Respectful debate leads to General Synod reiterating traditional teaching on sexuality
A well-attended and attentive General Synod gathered last Saturday, the final day of Synod, to debate the subject of human sexuality.
On the first day of the Synod (Thursday), there had been three motions (8A-C), but the first had been challenged by the Dean of Cork, the Very Revd Nigel Dunne, who stated that it should have been in the form of a Bill because, in his view, it contained “a modification or alteration of doctrine”.
The Archbishop of Armagh, following advice from his Assessor, Lyndon MacCann SC, said that because of doubt about the matter, he would not take motion 8A. The following motions, 8B and 8C, were not put to the Synod.
On Saturday, a composite form of the three motions, which omitted a phrase in the preamble to the original motion 8A, but still clearly put forward the traditional view, was proposed by the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Michael Jackson, seconded by the Bishop of Down and Dromore, the Rt Revd Harold Miller.
GENERAL SYNOD SEXUALITY DEBATE
Last week’s General Synod meeting in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, had a full agenda, but the proceedings inevitably were dominated by the controversy over human sexuality issues. There was unexpected confusion over the topic on the first day, but the Archbishop of Armagh handled the three-day meeting, and this particularly motive issue, graciously and effectively. No one would have envied him his task.
Since the civil partnership of the Dean of Leighlin became a controversy early last autumn, the subject of same-sex relationships has remained live and at times hotly debated, leading to the unprecedented special March conference at the Slieve Russell Hotel, Co. Cavan, and to the debate at the General Synod. That debate brought many thoughtful speeches, for and against the motion in the names of the Archbishop of Dublin and the Bishop of Down and Dromore, and coming from the Bishops corporately. However, until the voting it was not at all clear whether the Synod would accept or reject the traditional approach that had been put before it.
The traditional teaching of the Church of Ireland on the subjects of sexual expression and marriage had been stated by the Archbishop of Armagh as early as last autumn, but it had been widely felt that the General Synod itself also needed to indicate the teaching, as well as proposing a way forward in the current circumstances of difference of opinion and controversy. The General Synod did that last week, underscoring the Archbishop’s concise statement with a more detailed statement and requesting the Standing Committee to bring forward a proposal to the General Synod next year for the formation of a Select Committee to continue the dialogue and reflection.
Following the vote on the motion, the Archbishop of Armagh said that the matter concerned the doctrine and the life of the Church but was also about ordinary men and women, and expressed the view that further study of the subject would be an enriching process. While those who wanted a different outcome will be disappointed, the Church as a whole needed the debate. Its outcome does not change the fundamental situation but, not least by providing for structured and formal further consideration of the issue, the resolution has not disregarded what is clearly a substantial minority.
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