Anglican motion on sexuality and marriage a prelude to the fight over Harper’s succession?

To most of us who don’t count ourselves as Anglicans, the Church of Ireland is something of a mystery… But in advance of any future departure of the current Archbishop of Armagh’s departure, all hell seems to have broken loose at last week’s Synod (over sex, as Alan notes below), as various factions compete for pole position.

It’s not as though there’s a huge slate of candidates. Beyond Harper himself there is a long/shortlist of just eleven candidates from the twelve dioceses.

The tensions seem highest between liberal Bishops Michael Burrows of Cashel & Ossory and Paul Colton of Cork, Cloyne & Ross (who alone of the twelve opposed a conservative restatement of the Irish church’s views on sexuality and marriage) and the evangelical Bishop of Down & Dromore Harold Miller; probably the most committed conservative and who’s diocese is one of the most populous in Ireland.

The figures on the final vote were pretty conclusive, but show a fairly high degree of dissent: Clergy for 81 , against 53 – Laity for 154, against 60 (more detail at Thinking Anglicans).

The News Letter reports, that the motion, sponsored by the Oxbridge educated Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough Michael Jackson:

…was the first time that the church had openly debated homosexuality since the News Letter revealed last September that the first serving Church of Ireland cleric had entered a civil partnership.

Yesterday a liberal Dublin minister blamed conservatives from Northern Ireland for having “suddenly appeared” on Saturday to vote through the motion.

But the leading evangelical bishop, Harold Miller – who seconded Saturday’s motion – dismissed that and said: “Anyone who wanted to be there could be there.”

The motion — who said that “faithfulness within marriage is the only normative context for sexual intercourse” — was only discussed on Saturday after tense behind-the-scenes meetings following Archbishop Alan Harper’s refusal to allow it to be discussed because of a point of order on Thursday.

Slugger understands that tensions were running high during the debate and that substantial pressure was applied by the yes camp… And there is some speculation amongst liberals that the degree of politicking involved is with a half an eye to winning support ahead of any future election of a new Archbishop of Armagh…

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  • “To most of us who don’t count ourselves as Anglicans, the Church of Ireland is something of a mystery…”

    From the comments on the Slugger site there is a presumption to interpretation of the Protestant churches from a projection of Roman Catholic organisation – top down, little room for dissidents. Using RC because the Anglican Church also believes in the Catholic church, though probably meaning something different. That’s the start. Anglicanism is designed to concensus, and balance between clergy and laity – the tensions makes change slow. Presbyterians bottom-up and not top-down, with the head of the church no greater than any member really. The rest of the denominations are somewhere inbetween apart from the gospel halls which have no wider body and are each to their own. Each congregation is its own Church, the chuch is the building – true of almost any denomination. The other independence of mind and local organisation is something common to greater or lesser extent. Any clearer?

    It is why Brady is an ‘institutional’ problem for the Catholic Chuch, while problems in a local Protestant church tend to be local and isolated.

  • Mick Fealty

    I do get that, I’m sorry it was not clearer. I would say the Brady situation is kicking up quite a lot more open dissent than that church is given to seeing. But the keys are in Rome, not in the parish, or even the Archdiocese of Dublin.

    What I found intriguing about this story was the fact that although Cantebury is in theory open to any Anglican in the world, Armagh can only be filled by one of eleven current Bishops of the Irish church.

    It would seem from that statement that the Bishop of Down and Dromore is willing and able gain sufficient ‘consensus’ to send a shot over the bows of the liberals, and with the willing help of Michael Jackson, one of those tipped to be in the next race for Armagh.

  • The CoI is complex. Deans of Cathedrals are in charge of Cathedrals, not the Bishops. While the candidates are restricted by origin, they have of course in the first instance been elected from the diocese. So it kind of cascades up, in ever decreasing circles. Clergy still appointed, but churches do have some say I think. Not entirely CoI, so not 100% on the ins and outs, ups and downs.

    Isn’t the Canterbury job still an appointment by the Queen which de facto (of course the Queen is the head of the Church) becomes head of the Anglican Communion which itself is a bit of a concensus thing?

    The point on Brady is exactly the difference. Catholics have no means of changing the Church without Rome being on side. The only way is out – perhaps part of the increase in Protestant church affiliation in the last Southern census. Protestants would probably just set up a new Church and get on with it.

