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Day 2

Report of Select Committee on Human Sexuality Urges Bishops to Carry on the Conversation

The Report of the Select Committee on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief was presented at General Synod in Limerick this afternoon (Friday May 5).

Archbishop Richard Clarke commended all who worked with the select committee for whom the presentation of the report was its final act as it had come to the end of its four year life.

The select committee report concludes with the recommendation that the Bishops further examine the unresolved theological differences as represented in the select committee, with a view to making proposals to facilitate a way forward.

The report was proposed by the Dean of Belfast. Dean John Mann thanked all to had contributed to the life and work of the committee. “In a nutshell, our remit as a committee was to keep the Church of Ireland talking about a matter and we have certainly done a great deal of talking amongst ourselves and with other people, and I have attempted to be an impartial chair, but we sought to tread ground that we desperately needed to tread in order to live with ourselves, and more than that, to live both compassionately with, and theologically respectful of, each other,” he stated.

He said he could not imagine that they could bring four years of talking and praying together to a summary in 10 minutes so he gave his own feeling. “Whilst General Synod invited its Select Committee to further discussion on any matters of concern regarding human sexuality, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the presenting issue of same sex attraction (and matters arising from this fact of human life) was where our major efforts were to lie,” he said.

He said that the select committee sought to achieve a wider, grassroots conversation in the parishes of the Church of Ireland by providing study guides and encouraging meetings in the dioceses to allow the church to get a feel for how things stand on the ground now. He said that the Church is still talking and willing to engage.

As the select committee is wound up, he said we were left with the question about how the road was to be travelled in the future. Dean Mann asked General Synod to avoid a situation or conclusion in which there were winners or losers. “Whenever a complementary scenario is sought, that is when no one feels frozen–out, it requires, in my experience, everyone to change.  It may not be a major change, almost certainly it is not a theological change, but it is an inner change that recognises that the cost of division is not just that we are divided, but that we are also diminished by setting ourselves apart from other Christians,” he said.

After four years, he said that listening to one another and praying and reading the Scriptures had brought us closer.

He concluded with the plea: “Let us be alert that we treat each other’s views with extreme tenderness and care, as we would wish our own heart–felt beliefs to be heard, over a matter that remains a living reality to many people, and a matter for concern and prayer for the Church at this moment and into the future.  We are a small church that exists, as does every other, to serve and to proclaim a Gospel of redemption. May those thoughts be prominent in our minds and illuminate our discussion at this time”.

Mrs Helen McClenaghan seconded the report and echoed what Dean Mann said. She said the Church was small and interdependent on one another. She said that conversations on sexuality would happen that may be unexpected and even unwelcome and may illicit a response which draws on our spirituality and expressed in God given words. She urged people to reflect on what resources of faith and Christian believers you could draw.

The Select Committee envisaged that and made available The Guide. She commended The Guide as something which aided people in conversations on sexuality which would happen with or without the contribution of the church. She urged everyone in the church promote further activities with fellow church members to enable further conversations on human sexuality to continue and ensure those conversations do take place.

Points raised during the discussion on the report included: 

  • The report reflects a careful reflection and honest listening process.
  • As a Church we have unresolved theological differences that need further conversations and listening.
  • The report’s recommendation urges the bishops to facilitate a way to move forward was commended.
  • The process of listening in Meath and Kildare was commended and people were urged to continue the conversation.
  • Plea to broaden the issue of human sexuality beyond the issue of same sex attraction to deal with a society which has become increasingly sexualised.
  • Sadness was expressed that so little had changed over four years in the inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church despite the passing of the same sex marriage referendum.
  •  Jesus loves everyone equally.
  •  Hope was expressed that one day gay people would be able to feel fully accepted and be able to be married in the church.
  • The resource pack produced by the select committee did not include some definitions of sexuality and this was an opportunity missed.
  • The document has laid the foundation for moving forward together and we must trust our bishops to discern a way forward.
  • Every single member of our church and community is valued.

In response, Dean Mann, thanked all the speakers.