Who are the sinners?

Sep 5th, 2011 | By | Category: Church of Ireland Comment

The road through northern Burundi wound through spectacular hills as it drew closer to the Rwandan border.  Crowds of people moved in both directions; on foot, sometimes on bicycles.  Huge, lumbering trucks, heavily overloaded and breathing black smoke, occasionally slowed the progress.  The reverie was broken by a voice from the back of the car.

“What is the Church of Ireland’s position on homosexuality?”

Before an answer was possible, the driver answered.  “They don’t have one.  It would split the church, so it is simpler to say nothing”.

A dismissal of the Church of Ireland, or a cue to avoid a leading question?

The leaves of the trees at roadside were a shade of green unlike any that one might find in Ireland.

Dismissal or evasion, the answer was true.  There is no answer to the question; there is no clearly enunciated position.

The press reports (that began in Northern Ireland) on the registration of the civil partnership of Dean Tom Gordon of Leighlin can be met with a plain rebuff – there was no church policy, so there can be no breach of it.  Tom Gordon has been open about his sexuality; he has been in a relationship for twenty years.  Any church leader who claims to have been unaware of the partnership is deceitful or incompetent.   Tom Gordon held a teaching post at the Church of Ireland Theological College for two decades and no-one raised an objection.  Why now object to a civil registration?

Why has sexuality be come a cause of division?

There is a complete imbalance in our preaching of the Gospel.

Jesus talks a lot about money and very little about sex, but where is the church’s condemnation of wealth?  Where is the church’s condemnation of buildings costing millions while children starve?  Where is the condemnation of the Prosperity Theology embraced by many African churches which is completely contrary to Jesus’ teaching on discipleship? The bishop of the city of Bujumbura from which we were travelling had a brand new jeep, something far beyond the pocket of a Church of Ireland priest, gay or otherwise; where is the church’s condemnation of such avarice and greed?

The silence from most evangelical leaders is deafening.  Their claimed adherence to biblical teaching is less than convincing

Turning the Gospel into a matter of perceptions of personal morality; turning aside from the values of the Kingdom of God; ignoring Jesus’ teaching on peace and justice; saying people can be Christians without grasping what that means for ethical living; aren’t these sins condoned by evangelicals?  A very traditional cleric in the North used to say that the Church of Ireland “preached the disembowelled Gospel”

Jesus describes the last judgement in Saint Matthew Chapter 25; the sheep and goats are separated on the basis of public morality, on how they responded to the poor and the homeless and the hungry.  When that judgement takes place, what will Jesus make of the African bishop with the new jeep, or the one who rides around in a black limousine? What will he make of the evangelical leaders who opposed a faithful relationship, but were silent on oppression, injustice and killing?


Leave a comment »

  1. Great post – nail on head!

  2. direct hit with the hammer
    well said

  3. Spot on, well said.

  4. Hi Ian,

    What I have found as I get older is I am increasingly more able to have friends and acquaintances from many backgrounds, places and races and who completely disagree with what I believe. No I have phrased that wrong. I have found myself admiring and liking people whose views and opinions frustrate the hell out of me! I have found that whenever I make an assumption about what kind of person believes this or that I am constantly challenged. I think some of what you have said about evangelicals is something I can relate to on some level but I am uncomfortable with, what I perceive as, the one sided view of evangelicals in this piece. I am not sure that you can assume that if someone is not as excited about different types of sexuality as someone else that they are into prosperity teaching, condone the abuse of wealth or don’t care about the poor. I think the piece is well written and you are very gifted in prose. I am glad I read it. I just wonder have I picked up something you didn’t intend to convey?

  5. Thank you for your words.

    I became a Christian on 11th August 1980 – I was 19. Since that time I have tried to encourage people to have a living faith in Jesus; a faith in Jesus who stands in the synagogue and reads from Isaiah 61, who preaches the Sermon on the Mount, whose view of the Day of Judgement is grounded deeply in ethics. I lived in Northern Ireland from 1983 to 1998 and saw the word ‘evangelical’ being appropriated as a label for people whose views were sectarian and reactionary.

    I have searched in vain on the websites of the various groups for any sign that they believe the Gospel demands justice and peace.

  6. Thanks Ian! I love Isaiah 61, it has come up for me over and over again. I hope you didn’t think I was questioning your own faith with my comments? Holistic faith that has expression in social justice in particular is to my mind a very difficult thing to argue with and for me anyway is the fruit of a life impacted by God. I had already in my own mind disregarded the fundamentalists who breath hate with their sermons. I guess I was thinking of those closer to the middle ground. And you’re right about the websites….awful!

  7. Where is the healing and loving voice in this blog? I’m a Northern Evangelical with a passion for the poor and I frequently challenge the accumulation of wealth. The evangelicals i meet with condemn prosperity gospel philosophy. I don’t breathe hate with my sermons. This hurts. It hurts me personally because I didn’t believe that I was so despised and it hurts me because it ill describes our colleagues.

  8. Brian,

    I was careful to say, ‘The silence from most evangelical leaders is deafening’.

    We have been subjected to gross immorality in this country as hundreds of millions have been taken from the poor and the vulnerable to pay the debts incurred by the rich and the powerful – but CIEF and Reform did not manage a word of comment. They pass judgement on the private relationship of a Co Carlow clergyman but say nothing about the big issues.

  9. Fair point from Brian – those who disagree on one issue may well be as one on another. I’m thinking, for instance, of the papacy and contraception, but on the hand its views on developing country debt.
    But – mainly – I agree. Tolerance on love. Scrutiny on accumulation of vast wealth.

  10. Not much sign of any scrutiny on public issues – look at the websites.

Leave Comment