COI Gazette – 31 August 2012

Adrian Clements

Adrian Clements

Church welcomes ‘new ideas’ in facing funding challenges, says incoming Chief Officer

In a statement issued last week, the Representative Church Body’s Head of Finance and incoming Chief Officer, Adrian Clements, said that the General Synod and the RC B “welcome new ideas that would contribute to the capacity of the Church to deliver its ministry”.

Mr Clements, who takes over from Denis Reardon as Chief Officer at the RC B on 1st September, was responding to wider media interest in the Gazette’s 24th August editorial, which suggested the appointment of a central Church team to bring forward new proposals for coping with the effects of the reduction in central funds last year of more than €12m, without placing any further burden on parishes.


Neil Armstrong

Many Americans who have achieved great things trace their roots to Ireland, North and South. Indeed, in the political world of the US it is an asset to be exploited for electoral gain. However, one American who had roots in Co. Fermanagh and who was a legendary achiever but also a person of real modesty was Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon, who died last weekend. His family described him as “a reluctant American hero” and it is well known that he neither sought nor enjoyed celebrity life. His authorised biographer, James Hansen, a former NASA historian, described him as having been “exceedingly circumspect” from a young age, adding that the glare of international attention only served to deepen that trait in his character.

To be the first person to set foot beyond Earth, however, not only ensured instant fame for Neil Armstrong but also a lasting place in the history of the human race. That one step from the Apollo spacecraft’s structure to the lunar surface was aptly described by him as “one giant leap for mankind”, but he described his own, personal step as “small”.

On 16th July, 1969, Apollo XI lifted off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on its four-day journey to the Moon, with Neil Armstrong in charge, accompanied by Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin and Michael Collins. Collins remained in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin went down to the surface of the Moon, landing in the Sea of Tranquility and spending almost a day on the surface, although only some two and a half hours outside their spacecraft. All three astronauts returned safely to Earth.

Being interviewed not long after his trip to the Moon by Sir Patrick Moore, Neil Armstrong spoke movingly about the beauty of Earth when seen from such a vast distance. He said: “The Earth is quite beautiful from space and from the Moon. It looks quite small and quite remote. It is very blue, covered with white lace – the clouds.” In the same interview, the astronaut expressed confidence that a permanent lunar station would be established in his lifetime, but he was to be disappointed on that score.

As with the recent landing of the robotic rover ‘Curiosity’ on Mars, the Apollo mission of decades ago marked a friendly reaching out to the unknown and represented humanity’s natural drive to explore the natural environment. Neil Armstrong’s legacy is, no doubt, multifaceted, but the noble spirit of the man has perhaps as many lessons to teach us as has his scientific achievement. Truly, personal humility, much prized in the Christian tradition, is the quality that makes great people really great.


The ‘Fifth Estate’

In his new book, The Rise of the Fifth Estate, Australian blogger, current affairs commentator and former civil servant, Greg Jericho, comments on the rise of the social media – in particular, blogging and Twitter. He says that the relatively recent phenomenon provides for better coverage of politics.

Last week, Mr Jericho told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the social media provide “a different set of voices”, commenting that the plethora of economic blogs written by academics, and some good policy blogs, brought “a different colour” to debate. He commented that in the new social media generally there is a creative interaction between journalists and politicians on the one hand and bloggers and readers on the other, enabling more of an instant dialogue. The personal, direct interaction of citizens with politicans is “a good thing for politics”, he said. As far as the abuse that is often mentioned in connection with the social media is concerned, he said it could easily be “filtered out” to find “gems and good discussions and good relationships”. People should not write off the social media simply because criticism is not always voiced in a “nice, polite form”, he said.

There is no doubt that Mr Jericho puts a welcome, positive ‘spin’ on the social media and certainly in the Church there are many good bloggers, such as the Gazette columnist Stephen Neill, Church of Ireland theologian Patrick Comerford and Scottish Primus David Chillingworth. Bloggers can have an immense readership, across the world, and often their comments are taken up by the more established media. Coming to terms with such a new phenomenon requires some mental adjustment and the irresponsible use of the social media does not help. Mr Jericho is nonetheless right to stress that the downside should not be allowed to cloud the fact that there is so much of a positive nature in this new communications world.

It is well known that the Internet is posing a great challenge to the newspaper industry in particular and it is for that reason that in recent years the Gazette has developed its online presence, through our website and now in our e-paper. The Church of Ireland has also put considerable effort into developing the Church’s official website, as have individual dioceses with their own online presence.

The world of communications is changing rapidly, presenting the Church with a considerable challenge but also new and welcome opportunities to reach millions of people.

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Letters to the Editor

Same-sex marriage

The Archbishop of Armagh claimed in the Gazette of 17th August that all people are welcome to be members of the Church of Ireland. He knows, however, that a significant number of C. of I. clergy make a point of refusing Holy Communion, without any due process, to people in monogamous same-sex relationships.

Such views were expressed openly at the lesbian-free consultation event in Cavan earlier this year. Despite being aware of this, the Archbishop’s silence and that of his episcopal colleagues on this matter has been deafening.

He therefore knows that the welcome extended to gay people in the Church of Ireland is partial, selective and something of a ‘post-code lottery’. I do not understand why he tries to pretend otherwise. He further speaks about the Church’s “opposition to all unbiblical and uncharitable actions and attitudes in respect of human sexuality from whatever perspective” (italics mine). He thereby sets up a false equivalence between those holding liberal and conservative positions on homosexuality.

