The vanity of the Church of Ireland is its assumption that it can reconcile contradictory beliefs; that the arguments of those who espouse mutually exclusive positions can be somehow synthesised while retaining their integrity. It is the vanity of Roman Catholic traditionalists and conservative Protestants to pretend their views are definitive for everyone, when the criteria they adopt in the formation of such views are accepted only by their own adherents. Since the Sixteenth Century Reformation, a process that might offer a definitive Christian view on any subject has not existed.
Brad S. Gregory’s ‘The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society’ describes a situation of relativized doctrines:
It is possible that Hutterite Anabaptism or Wisconsin Synod Lutheranism or liberal Methodism or Unitarianism or double-predestination Presbyterianism or James Nayler’s Quakerism might be the fullest expression of Christian truth. Justification by faith alone might or might not be true; the sacraments might or might not be important; specific dogmas might or might not be essential; some sort of formal liturgy, or waiting for the Spirit to speak, might be the way in which God wants to be worshipped. But how would or could it be sorted out? Attempts to settle such questions can only unfold based on rival criteria that are themselves in dispute, and all proposals of new criteria only compound the problem. Nor are there any shared institutional mechanisms for resolving Protestant disagreements. The evidence is plain to see, spread across nearly five centuries. Consequently, there are no foreseeable prospects for determining which among all the competing views might actually be true based on the foundations or criteria put forward, no matter what they might be, or how deeply their protagonists might feel about their respective views or experiences. No one’s sincerity is in doubt.
Gregory’s contention would be contested by Catholics and evangelicals, liberals and Pentecostalists, but each argues from their own understanding of what is authoritative. Short of reverting to the conflicts of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, it is not possible to determine which perspective should prevail. So when the Church of Ireland sets out in pursuit of a common mind on human sexuality, it is failing to understand how we came to be where we are. In order to answer the question, there needs to be an agreement on the criteria for determining the answer – Scripture, Tradition, Reason, the guidance of the Spirit? There is no agreement on what authority is accepted; that is the nature of the church since the Reformation.
The aspiration that the Church of Ireland might agree to disagree agreeably is possibly the best for which might be hoped. Short of five hundred years of Protestant heritage being overthrown, or one tradition capturing the church and driving out those who disagree, no other solution is possible. In the words of Gertrude Stein, who would not have been invited to the Church of Ireland conference on human sexuality, ‘There ain’t no answer. There ain’t gonna be any answer. There never has been an answer. That’s the answer’.