COI Gazette – 3rd February 2017

English bishops will not recommend changing Church teaching to allow for same-sex marriage


Bishop Graham James

The Church of England’s law and guidance on marriage should be interpreted to provide “maximum freedom” for gay and lesbian people without changing the Church’s doctrine of marriage itself, English bishops are recommending.

A report from the Church of England’s House of Bishops to be discussed by the Church’s General Synod later this month upholds the teaching, recognised by canon law, that marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman.

But it also concludes that the current advice on pastoral provision for same-sex couples – which allows clergy to provide informal prayers for those marrying or forming a civil partnership – is not clear enough and should be revisited. It also calls for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for lesbian and gay people and those attracted to people of the same sex throughout the Church of England.




The 2017 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is now over, but hopefully it will have given a certain added impetus to ecumenical life and witness not only in parishes across Ireland but also in so many other parts of the world. It surely brings joy to congregations when brothers and sisters in Christ come together in their denominational diversity and in a truly spiritual way.

The Psalmist so aptly declares: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.” (Ps. 133: 1-3) This year, the Week of Prayer brought together its ecumenical theme of reconciliation with that of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. Doing so was a case of great foresight and masterplanning.

The Lutheran world is observing the period 31st October 2016 – 31st October 2017 as a year-long celebration, which opened at a special service in Sweden’s Lund Cathedral, where Pope Francis spoke, saying: “Here in Lund, at this prayer service, we wish to manifest our shared desire to remain one with Christ, so that we may have life. We ask him, ‘Lord, help us by your grace to be more closely united to you and thus, together, to bear a more effective witness of faith, hope and love’. This is also a moment to thank God for the efforts of our many brothers and sisters from different ecclesial communities who refused to be resigned to division, but instead kept alive the hope of reconciliation among all who believe in the one Lord.”

People know about ‘fall-outs’ in their everyday experience. It happens, sadly. Yet, when people do fall out, the important thing is the picking up of the pieces and the attempt to restore relationships, to find reconciliation. The ecumenical movement entails a kind of picking up and putting togtether again of the pieces left by various splits in Christian fellowship, of which the Reformation time is one major instance. It is a long and demanding task because, as the years go by, divisions often become increasingly difficult to heal.

Time can entrench them. Yet, as the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Dr Olav Fyske Tveit, told the Gazette last month in the run-up to the Week of Prayer, we are also able to look back on 50 years of precisely this kind of ecumenical endeavour – dialogue aimed at picking up the pieces and putting them back together again. He said: “We should not underestimate this harvesting time of what has been done in the ecumenical movement together.” (Gazette, 20th January)

The theme of this year’s week of prayer for Christian unity was, ‘Reconciliation – the love of Christ compels us’, and in this part of the world the sub-theme was ‘Crossing Barriers’. Do Christians really feel compelled by Christ’s love? Is there a real sense of being compelled by the Christian faith? Perhaps the key thing here is renewal: the renewal of faith will allow that sense of being compelled by Christ’s love to gain new life.

Everyone needs renewal from time to time, or as is said nowadays, a ‘refresh’. It is one of the purposes of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that this time is taken to refresh Christian people’s commitment to one another. Indeed, what better way is there to do that than by literally coming together to worship and to pray and to sing God’s praise together. (Wittenberg service report, page 9)


Home News

  • Installations in Clogher Cathedral Chapter
  • Eleven Christ Church, Lisburn parishioners setting off to Uganda
  • New priest-in-charge welcomed at Rathkeale
  • Controversy over former College of Education
  • Farewell to Fr O’Driscoll at Christian Unity service
  • Tribute Canon John Leslie Forsythe
  • BACI 2017 Lent Study aims to shine biblical wisdom on the migrant crisis
  • Standing Committee news
  • Contrasting Church views on Stormont’s departing Deputy First Minister



  • Rethinking Church – Milk is good for us!
  • Lifelines – ‘God’s Heart for Migrants’

World News

  • In Germany, marking 500th Luther anniversary, Wittenberg service encourages tearing down dividing walls
  • First woman bishop for Church in Wales


Letters to the Editor

Same-sex relationships

I REFERRED in my letter (13th January) to the plight of a man who experiences unwanted same-sex attraction which is breaking up his family, and seeks help from a therapist. Scott Golden (20th January) writes off such help as “seeking to ‘cure’ individuals of an illness they do not have”.

That cannot be an acceptable response from the Church of Christ to someone who asks for help. Does Scott have anything to offer him except to abandon his family and start a new life as a ‘gay’ man?

I would encourage the man to go to a reputable therapist (who scandalously today is likely to be struck off) to try to reduce his unwanted attractions.

Scott says that according to a review by the American Psychological Association (APA), “therapy has a lengthy track record of not working”. He doesn’t cite the reference, but it must be to the 2009 APA report, which actually says (p.28), “… there is little in the way of credible evidence that could clarify whether [therapy] does or does not work in changing same-sex sexual attractions”.

