Launch of ‘Guide’ to the Church conversation on Human Sexuality
The Church of Ireland’s Select Committee on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief last week launched its Guide to the Conversation – a new resource described in a press statement as “designed to assist members of the Church in the ongoing process of listening, learning and dialogue on the issue”.
The Guide outlines the process to date along with essays and contributions from different viewpoints.
It was launched both in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, and in Church of Ireland House, Dublin, by the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke.
The Archbishop commended the Guide warmly, saying: “We are encouraged to use the Scriptures reverently and humbly, and helped in finding ways in which we may do this. We are given practical guidance on how to approach dialogue with those who hold different viewpoints from ours.”
SAME-SEX RELATIONSHIPS – A PROPOSAL
Last week’s launch in Belfast and Dublin of a Guide to the continuing conversation within the Church of Ireland on the issue of same-sex relationships (report, page 1) was described by the Chair of the Select Committee on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief, Dean John Mann, as a ‘staging point’ in the overall task. The Guide itself contains much thoughtful reflection on the subject and the Church is the richer for this work, which is now available for everyone to consider.
The Guide does not reach any particular conclusions on the way forward for the Church in addressing what is undoubtedly a highly charged subject. Rather, it demonstrates the depth of reflection that is necessary. Thus, continued dialogue, characterised by mutual respect and prayerful further thought, is the way forward in this journey which touches the lives of many both in the Church and in society at large. We do not know precisely where the journey will lead or if it will lead us to anywhere other than where we are now, but one hopes that it will at least lead to better relationships all round.
A particular question arises that requires some more concrete decisions, however, and that is just how the Church is to approach the situation that is surely bound to occur, if it has not already occurred, of committed members of the Church of Ireland who have entered into civil same-sex marriages.
The teaching of the Church is clear that marriage is both heterosexual and lifelong in its purpose (Canon 31). However, the Church has already made provision for those who choose to marry while a former spouse is still living. The remarriage in church of such divorced persons is possible, although there are special pastoral requirements involving a formal episcopal Opinion in each case. While the issues of the lifelong and heterosexual purposes of marriage arguably may not be seen as equally
fundamental from a biblical perspective, it is now for the Church to consider, as a matter of some urgency, what its pastoral approach is to be in relation to churchgoing couples who are in civil same-sex marriages.
Before the Church of Ireland allowed for the remarriage of divorced persons in church, there were frequent services of blessing of civil marriages. Some people considered this hypocritical because, it was said, it entailed blessing something of which the Church did not approve. Yet, the service was an expression of the Church’s acceptance of individuals’ right to differ from the Church in terms of how they lived their lives in this regard. It was not hypocrisy; it was about the Church accepting that it is not, actually, infallible and that individual Christian people have a right, to some extent at least, to disagree with the Church while remaining fully in communion with it.
While it remains a matter of debate that the rationale behind the remarriage of divorced persons in church gives grounds for the marriage of same-sex couples also in church, as things stand it is quite possible for the Church to recognise, through a specific pastoral ministry, that couples in civil same-sex marriages have entered into that relationship in a wholly conscientious manner. Such couples must be given their place in the Church, even though their decision runs counter to Church teaching. However, because of both the importance of the matter and the sensitivities involved, it might be that such a ministry should be one performed by bishops at their discretion, or by a member of the clergy designated by the bishop to perform such a ministry on the bishop’s behalf. It would, in effect, be to say: ‘While the Church does not allow for same-sex marriage in its doctrine and rites, the Church respects your decision and affirms your place in its life.’
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USING THE BIBLE IN SPIRITUAL DIRECTION Author: Liz Hoare Publisher: SPCK
THE NEW ASCETICISM. SEXUALITY, GENDER AND THE QUEST FOR GOD Author: Sarah Coakley Publisher: Bloomsbury; pp.143
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