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Church of Ireland hold conference on gay issues – one gay speaker

March 9th, 2012 · 3 Comments · LGBT

This weekend the Church of Ireland are holding a Bishop’s conference in Cavan on homosexuality for 400 synod members. Synod members are laity and clergy who make up the ruling body of the church.

Entitled ‘Human Sexuality in the context of Christian Belief‘ one would be forgiven that all elements of human sexuality might be up for debate. However on examination of the programme it is clear that it is only gay sexuality and a brief look at transgender identities which are under discussion. The event is closed to the media.

The conference programme will include round–table discussions; biblical explorations on the Old Testament, the Gospels and texts of St Paul; worship; a storytelling session where individuals will share from their personal experiences; and a range of seminars. These seminars will examine: scientific perspectives; parental perspectives; handling conflict in the church; the issue of gay clergy; legal aspects relating to recent legislative changes; pastoral responses to the welcoming of gay people in the church; and the theological/hermeneutical background to the issues.

However there is only one gay speaker for the whole weekend – and he’s living in France. There are no lesbians. The session on the science of same sex attraction and gender determination has no input from trans people – a psychiatrist and Lutheran bishop biochemist are leading that instead.

And there is an ex gay speaker. And he’s speaking first.

Jonathan was involved in a same-sex relationship from aged 17-24 at which point he came to faith in Christ. He served as the minister of a church in London for 10 years, before taking on the role of Director of True Freedom Trust, a ministry which supports Christians who struggle with same-sex attractions.

For those of you un/lucky enough not to be invited to this event you can read Jonathan’s ‘conversion’ story here.

In 2012 the Catholic Church wouldn’t try to get away with this one sided non-inclusive discourse. Perhaps they might not hold the conference at all some would say but I do think if they were programming an event they would include more lesbians and gay men. And they would not have the first person to speak at the entire event to be the exgay.

Some of the people leading discussions this weekend are supportive of gay issues within the Anglican church but they are all heterosexual. Judge Catherine McGuinness is attending and speaking on legal issues no doubt including civil partnership. However the event paints homosexuality in a closeted manner with some speakers being described on a first name basis only. I know many out and proud practising Church of Ireland members who would have happily and constructively contributed to discussions at the conference.

The Church of Ireland do actually have access to an expert network writing and commenting on lgbt issues but they have not been invited – their straight co-chair is there but in her clerical capacity. Changing Attitude Ireland published a book earlier this year Moving Forward Together: Homosexuality and the Church of Ireland (details here) which included personal contributions and theological examinations of issues including how a lesbian woman had been ostracised by her church when she came out.

And I have got this far in a post about the Church of Ireland without mentioning their most famous practising homosexual David Norris. He’s not there either.

I had a perception that the Church of Ireland was a far more welcoming organisation for lesbians and gay men. Many members of the church including clergy have expressed grave concern at the programming event which is officially sanctioned. (Archbishop Harper has an article in today’s Belfast newsletter).

The way in which the programme has been set up excludes many voices in the debate. The recent civil partnership in Ireland of a clergy member has angered conservatives within the church and it and other issues are expected to be addressed later this year when the Synod meets in full session. This conference was to assist with those discussions – it’s appears that the agenda is already set for more disharmony within the organisation.



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