Archbishop Jackson and Bishop Miller confirm 2012 General Synod resolution not intended to change Church’s teaching on marriage
Earlier this month, the Gazette asked the proposer and seconder of the motion that led to the 2012 General Synod resolution on the topic of human sexuality, the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Michael Jackson, and the Bishop of Down, the Rt Revd Harold Miller, to clarify one aspect of the resolution, the precise meaning of which has been the subject of some discussion.
We asked Archbishop Jackson and Bishop Miller whether they had intended the statement in the resolution, that 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”, to mean that the Church of Ireland recognises that, outside its own bounds, marriage can in fact be other than as Canon 31 teaches it to be.
In reply, they said last week that they had “recognised that the State may choose to define marriage in a different way to the way the Church of Ireland understands it ‘for itself and of itself’”, adding: “This does not change the Church’s understanding.”
‘A FRESH START’
Last week’s Stormont accord, entitled ‘A Fresh Start’, was sufficient to get the devloved government institutions back up and running but whether it will be enough to bring about a new dawn in Northern Ireland politics is another matter altogether. As Peter Robinson said in his final leader’s speech to the Democratic Unionist Party’s annual conference last weekend, Northern Ireland is indeed “a place transformed”, when compared with earlier days, but stabilising the peace is an ongoing work.
Nonetheless, the two largest political parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, have managed, with input from London and Dublin, to come to an agreement, while in recent times the relationship between them was widely regarded as often actually toxic. That is progress in itself, but that it should take all of ten weeks to come to the agreement that was published is a token of just how difficult the behind- closed-doors negotiations must have been.
After the debate in the Assembly on 18th November and all the commenting in the media, the agreement does seem like crisis management – and hardly sufficient to ward off further crises. Government in Northern Ireland typically has lurched from one crisis to another and it is hard to imagine that all that will suddenly change. However, crises do need to be managed and it is difficult, in the midst of a crisis, to do much more than manage a return to some stability.
The agreement allows the Stormont government to continue. The usefulness of having a devolved administration in Belfast is often debated and there are many who think it is a gigantic waste of money, preferring to return to ‘direct rule’. This is a blinkered attitude. A major point in having a local administration is to enable all sections of the community truly to identify with those in power. Direct rule would only lead to political alienation within Northern Ireland; both London and Dublin, as well as the local politicians, are right to do all they can to ensure that the Stormont institutions remain in place.
The effectiveness of the agreement, in terms of dealing with paramilitaries, addressing the challenges of welfare reform and boosting commerce, will only be revealed in time but the absence of an agreement on the issue of Northern Ireland’s troubled past came, no doubt, as a blow to many. With regard to victims, the BBC’s Brian Rowan described the agreement as, not a “fresh start” but “another false start”. While the difficulty this time seems to have focused on government disclosure of information, getting to the bottom of the question of just who, and who should not, be regarded as a victim will be vital if the issue of coming to terms with the past is to be settled.
Another aspect of the bi-party agreement is that the process does seem to hint at a change of style of government at Stormont to government-and-opposition mode. That is a welcome development because the style of government that there has been heretofore all too often has boiled down to parties trading items on their wish-lists. It is far better that proposals are debated, not in terms of who wants what, but in terms of what is right for the people.
An ecumenical statement last week from Church leaders, including the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, extended a cautious welcome to what they described as an “accommodation” and expressed their prayer that ‘A Fresh Start’ would be “the basis for beginning to restore hope to those who are struggling and re-establish the trust that has been slowly ebbing from our political institutions”.
The concept of a fresh start is a very Christian one. We all go wrong in life but the Church teaches that, with God, a new start is always possible. The idea of a fresh start is therefore one that is full of hope. That is what people in Northern Ireland really need – hope that, in their future, good will only go to better, and not to worse.
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