Last year the Church of Ireland’s General Synod set up a select committee on sexuality to enable “the listening, dialogue and learning process on all aspects concerning human sexuality in the context of Christian belief to continue”. The select committee was appointed after a after contentious debate in 2012 when Synod passed a motion affirming the church’s traditional Christian view of marriage. It arose following the civil partnership of Dean of Leighlin Very Rev Tom Gordon in July 2011 to his long-term gay partner.
None of the members of the committee identify themselves as gay. Having been criticised for not including a member of the gay community, the select committee met in Dublin last Tuesday with a delegation from Changing Attitude Ireland. The Irish Times website carried a report by its religious affairs correspondent Patsy McGarry on Tuesday evening.
Since the meeting there has been a significant development which was discussed on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence yesterday morning. This included an interview with Ms Pam Tislon, a Committee member of Changing Attitude Ireland and an openly lesbian C of I church warden at St George’s Belfast. The interview can be listened again on the BBC website (interview starts at 8.40am).
The BBC presenter read out a statement from the Church of Ireland Select Committee on Sexuality which stated that the Committee has: “decided to establish an advisory panel which can draw more widely from the Church and will include self-identifying LGBT people as well as academics who will be able to present their expertise”.
On Thursday 20th Pam Tilson was contacted by the Chair of the Select Committee, the Dean of Belfast Very Rev John Mann and asked to join the advisory panel, which she agreed to do. Note that Pam Tilson has not been invited to become a full member of the committee but was asked to join an advisory panel.
At the meeting Pam had told members of the Committee: “If this was a committee on gender it would be unacceptable for it to have no female member, so it is no less acceptable that the Church’s Committee on Sexuality has no gay or lesbian member on it”. She added that “the Church should also reflect on why the gay, lesbian and bisexual members of the 600-plus member General Synod from which the Committee is drawn are fearful of coming out as gay in the church environment”.
She also told Committee members that “some gay Christian individuals and couples undergo terrible ordeals from other Christians because of their sexuality” and called on the Church of Ireland “to confront the problem of homophobia in the Church.”
Canon Mark Gardner, rector of St Catherine’s in Dublin, told the committee about discrimination against openly gay Church of Ireland ordinands and clergy.
Canon Ginnie Kennerley said that “to require any one, as a condition of fulfilling their God-given ministry, to deny and suppress an important aspect of their lives, is to court mental and spiritual breakdown for that person and censure for the Church which thus oppresses them.”
The Belfast Telegraph carried a report of the developments today.