The silence of the bishops

May 11th, 2012 | By | Category: Church of Ireland Comment

Tomorrow morning, at the Church of Ireland General Synod, some bishops of the Church of Ireland will attempt a second time to introduce a motion declaring that the relationships of  gay and lesbian people are not ‘normative’. Like Roman Catholic bishops expressing views on contraception; straight bishops, who have turned a blind eye to gross injustice in Irish society, will again presume to pronounce on matters of which they know nothing.

Sean O’Casey, a working class man from the sort of community on which the Church of Ireland long ago turned its back, became embittered towards the church in which he had been baptized and raised.  The Church of Ireland had said nothing while the prospect of the sort of Ireland imagined by O’Casey, and those who had struggled for justice, disappeared without trace.  O’Casey eventually faced a situation where the influence of the Roman Catholic Church was such that it was not possible even for his plays to be performed.  At one point, in frustration, he had penned lines to the letters column of the Irish Times:

There we go; the streets of Dublin echo with the drumbeats of footsteps running away.  The Archbishop in his Palace and the Customs Officer on the quay viva watch to guard virtue and Eire; the other Archbishop (Barton) draws the curtains and sits close to his study fire, saying nothing; and so the Hidden Ireland becomes the Bidden Ireland, and all is swell.

A century on from the Ireland of the young Sean O’Casey and it might have been imagined that a church now with no reason to fear anything from anyone might manage some contribution of substance to the public discourse of the state.

Yet the preoccupation is with sex – not with the economic crisis in Ireland, not with the chaos in Europe, not with the plight of hundreds of millions of people in Africa, not with global concerns about the environment, but with sex.

In an Ireland gone from boom to bust, where hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs and where the poor and vulnerable must now pay the cost of the reckless greed of a small and influential minority, the bishops have still not managed a single statement in response to the culture of lies and deceit and the contravention of the Biblical imperatives to act justly and to defend the poor. Bishops quick to express opinions on matters of sexuality find no words to condemn the scandal of taking from the sick and the weak to give to the wealthy and to the powerful.

Archbishop Barton closing his curtains and pulling his chair closer to the fire was positively outspoken compared to some of his successors today. O’Casey would despair of them.



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  1. The RC Bishops are not distinguishing themselves as a class either. They are not taking up the challenge you posed above and they are disgustingly silent on the recent silencing/restricting of a number of Irish priests by the Vatican.

    It’s back to pre Vatican II and to the Hate Counter in Hodges Figgis.

    Meanwhile you might get a smile from a few of these posts:

  2. I’ve been thinking about this all evening … not sure if I’m angry or depressed or despairing … surely we must come to realize that there are so many, much more important, issues that demand our energy? If many of the bishops have become silent then maybe we the clergy in the parishes need to take more leadership?

  3. Well said Stephen. This kind of fear-driven morality has created a new form of ecumenism and it is unfortunate that the trend of contining to treat LGBT people as second or third class citizens and Christians is such a dominant theme. The church is becoming more and more irrelevent and it gets press and attention by focussing on these kinds of debacles. You are right about the pressing other problems we need to solve and unfortunately the church sees it relevance in pressing upon issues that for most people under 40 are no longer important. We are giving answers to questions that few are still asking. Time, as Casey found out, will tell!

  4. When are those who are propagating and condoning flagrant sin going to read heir Bible.

    It’s very simple – – God hates homosexuality. It is not the way He designed the human race.

  5. You know the mind of God?

  6. It is sad to see that the sound theological principle of “in the essentials of our faith: Unity; in the non-essentials: liberty; but in all things Love” has been jettisoned out of the window.

