning and oppression of those who, by inclination or in practice, have found themselves attracted to others of the same sex', and made it clear that there was no consensus: 'There is still no unanimity on the question itself across the Churches. In trying to discern the mind of Christ, the bishops believe that the Church of Ireland as a whole ought to address the question prayerfully, humbly, carefully and generously.'

As an Anglican from a neighbouring province, I am less than convinced by the outrage expressed by certain groups at recent developments, as if, until then, the Church of Ireland had been united in condemnation of same-sex partnerships.

It is to be hoped that Changing Attitude Ireland's appeal for 'mutual generosity and grace' will be heeded.

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Monday, 12 September 2011 at 9:19pm BST

The Church of Ireland's 'Generosity' has at least encouraged one of its own to publicly testify to his own same-sex partnership. No longer can the Church pretend that such relationships cannot, or do not, exist within the Church.

Maybe it's now the turn of the Church of England to come out of the Closet about the number of clergy in the Church who are intrinsically homosexual - with or without acknowledged same-sex partnerships. If, say, there were an anonymous poll on the question of homosexual membership of the Church, this might clear the air for on-going dialogue on this important issue. "That which is hidden must be brought out into the daylight" - so that the Church may be freed from endemic double mindedness - a policy which can only fester.

Some of the other Provinces of the Communion state unequivocally that they have no homosexual clergy or congregational members in the ranks of their Churches. This manifestly is not true. And the fact that Uganda and Nigeria both advocate the persecution of homosexuals looks incredibly hypocritical - if only in their pretence that: 'We have no Gays in our Churches'.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 at 11:29am BST

I note two things in the CA statement.

1. According to CA, the response of the evangelical groups has 'only served to raise the temperature within the Church of Ireland..'
CA's incessant agenda to change the doctrine and teaching of the Church of Ireland has been the primary catalyst to any 'raising of the temperature' in recent years.

2.CA very cleverly positions itself as the innocent grouping in this debate, whilst by implication, castigating the evangelical groupings as those who '..seem intent on driving people apart.'
For centuries, the common ground on which we as a church have stood has been the orthodox and biblical view of sexuality. That remains the church's teaching, as emphasised by the Archbishop of Armagh on Sunday Sequence (11th September). It seems logical therefore that any departure from this would constitute a wedge that would drive people apart. Changing Attitude and its supporters are driving the agenda to see this position changed. This, and only this, will drive people apart Those of us who hold to our church's orthodox position on these matters have not moved.

Posted by: Mark Harvey on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 at 12:35pm BST

"As Christians, we worry that this elevates dogmatic legalism above spreading the good news of salvation in Christ. Those looking in from outside the Church are more likely to see a weird fixation on what gay men and women get up to in the privacy of their own homes."

Indeed, well said. "Weird" is the perfect word.

A fine letter that points out that so many of those so obsessed with moral purity have been revealed to be corrupt and corrupting, forfeiting all credibility.

Posted by: Counterlight on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 at 1:45pm BST

Good for Savi, as usual one might add. The C-of-I discussion just sounds more and more like cloud-coo-coo-land. Yes, one supposes that in the C-of-E 'some' bishops ask for assurances of sexual abstention (let's be precise in our terminology please, all are celibate unless married) and 'some' clergy may give it, but most don't ask and most don't tell, I would guess, though that is only a guess, since I am neither in a civil partnership nor a bishop.

Posted by: Sara MacVane on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 at 4:26pm BST

MarkH, you seem to be new here. Your post is what's known as a *canard* ("anti-gay" = "orthodox" or "common ground" or "for centuries").

This canard has been repeatedly presented here at Thinking Anglicans over the last 7 years or so, and lo, "those of us who hold to our church's orthodox ***LGBT-affirming*** position on these matters have not moved."

Posted by: JCF on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 at 7:04pm BST

'For centuries, the common ground on which we as a church have stood has been the orthodox and biblical view of sexuality."

And here I thought all this time that ground was Christ.

Posted by: Geoff on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 at 7:57pm BST

oops, I meant abstinence. Sorry for that.

Posted by: Sara MacVane on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 at 8:39pm BST

@ Mr. Harvey. That CA is incessantly trying to advance the church into the 21st century may well make it a gadfly. Nevertheless it was an orthodox position for centuries that the world was flat. You'll need to come up with better arguments other than "this is the way it has always been" or you'll run the risk of not only being wrong but boring.

