A private members motion asking the House of Bishops to investigate a way of developing sensitive, local pastoral arrangements for public prayer and thanksgiving at key moments in the lives of same–sex couples, and to present them to General Synod 2018, with a view to making proposals at General Synod 2019 has been defeated.
The motion, in the names of Dr Leo Kilroy and the Revd Brian O’Rourke, also called on General Synod to acknowledge the injury felt by members of the Church who enter into loving, committed and legally-recognised same sex relationships, due to the absence of provision for them to mark that key moment in their lives in church.
The motion stated that any pastoral arrangements should not infringe Canon 31 and that the facilitation of such arrangements would not impair the communion between an individual bishop or diocese with any other bishop or dioceses of the Church of Ireland.
A request for a vote by orders was accepted. Archbishop Richard Clarke said that if the motion was passed, the clergy and laity would be asking the bishops to consider it. Therefore, he said, the bishops would not comment on the debate nor vote on the motion. Regardless of whether it passed or not, he said the bishops would listen intently.
Proposing Motion 12, Dr Kilroy said it recognised that a diversity of principled conviction remained, but it also placed the importance of church unity at the forefront. He said that one of the strengths of Anglicanism was the ability to support a variety of traditions and accommodate difference of opinion on many matters. He suggested that human sexuality could be just another of those things we could agree to differ on.
“Many of your brothers and sisters in our Church are lesbian and gay”, he told delegates. “They are people that you meet at Church every Sunday, ordinary people living ordinary lives; some are single and others are in committed, loving relationships. Advances in civic society in recent years have seen LGBT people achieve many rights and legal protections, including frameworks for legal union. But many lesbian and gay people continue feel gravely hurt by the Church. They have been injured by the lack of compassion shown by some, who cling to a small number of disparate and disputed verses that exist in pockets of the Bible, and claim a divine rejection of gay people,” he said.
Dr Kilroy spoke of his own experience as a young gay man and his struggle following rejection and stigmatization by other Christians. He also spoke of his civil marriage and the sadness he and his partner felt at the lack of support available to them in their Church at this key point in their lives.
Debate on the motion included the following points:
- The quality of a relationship was down to the individuals not down to their gender.
- The motion was described as “impossible” because its aim was to preserve unity but – if passed – it would bring fracture. There was an inbuilt discrimination in it against those who experienced same sex attraction but did not act on it because of their godliness. Any public and liturgical recognition of relationships that were not two-gendered was in immediate opposition to Canon 31. The house was bound by the constitution of the Church of Ireland and the bishops were being forced into an impossible position.
- It was a very special day and the motion was welcomed as something firm to act about following years of talking. It was about inclusion of everyone in the love of Christ. How would you feel if you or your family member was excluded because of his or her sexuality?
- Caution in our consideration was urged. The outworking of the resolution could carry the potential to undermine a number of expressions of Gospel partnerships which were important for all of us across the Anglican Communion. Dioceses in the Church of Ireland were linked to dioceses in the global south and those relationships and the projects connected with them could be jeopardized. The Church of Ireland punched well above its weight in the Anglican Communion but the instruments of the Anglican Communion have said they could not go there.
- Efforts to engage with LGBT brothers and sisters had discovered pain and alienation and rejection which resulted in a change of heart. Theological and moral convictions weighed lightly in the scales of love, in comparison to the pain of others. Further injury should be minimized. Passing the modest motion would be a small step in addressing the church’s checkered history and making a more generous future.
- Young people believed that their identity was bound up in sexuality but their identity and primary sense of worth were found in Jesus Christ and not with whom they were attracted to. This motion if passed would cause deep harm to those who experience same sex attractedness but had chosen to uphold the teaching of the church.
- People turn to the church to mark special occasions in their lives even if they were not part of the church. In this motion we address a different group of people for whom the church is important in their lives but when they turn to the church to mark milestones in their lives they are not allowed to do that. The doors of the church are closed to them at a significant time in their lives and we are rejecting a person made in the image of God who is asking for public prayer and thanksgiving for their relationship causing hurt, exclusion and rejection.
- People who had chosen a celibate lifestyle whatever their sexuality would be let down by this motion.
In reply Dr Kilroy said it had been a useful debate from all sides. He said the motion acknowledged that not everyone agreed theologically or otherwise but it provided a way forward. His question to synod as they considered their vote was, ‘What would Jesus do?’
The Archbishop asked for a moment of quiet before the vote.
Voting took place by orders, with members of synod able to vote for or against, or abstain.
For – 56
Against – 72
Abstain – 9
For – 90
Against – 104
Abstain – 15
The Archbishop thanked members of synod for the way in which the debate had been conducted and said he believed the Grace of God was present. He said that regardless of the result of the vote, the bishops had been given a task by the recommendation of the select committee to give the matter further consideration.