  • Mick Fealty

    I get the feeling that’s exactly the brick wall he wants to press the dissenters up against… But by some accounts there was plenty of downward pressure at the Dublin Synod…

  • Mick, whilst currently residing on a different continent means I’m not as up to date on the COI as I would normally be (born, bred and previously employed by!) I wonder is it worth making a point about some of the language we use in these discussions. I need to show some cards to make the point, but I think it’s worthwhile.

    By definition, I am an evangelical: I believe in personal conversion; I believe the Bible is the authoritative scripture for my faith; I believe in emphasising the resurrection of Jesus; and I believe in actively expressing this. The point I fall down, and the reason I would struggle with the label ‘evangelical’, is that in our global, public understanding that immediately has connotations of extreme views from our friends in the US.

    I use this to illustrate that although Bishop Harold is described, theoretically accurately, as an evangelical conservative, the reality of what that means may vary greatly from what those terms mean to ‘the man on the street’. I personally know Bishop Harold as a humorous, thoughtful and patient leader, as comfortable hosting his annual ‘Bishop’s BBQ’ at the Summer Madness festival and bantering with youth groups as he is in this kind of high debate. I don’t think he is conservative as the American Right are conservative, nor is he ‘evangelical’ as we would think of the same.

    Similarly, when you describe Bishops Paul Colton or Michael Burrows as ‘liberal’, this is in a sense correct, but not as ‘liberal’ would stand in the public conscience. These leaders are committed Christians and share much common ground.

    Perhaps a clearer – and more helpful – illustration is the different between ‘high’ church (emphasis on tradition and bells and smells) and ‘low’ (emphasis on a more horizontal hierarchy and parish development.) That being said, although that would place the Bishop of Cork in the high church camp, I was in his diocese last year to profile some pretty radical interdenominational outreach projects – once again, highlighting how these definitions are never clearly cut.

    I have never been to synod, but I have the impression from interacting with these men and others that such disagreements as this years, politically charged as they are, would not diminish the respect they share for each other. It would possibly be a very different debate in private, frank and considerate, than it would be under the watching scrutiny and pressure of a strong laity – an interesting parallel with political discourse. Regardless, we must be careful not to treat our observation of it the same as we do our politicians – there are too many shades of gray to confuse things if we do.

  • And as a short addendum to the previous: if interested, Bishop Harold Miller’s speech in seconding Saturday’s motion is available online, and goes some way to explain (what is hopefully) the Church’s feeling on the matters at hand. Whilst I have no intention of making any personal judgement on the matter presently, I nevertheless find it encouraging reading.

  • Peter makes excellent points. Politicisation has often transfered terminology to theological debate that is inappropriate. Mick, I very much doubt that the Bishop wishes to push to the point of schism – not COI, indeed the very antithesis. For the Church this is a theological debate, not a political one – something ‘rights’ campaigners need to keep in mind if they wish to gain friends and influence people.

    Your more recent post shows progress.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks… It’s good to get some real informed comment on a subject that’s often too sidelined from our public discourse… and therefore too hidden from view to inform that wider discourse…

    For some of us it may also help to explain (belatedly perhaps) why there was something called the, er, Reformation? 🙂

  • Thanks, thedissenter. One can only hope all of our churches can continue to discuss this and other issues under the umbrella of the faith itself. Constant reminders that at the end of the day, all are working to the same end are crucial. That is to say, all have to be in agreement on the main basis of faith; from there, these issues are addressed within that ‘safe space’ – as the Bishop said.

  • Neville Bagnall

    A small but important point. The reporting at Thinking Anglicans and CNI is slightly wrong.

    “A proposal by Neville Bagnell and AG Oughton to remove a word and insert the word bigotry was lost. Clergy for 56, against 73 – Laity for 89, against 121.”

    Our motion was in fact to insert the word “exclusion,” before the word bigotry, effectively it would have changed the sentence to read:

    “A continuing commitment to love our neighbour, and opposition to all unbiblical and uncharitable actions and attitudes in respect of human sexuality from whatever perspective, including exclusion, bigotry, hurtful words or actions, and demeaning or damaging language;”

    I discovered on Sunday, rather to my shock and despite accepting the good intentions of the Bishops in bringing a balanced motion, that its passage had affected me more than I expected.

    I’m a democrat to the core, but I nevertheless found myself in need of both pastoral help and the loving support of my girlfriend.

    I might have more to say on that in time, either here or in the CoI Gazette, but for now its all a little too raw.