Scott argues for a biological causation of same-sex attraction, referencing a paper by Bao and Swaab. This paper says: “There is no evidence that one’s postnatal social environment plays a crucial role in … sexual orientation.”

Yet the Royal College of Psychiatrists had to do a u-turn on this issue. They wrongly told the Church of England’s Pilling working group that “there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that … early childhood experiences have any role in the formation of a person’s … orientation.

It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by genetic factors … and/or the early uterine environment.”

However, after criticism, in April 2014 they issued a new statement saying, “… sexual orientation is determined by a combination of biological and postnatal environmental factors”. The key word here is ‘postnatal’, meaning that a person wasn’t born that way.

I would like to assure Scott that I agree with him that people who experience samesex attraction did not choose to be that way.

Dermot O’Callaghan Hillsborough Co. Down

I HAVE been following the dialogue between Dermot O’Callaghan and Scott Golden on same-sex attraction over the past few weeks with interest.

It seems to me that both men are beginning to miss one another and stray down an unhelpful rabbit hole of looking to scientific study to try and prove or disprove whether reparative therapy is or is not a legitimate practice.

Homosexual practice is sinful. The Bible could not be clearer or indeed any less ambiguous on the matter. If it were truly unclear, then liberals within the Church would still be going to Scripture in order to try and convince us that the passages that condemn homosexual practice actually mean this or that.

No serious Bible scholar would try to refute the claim that the Bible calls homosexual practice sinful, and so we see liberals looking elsewhere for their evidence to the contrary. Given that it is clear that homosexual practice is condemned by Scripture, just like any other sexual practice outside marriage (exclusive – one man, one woman) then the logical conclusion must be that the desire for homosexual practice is a sinful desire – again, just like the desire for any sexual relationship outside marriage.

The Bible speaks of sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit. (1 Thess. 4: 1-8; 2 Cor. 5: 17) The Christian is continually made into the likeness of Christ through Spirit-driven effort as we mortify the sin in our lives and in Romans Ch. 7 Paul writes about his struggle in the area of the sanctification of his own sinful desires.

Whether or not the medical intervention of reparative therapy is determined to be scientifically or medically successful in and of itself is largely irrelevant.

The facts are that we know homosexual practice is sinful, and that we know that, as Christians, we are given the power of the Holy Spirit to help us overcome and defeat sin in our lives.

The outcome of this sanctification is likely to look different in each person with some having their homosexual desires replaced with heterosexual ones, while others are given the self-control to remain celibate.

Whatever the outcome, the reality is that God, through his Spirit, sanctifies his people and gives them the power to overcome their sinful desires.

Thomas Dowling Dundonald Co. Down

DERMOT O’CALLAGHAN (Letters, 13th January) refers to sexual attraction as a clear binary of straight and gay.

Research on human sexuality has moved beyond this reductionist model, replacing it with a range of manifestations of human sexuality, including degrees of homosexuality and heterosexuality, bi-sexuality (attraction toward both males and females), pansexuality (attraction not limited with regard to biological sex or gender), and asexuality (a general absence of sexual attraction).

Any engagement with this topic requires a holistic reading that appreciates how contemporary understandings can inform the Church’s positions, and vice versa.

Otherwise, we run the risk of not only lessening human sexuality, but also lessening the complexity of being human.

Richard Scriven (Dr) Ballinlough Cork

C. of I. investment in Kinder Morgan

PRESIDENT TRUMP recently signed a presidential memorandum reopening steps for approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Both pipelines had permits removed under the Obama administration.

The Presiding Bishop of the US Episcopal Church, Bishop Michael Curry, has spoken against these pipelines and visited the Standing Rock Sioux Nation’s protest camp in September 2016.

In Canada last year, the Anglican Church of Canada’s Council of General Synod passed a resolution in support of indigenous peoples’ concerns for stewardship of traditional lands following the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline. This is a 1,150km extension to an existing pipeline that transports tar sands oil from Alberta to Vancouver.

The Church of Ireland has its largest single investment in Kinder Morgan. Almost 2% of its investment funds, about £4m, is invested in the pipeline company.

So while the Anglican Churches in North America oppose building oil pipelines, the Church of Ireland actively invests in their construction. I hope the Church of Ireland’s Representative Church Body will consider divestment from Kinder Morgan.

Stephen Trew Toberhewny Lodge Lurgan


Book Review

LISTENING TO GOD – FUEL FOR MINISTRY? Author: John Draper Publisher: Circle Books Price: £7.99


News Extra

  • 100th anniversary of Laurentic Lough Swilly sinking commemorated
  • Pupils in ‘fact-finding visit’ to Belfast Cathedral
  • Bethany Home issue raised – Church of Ireland and Irish Church Missions show ‘lack of support’ for survivors
  • Installation and Institution of new Dean of Derry
  • Appointments