'Human Sexuality in the context of Christian Belief'       

Over the last few years the Anglican Communion has struggled to find accommodation for opposing views on human sexuality, (in particular regarding same sex partnerships). The Church of Ireland is having to face these issues especially after a member of the Clergy entered into a Civil Partnership.

General Synod, the governing body of the Church of Ireland, is made up of the House of Bishops along with Clerical and Lay Representatives elected by members of Diocesan Synods. General Synod Bills and Motions are processed by a three stage parliamentary-like process which is adversarial in nature.

The Bishops therefore felt it would be beneficial to hold a conference where synod members from all over Ireland could come together to listen and learn from other people’s views and experiences. Most probably have not changed their sincerely held views but have returned home with a better understanding of the views of others. The conference took place in the Slieve Russell Hotel in Co Cavan from 4pm to 10pm on Friday 9 March and 9.30am to 5pm on Saturday 10 March. Three members of St John’s were among the 450 who attended the conference: Ken Dunn, Rosemary Macartney and Arthur Macartney. On arrival each synod member was allocated to one of 50 round tables as their base for the conference and told which seminars they would attend.

Each member had chosen three out of seven seminars:

a)  How to handle conflict in the Church

b)  Legal Aspects

c)  Science and Psychology of same sex attraction and Gender determination

d)  Theological/Hermeneutical Background

e)  Gays Welcome? – A Pastoral Response

f)    A Parent’s Perspective – Any Parent’s Dilemma

g)  Gay Clergy – can we agree to disagree agreeably?     

The days were broken up into Bible explorations (each led by two people with different interpretations), periods of silence, worship and round table discussion. Two men told their life stories and their experience in Civil Partnerships, one after finding happiness in a local church is now living in celibacy; the other is living in France under a Civil Partnership (PACS).

Most people there found they learnt a lot from the seminars they attended. The Legal seminar informed how Civil Partnership Acts differ in the UK and Ireland. These were primarily designed to give partners rights such as hospital visiting and attendance at funerals where in the past they may have been excluded. After discussion in the House of Lords siblings were excluded. The institution of Marriage is guarded by Art 41 of the Irish Constitution and an Act of 2010 bestows Rights and Obligations to Civil Partners and Cohabitants.

In the Parents dilemma seminar two sets of parents with different outlooks shared how they had had to accept that a member of their family was gay / lesbian. Both emphasised that the ruling priority was a parent’s love for their child.

In Genetics members learnt that not all are born with XY or XX chromosomes normally used to determine male or female. A significant number have a single X, XYY etc. There is a spread between heterosexual and homosexual on a scale of 6 with those in the middle being equally heterosexual and homosexual.

In the “Handling of Conflict” seminar distinction was made between “Positions” and “Interests”. Interests are broader than positions and are essentially what each party needs for satisfaction or resolution and encompasses such things as needs, fears, concerns and hopes. Identifying each person’s interests is necessary to reach a satisfactory decision rather than create winners and losers.

With regard to “Gay Clergy” one speaker told of the deep sense of injustice felt by gay clergy who in the past had to hide true identity behind closed doors. The opposing view was that sexuality, formerly kept behind closed doors, over the last 50 years had come out to shape culture and values in society.

Summing up, the bishop of St Asaph said that in holding the conference for all members of General Synod the Church of Ireland had done something not yet attempted by the Church in England or Wales. A very worthwhile and interesting two days.