Posted by: s.fitzsimmons on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 at 8:54pm BST

Large North/South divide on this issue. Notice how the "critical" newspaper article is based North of the border. Not even a mention in the Irish Times - maybe this shows that there is little controversy surrounding this issue for Anglicans in the South? I doubt Bp. Burrows will be losing much sleep about editorials up North, but keep a watch on the Gazette all the same.

Posted by: Jakian Thomist on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 at 9:00pm BST

"Those of us who hold to our church's orthodox position on these matters have not moved."

- Mark Harvey -

Precisely, Mark! And this is why the open-ness on the part of the 'Gay Dean' is a very important move forward from the hypocrisy of the status quo.

Orthodox (in my opinion) means 'right worship' - with the connotation of right belief. How can you continue to insist that homophobia and misogyny any longer indicates 'right belief', when even the world outside the Church no longer sees it your way. Sometimes, it takes the world outside the Church to indicate how the Holy Spirit is, in new ways, 'speaking to the Church'.

Orthodox does not necessarily mean 'maintaining the status quo' - especially when to do so is contrary to the bringing of justice into the theology of the Body of Christ.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 at 11:23pm BST

Mark Harvey should note that since 1930 the Church of Ireland has accepted contraception and since the 1990's divorce and re-marriage.

Masturbation isn't even a sin, as it once was.

That's how orthodox the Church of Ireland is as regards sexuality.

And they threw out St Paul's teaching on women , when they voted for women presbyters and Bishops.

Such is the reformed Church of Ireland.

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 at 11:30pm BST


Do you have any idea how much you sound like Iris Robinson with your anti-gay obsession?

It might be what excites people in your holy huddles, but out in the real world where church attendance has collapsed in the past generation, people hear gay bashing bible bashers and think, hmm, wonder what they get up to behind closed doors?

Didn't you learn any lessons from the fiasco of the Belvoir pray-the-gay-away Conference? Wouldn't you have been better off talking to that young crowd of protesters about the good news of Christ's salvation for EVERYONE who believes in Him, instead of getting six men and a dog together to talk about how they were all going to hell if you didn't straighten them out?

There you had a group of people at a church who actually were as young and cutting edge cool as the kidz you see on Evangelical websites, and the reason they were there was to picket what they saw as a group of callous, judgemental, bigots promoting crackpot witchdoctory.

Part of me finds that funny, but the larger and better part of me finds it tragic. None of these people see any love coming from evangelical churches. If you gave them one of those free copies of Luke's Gospel, do you think they would identify you with Jesus or the Pharisees?

If I were a Northern Evangelical, I would be worrying about the epidemic of pastoral breakdowns in heartland Evangelical parishes in Down & Dromore, not what a clergyman in Carlow does or doesn't get up to under the bedclothes.

Posted by: Gerry Lynch on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 at 11:46pm BST

>> Changing Attitude and its supporters are driving the agenda to see this position changed. This, and only this, will drive people apart Those of us who hold to our church's orthodox position on these matters have not moved.

It's the same as the schismatics in churches of the American South, isn't it, who rocked the boat by challenging biblically-based teachings that blacks are meant to be slaves, and caused churches to split because they wouldn't shut up?

Posted by: Randal Oulton on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 at 11:50pm BST

"Those of us who hold to our church's orthodox position on these matters have not moved."

An excellent description of why so many who need the church in their lives, instead stay away in droves.

Posted by: Nat on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 at 12:33am BST

I read somewhere, 'The listening process is not a debate. It is not about persuading someone else that you are right, nor is it about finding a compromise between two positions.'

So, although we may engage in debates, persuasion and discover compromises elsewhere, the listening per se involves none of these. What it involves is a humanisation of the debate by all the parties involved and an avoidance of the caricatures that promote the most extreme and divisive interpretation of the every point made by those on either side of this clearly complex issue.

listening holds to your point and yet, given the vagaries of our fallen nature, knows that the voices on each side are understandably prone to self-deception and the lust of demagoguery. To listen is to always challenge yourself and those of your own side to be decent, fair-minded and cognizant of the ease with which all beliefs (mine and yours) can become polarised into entrenched dehumanising prejudices.

In debate, this listening approach moves us from barely-concealed bile, happy to fire self-affirming missiles of curt, dismissive censure at even the most moderate opponents, to those who think and pray for the choicest words and cry genuine tears over the unresolved impasse, as for Jerusalem. Those who exhort us to stretch our minds and hearts with impassioned desperation.

The listening approach leads us to discover that, even though we may rejoice as your cause succeeds, we can find no satisfaction in leaving our opponents for dead: riddled and wounded with the lethal bullets of relentless, loveless short-tempered personal attacks and humiliation.