    Whilst the proposers of the motion on homosexuality in the church of Ireland cunningly called it a debate on “human sexuality” , so as to avoid accusations of persecuting a minority within the church and state, they failed to deal with the real issues affecting the people of God. If they only went down the hill from Christchurch and saw the queues at the Franciscan church waiting to be fed because they can’t afford food in the current economic climate; if only they visited the A+E departments and hospitals in general and saw the over-crowding, the lack of front-line staff providing care and saving lives; if only they opened their eyes to see so many homeless people on the street with little or no shelter whilst we have whole estates of empty houses going to wrack and ruin; if only they opened their ears to hear the cry of those struggling to pay their mortgages and hear the tears of those families whose relative have taken their own life because they can see no future for themselves through the dire economic problems they perceive themselves having; if only they were in touch with the heart-wrenching reality of those families who witness their children departing from the airport to leave for work across the other side of the world. These are the realities that Jesus would’ve been putting on the agenda of Synod – not homosexuality.

    Jesus never spoke about Homosexuality in the gospels; but he emphatically spoke about feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, welcoming strangers/outsiders, caring for the dying, clothing the naked and loving our neighbour. Jesus also took bread and a cup saying “this is my body and this is my blood which is offered for all” – FOR ALL – not the righteous few, but all – gay and straight, young and old, single/married/partnered/divorced, single parents, employed or unemployed, the abled and disabled, regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, and faith. He gave his life for all and invited ALL to the inclusive table-fellowship of the Kingdom.

    This is what Synod ought to have been debating. It should not have been debating an issue rooted in the almost perverse fixation of a few who have nothing else better to do than police the sexual activities and lives of others. The only reason I can imagine that they insist on doing so is to gain power at the expense of others, to control and manipulate others, to burden others and to exercise the unchristian power to exclude others, especially from the sacrament of the Eucharist. They desire to inflict pain instead of bring healing and reconciliation to our very broken world.

  7. It is sad, indeed it is beyond sad, it is tragic…
    I have had the privilege of teaching little children in Sunday School for almost three decades, have to say I have probably learnt more than I ever taught.
    I have also found that children aged 8,9,10 years… don’t particularly like skirting round any issue, they like it straight, pardon the pun, not intended.
    Over those almost thirty years, I have, like many, I am sure, dealt with children of recently divorced parents, children, who’s Mother has died and particularly around Mothers Day, very, very difficult….
    When we cover the commandments, the children just want it delivered to them without the flounce…
    My Grandaughter said one day… “Granny, just give it to me truthfully”. What does it mean, you don’t have to go round in circles…
    And I am, in my humble opinion, The Church of Ireland is going round in circles…

    We have the obligation to love, “Love one another as I have loved you”.

    Speak the truth in Love, but as much as I would simply love everybody to have sweetie mice as vermin instead of being infested with the real thing…. you are doing people no favours if you continually go round in circles trying to pretend the Truth is not really the truth.

    There is nothing in this world that will throw the world off kilter than homosexuality…. if it was up to me I would have a picnic and everybody have a really lovely time…. but reality is not a picnic…
    Feeding the five thousand men was a wonderful thing, economic woes, dreadful…. Greed has produced poverty… But these in and of themselves will not throw this world into the abyss… I am sorry to have to tell you this…. but Sexual sin is an abomination to the HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL…
    The problem is fornication, oh, that word, has it not been done away with, fornication…. unfortunately the awful reality is sex outside of marriage… and homosexual sexuality is fornication.

    As it was in the Days of Noah and Lot….. I really don’t relish the Church of and in Ireland becoming one of the seven churches that is neither hot nor cold.

  8. The Synod motions officially reflect the priorities of the Church of Ireland. The Bishops brought members of the Synod to a plush hotel in Cavan to discuss homosexuality and then, despite calling for a period of silence and reflection after that conference, some of them brought motions to the General Synod a mere eight weeks later. The focus on homosexuality is out of line with Biblical priorities – there are about a dozen debatable references to homosexuality in the Bible and more than 2,000 to caring for the hungry, the poor, the oppressed, the widow and the stranger.