In reality, actions and language that undermine an atmosphere of mutual respect come almost entirely from those opposed to the acceptance of homosexuality.

For example, a few weeks ago, a gay couple were intimidated from their home in Lisburn after a tidal wave of homophobic verbal abuse which reached a crescendo with several attacks on their home. Such incidents are far from unknown in Northern Ireland, even today.

I cannot recall any occasion in this Province where a conservative Evangelical or Roman Catholic was attacked in their own home because of their views on homosexuality.

Neither can I remember any occasion when a liberal member of the Church of Ireland publicly compared the marriages of religious conservatives to bestiality, as Lord Maginnis did to gay people on live radio last month.

Nor can I remember any incident where anyone was refused Holy Communion because they held conservative views on the subject of homosexuality.

I firmly hope that conservative Christians never have to encounter the sort of hostility that gay people still encounter on a routine basis.

Threats of schism and division also come from only one side in this debate – the conservative side. There are not two equally hostile extremes.

Gerry Lynch, Belfast

Congratulations to Canon Kenny of Changing Attidude Ireland on his articulate response to Prime Minister David Cameron’s reflections on the role of the Church as a source of marginalisation and hurt for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT ) brothers and sisters (Gazette, 17th August).

Whilst Mr Cameron, a Conservative leader, encourages the Church to show leadership in respect of the sexuality issue in the UK, in the Irish Republic, the Tánaiste, Eamonn Gilmore, a Labour leader, has also recently expressed his own strong moral conviction that full LGBT equality is “the civil rights issue” of our generation.

So we find the irony of senior secular leaders from quite different political persuasions and cultural backgrounds encouraging the Christian Church to show leadership on a pressing contemporary moral issue.

If the comments of the Archbishop of Armagh reported in the same issue of the Gazette are to be taken at face value, our most senior Church leaders seem to be very reluctant to take up this challenge.

LGBT rights are clearly an emotive issue for Irish Anglicans and we need to be gentle and prayerful in conversation with each other. Canon Kenny reminds us of the danger of so-called literal readings of the Bible which can be used to inflict pain and abuse rather than the radical message of a loving God.

Taking just one example, let us not forget the appalling persecutions of Jewish communities justified for centuries by both Roman Catholic and Protestant Christian theologians because the Scriptures taught that the Jews killed Jesus.

The Gazette has recently reported with deep concern the rise of atheism in Western society. Atheists accuse the Christian Church of a kind of posturing in which we claim moral high ground, whilst acting in ways that prove to be highly immoral, hurtful and marginalising. For them, our attitude towards LGBT rights is an example of this.

Atheists argue that all this demonstrates moral delusion and, as one author described it, “shameless bigotry”. They ask how we can claim to believe and worship a loving God who died for all, and yet act according to a set of values that marginalise whole swathes of society.

Perhaps atheism has more to say to us than we like to think.

Larry Stapleton (Dr), Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny

Dr Ron Elsdon must be quaking in his shoes at the number of brickbats lobbed in his direction by Charles Kenny of Changing Attitude Ireland (Gazette, 17th August): “simplistic” – “confused” – maintaining an “intellectually and theologically bankrupt position”.

Surely this is not the type of academic language that one would associate with a leading light of an organization that desperately desires to be seen as ‘inclusive’!

Canon Kenny wants people in Ireland to “forego the biblicist argument” in relation to same-sex marriage. Perhaps that is because his own particular attempts at Biblical interpretation are open to question.

Some months ago, I sent an essay to CAI in response to their publication, Moving Forward Together. The essay was a response to two contributions in that publication: one by Prof. Nigel Biggar on the theme of Biblical authority; the other by Charles Kenny on Biblical interpretation. To date, I have not received any response from CAI concerning the contents of my essay. Perhaps I too have been relegated to the ranks of the simplistic and confused!

Canon Kenny’s article (entitled ‘So what about Romans 1?’) tackles the contentious issue of the meaning of the word ‘natural’ apropos sexual relations (see verses 26 and 27 of that chapter). Much effort is spent in circumnavigating the topic in hand and engaging in sweeping generalisations.

When he does get down to the actual text, no attempt has been made to grapple with the historical, theological and literary background to Romans in general nor to this passage in particular. All of these are essential to sound Biblical interpretation but are strangely absent here.

Consequently, what we end up with is a total distortion of the meaning of Paul’s interpretation of the term ‘natural’.

L i k e w i s e , contextualization of Scriptural passages is singularly lacking in the essay by Prof. Nigel Biggar on Biblical authority.

Finally, could it be the case that the plea to “forgo the Biblicist argument” is in reality a desire to forgo the Biblical argument itself, i.e. a refusal to countenance historic revelation as the cornerstone of Christian truth?

In which case, what options are left open to CAI in its deeply-rooted desire to present its cause as authentically Christian?

Colin McCormack (The Revd), Warrenpoint

‘Back to Church’ Sunday

Those parishes preparing for involvement in ‘Back to Church’ Sunday this year might find helpful a video highlighting the experience of the parish of Roscrea in 2011.

It’s available on YouTube (just search for ‘Back to Church Roscrea’) or, in case of difficulty, I may be able to send a copy.

This video complements the one produced last year focusing on two contasting churches in Northern Ireland.

Paul Hoey (The Revd), Church21 and The Church of Ireland Council for Mission

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