If we still gloat over our sharpest ripostes, we may discover that, gay or straight, we don't listen nearly enough.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 at 2:15am BST

"Large North/South divide on this issue."

I had to read this twice, to realize it wasn't the USUAL (alleged) "Large North/South divide on this issue"! [But rather one peculiar to the Emerald Isle]

Posted by: JCF on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 at 5:01am BST

@ Jaikin - there is no north/south divide on the issue and this notion of a nasty evangelical north and nice liberal south is one that is being peddled by the press who just want a nice juicy "church splits because of sex" story. Putting it at its most charitable there are a significant number of people in the south who are upset at what Bp Burrows seems to have allowed and what Dean Gordon has done and who would identify with the statements from EFIC/New Wine/CIEF/Reform who draw their support from every Diocese within the Church of Ireland

@ Gerry - do you realize how stereotypical you are sounding and what exactly happened at the conference at Belvoir?

Posted by: Ian on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 at 8:21am BST

This is why the institution that vaunts itself as church - claims to be the Divine Body of Christ on Earth - utterly fails.

Nat, you're right. People should stay away. I see no Christ in the "church" anymore. Even liberal clerics sneer and mock those who claim a spirituality without religious hoopla surrounding it. There's no good in that, just another marketplace hustler looking to secure profit and self-preservation.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 at 9:37am BST

@Ian with no surname – I’m ‘stereoptypical’? Really, what stereotype am I fulfilling?

I was amazed to note the statement signed by the four Evangelical and Charismatic groups professed a faux concern for ecumenical relations, but couldn’t quite bring themselves to mention the Roman Catholic church by name. If I’m ‘stereotypical’ of something mysterious and unmentioned, you people are living self-parodies of Ulster fundamentalism!

I have a pretty good idea what went on at Belvoir from people who were there and media coverage. It doesn’t matter how loudly you protest how much you love gay people, if you promote psychologically damaging quack-doctory, and refuse to even use the word ‘Christian’ in connection with your fellow churchpeople who are gay or gay-affirming, then you are a homophobe.

I judge people by what they do, not what they say in ‘mixed company’ once challenged. Evangelical groups never uttered a word while gay people were marginalised or discriminated against; I’ve never heard any of them speak out against gay bashing. I’ve never heard them complain about the draconian anti-gay laws being pushed in Uganda, where the Anglican Church has long-standing and intimate ties with the Evangelical wing of the Church of Ireland. I heard plenty from them arguing against civil partnership laws, and plenty from them arguing that people should have continued to be allowed to refuse me service in cafés and hotels just for being gay (and claim Christ’s mandate for doing so).

If you’re silent when people put us down but vocal in trying to prevent us achieving civil equality, you can hardly blame us from coming to the conclusion that you hate queers, can you? And you surely can’t blame us from seeing your attempt to marginalise, silence and bully gay people in the Church in that context?

Sitting in a garage all day going “vroom, vroom, vroom” doesn’t make you a car, and saying you’re not homophobic doesn’t mean you’re not a homophobe.

@Jaikin - one thing Ian is right on, it's not a north-south issue, lots of us in Northern Ireland find the homophobia on display here weird and creepy and find the pray-the-gay-away nonsense completely crackers.

Posted by: Gerry Lynch on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 at 2:17pm BST

But it is a North south issue because in its pathetic attempt tp pretend it is the Church of St patrick all the tiny southern dioceses are granted a votre at Synod disproportionate to their numbers. The North is overwhelmingly Protestant and Evangelical and the freer element are predominately in the south. For the first time some southern bishops are wearing mitres, but not the ones in the Orange North.

If it is not a north south can you name a converted former Catholic priest in the north?

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 at 10:13pm BST

I would say that the 'historical orthodoxy' in the church has tended towards a negative view of men having sex with men.

I would also say that the 'historical orthodoxy' in the church has tended to support the idea of a literal creation of Adam, without descent from primates.

But I believe orthodox views can change with time, because circumstances, knowledge, understanding, culture, and science change and develop in time.

I believe in continuing revelation. A revelation of the love of God, unfolding anew each generation, in the actual lives and actual situations experienced.

If the word of God is static, then we'll maybe see the Bible as inerrant, and nothing ever changes. It's all fixed in stone. The creation without evolution. Noah's Ark. A God who backs the stoning of active homosexual couples or the slaughter and ethnic cleansing of the Canaanites.

But if the word of God is alive and active, then He can be expected to be at work creatively in our consciences, in our changing world, in the opening up of things that were once culturally closed...

...and that were once...