    We spend time on what we consider to be important – the Church of Ireland, as indicated by the time given to each topic, considers homosexuality to be more important than poverty, injustice, hunger, oppression and exploitation. I wonder do the almost one billion people in the world who will go to bed hungry tonight share that sense of priority.

  9. Jesus is quite specific about the criteria for the last judgement – read Matthew 25:31-46.

  10. Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu wrote in 2008 that:
    “[i]t is not enough to say the “Bible says…,” for the Bible says many things that I find totally unacceptable and indeed abhorrent. I accept the authority of the Bible as the Word of God, but I remember that the Bible has been used to justify racism, slavery, and the humiliation of women, etc. Apartheid was supported by the white Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, which claimed that there was biblical sanction for that vicious system…I could not stand by while people were being penalised again for something about which they could do nothing – their sexual orientation. I am humbled and honoured to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who seek to end this egregious wrong inflicted on God’s children…May I wholly inadequately apologise to my sisters and brothers who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered for the cruelty and injustice that you have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of us, your fellow Anglicans; I am sorry”.

    (Preface: “In the eye of the storm” by Gene Robinson)

  11. I think there are irreconcilable perspectives.

  12. If there are irreconcilable differences of perspective, then maybe the principle of “in the non-essentials: liberty” ought be our guide. The same principle can be translated: “where there is doubt: liberty”. There are considerable doubts re sex, sexuality and sexual orientation and how we understand these within the context of Christian faith generally and the bible in particular.

    The bible is a human product divinely inspired. As the 39 articles state: “all things necessary to salvation can be found within it” but that does not mean that everything written down must be accepted or is necesarily of God and Divinely inspired – the offering of Lots daughters to be basically raped in Genesis 19: 8ff, so that the strangers could be spared, is a useful example. Scripture, Tradition and Reason do need to be held together in tension. And science has a significant part to play in testing the validity of certain claims within our scriptures, our received tradition and our reasoning. Scriptures ought not to be taken literally but viewed metaphorically. It uses metaphorical language to express our experience and relationship with God and God’s relationship with us.

    Science has shed light on significant issues of human sexual development and orientation that we ignore at our peril. Such knowledge was not available to the scriptural writers. The question then becomes: who/what do we listen to? The perspective of scripture may seem diametrically opposed to the scientific perspective. But if we read scriptures and discern the thrust of God’s interaction with humanity, we can actually see a convergence between our contemporary understandings of homosexuality and sexuality in general, and that found within the whole gamut of the scriptures. The priorities of love, care, compassion, mutuality, equality, respect, covenant, and non-exploitation of the other come to mind.

    In relation to morality/ethics: Nietzche made the useful observation that our moral perspectives developed from societal customs, that became communal laws, that became matters of conscience, that became principles of obedience. I suppose he is trying to highlight that morality is a very human activity, not something that God has come down and instantaneously given to us in some neat package. Instead God helps us in our evolution of these principles, but human error can and does creep in. As in Apartheid, Slavery, Subjugation of Women as lesser human beings and preventing them from being Priests. So now with homosexuality.

    In saying all this I in no way intend to judge those who have a contrary view to mine or not love them as my sisters and brothers in Christ. For whatever their view, getting to the truth and achieving reconciliation must be the Christian goal. But in the area of homosexuality, there are profound doubts to the received teaching of the church in this area. Therefore, as it is not ultimately a matter so necessary to our salvation as believing in God, liberty is called for, and Love. For, as the Book of Common Prayer eloquently states: “…all our doings without charity are nothing worth”. Denying the people of God the Sacrament, calling for ecclesiastical court hearings, abusing the gift of celibacy by using it as a weapon of control of others, demanding resignations, refusing and silencing gay and lesbian Christians within the church of Ireland is not any form of demonstration of love that I experience of God in my own life.

  13. I our abandonment of the Anglican tradition of Scripture, Tradition and Reason has exacerbated the debate. There has been a selective and simplistic reading of Scripture and, frequently, and exclusion of God-given powers of reason.

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