Irish General Synod does a U-Turn

Who’d have thought? This is not going away…

THE Church of Ireland will debate gay relationships tomorrow after a decision to stop the debate taking place was effectively overturned following behind the scenes negotiations in Dublin today.

A motion brought to the church’s General Synod by two bishops to re-affirm the church’s teaching that marriage is only between a man and a woman was ruled out of order by the Archbishop of Armagh, Alan Harper, on Thursday in dramatic scenes which led to two other motions about same-sex relationships being withdrawn.

But between Thursday night and Friday morning, conservative members of the church succeeded in bundling all three motions together and re-introducing them for discussion on Saturday morning under Standing Order 31 (d) in what could be a bitter debate.

Tomorrow’s motions will allow for the church to publicly discuss homosexuality for the first time since the News Letter revealed last September that Dean Tom Gordon had become the first serving Church of Ireland cleric to enter a civil partnership.

The three original motions had been presented by the liberal Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson, and the evangelical bishop of Down and Dromore, Harold Miller in a public show of unity.

But on Thursday as the first motion came to be debated the liberal Bishop of Cashel and Ossory, Michael Burrows, raised a point of order about his fellow bishops’ motion which led to Archbishop Alan Harper ruling that it could not be discussed.

Bishop Burrows, who was aware of Dean Gordon’s civil partnership before it took place, was openly jeered by large sections of the synod in Dublin’s Christchurch Cathedral but applauded loudly by others in a public sign of the considerable strain within the church.

Reintroducing the motion has infuriated some liberal members of the church who yesterday believed that they had defeated a motion which they believe will make it harder to get the church to accept gay relationships at a later point.

The Newsletter report is interesting as it names Bishop Burrows, not Dean Nigel Dunne, as the instigator of the Point of Order. Bishop Burrows is not a popular boy at the moment in the Irish Church.

The most significant thing however is that the new motion has exactly the same wording as the old motion. To do this the proposers will have to have been absolutely sure that any further Points of Order similar to the ones yesterday would fail (so that in effect the arguments I made earlier today will be used if necessary to stamp on any attempt to block the motion). This is to all intents and purposes a clear signal that Archbishop Harper got it seriously wrong in agreeing to the Point of Order and makes it much more likely that the motion will pass and that with it the official orthodox stance of the Church of Ireland on human sexuality will be reaffirmed.

The key signal that the conservatives are winning this battle in Ireland will be the way that liberal blogs spew about this over the next few hours. Watch this space…

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