Posted by: Susannah Clark on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 at 11:30pm BST

Mark - Like you, I see little in "church" any longer, if one looks at the global church, Canterbury, etc. But individual churches can be shining exceptions, and ours - Trinity Parish, Seattle - is one such. We have a huge food program, we are Open and Affirming, a thrift shop the profits from which go into the food bank, we have a vestry that is matching donations to reconstruct Christchurch cathedral, NZ... This is, I think, living the Gospel the way it was meant to be lived.

We're having our 13th annual Matthew Shepard Memorial Sermon on Oct. 9, with Derek Penwell speaking, whose church in Louisveiile, KY voted this spring to sign no more marriage licenses at all, until GLBT marriage equality has been reached.

There are islands of hope.

Posted by: Nat on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 at 11:40pm BST

"Masturbation isn't even a sin, as it once was."

- Robert I. Williams -

Tell us, Robert, that you never, ever engaged in this sexual discovery ritual! It is dishonesty like this that gains the nay-sayers on sexuality no credit whatsoever. Your little inuendi do nothing for the serious debate going on here. What is it that really consumes you about gender and sexuality that cannot be resolved by your trip to Rome? I, for one, am glad that even your own Church no longer stigmatises what is a perfectly natural human response to adolescent maturation.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 at 11:40pm BST

"we have a vestry that is matching donations to reconstruct Christchurch cathedral, NZ... This is, I think, living the Gospel the way it was meant to be lived." - Nat, on Wednesday -

Thank you, Matt - for the generosity of your local Church of 'Trinity, Seattle'. It's parishes like yours - inclusive, sharing, caring; that practise what you preach: the love and mercy of God in Christ; that are a continuing sign of God's Love in a needy world.

As a resident of Christchurch, N.Z., I salute you and yours. Blessings, Fr. Ron

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 16 September 2011 at 1:10am BST

The Catholic Church teaches that masturbation is a sin, but also wisely and tenderly points out that extenuating circumstances may reduce its seriousness. Obviously a teenager is not in the same position as an adult.

The acceptance of masturbation is actually very new, the natural outcome of the Anglican's accepting contraception in 1930. Denominations which accepted contraception in the 1960's caved in on masturbation soon after. Even C.S. Lewis, condemened it in his book Mere Christianity and John Stott in his most famous book, Basic Christianity.

What I was trying to point out , was that the forces claiming sexual orthodoxy and the high ground in the Church of Ireland are actually liberal on other key issues. If you accept cotraception, i can't see how you can hold the line on homosexuality.However Ron will have his anti Catholic spats and he seems to have a personal fetish for atacking me.

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Friday, 16 September 2011 at 7:14am BST

@IRW: Jesus on contraception please? (I missed out on that at ordination training).

Posted by: Sara MacVane on Friday, 16 September 2011 at 6:29pm BST

Every Christian Church , until Lambeth 1930 taught contraception was serious sin.This was based on Scripture, particularly the sin of Onan.

The uniative and the procreative are never to be divided.The married couple must be open to the possibility of God's gift of life when they make love.The Church has said so...and the Catholic Church is the voice of Jesus Christ.

"He that hears you, hears me."

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Friday, 16 September 2011 at 11:00pm BST

For a Catholic the voice of Jesus is his Magisterial Church authentically interpreting the deposit of faith and Scripture. " he that hears you, hears me." " Go ye into all the world teaching and baptizing.....and lo I am with you even unto the end of the age."

Sara you wouldn't hear that in your training as you are an Anglican , who believes in a different understanding of the Church, and that the Church can err ( see your 39 Articles)

private note...

Simon could you please put an extra t in attacking in my last posting. Thank you

Posted by: Robert ian williams on Sunday, 18 September 2011 at 8:03am BST

Robert I Williams, you haven't answered my question put to you in my last posting! Or are you trying to avoid the issue?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 19 September 2011 at 2:05am BST

"the Catholic Church is the voice of Jesus Christ"....a fine Ultramontanist statement Robert, an earlier convert W.G.Ward ( the William Oddie of his day?) would be proud of you. But I wonder how many Roman Catholic theologians would concur with such an unnuanced statement ?

Posted by: Perry Butler on Tuesday, 20 September 2011 at 2:07pm BST

I often get the same question that Ron poses in RE lessons. I usually tell the smart alec teenagers to grow up and mind their own business.

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Wednesday, 21 September 2011 at 7:07am BST

This comments thread has veered a long way from the original topic, namely the CA response on the Irish Church civil partnerships topic. Keep comments on topic, or they won't be approved.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 21 September 2011 at 6:25pm BST
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.