A Joint Evangelical response to Church of Ireland Bishops' Letter on Human Sexuality

The pastoral letter of 2003 refers to those who seek a change in favour of same-sex relationships on the grounds of ”˜a developing understanding of the nature of humanity and sexuality’. We would reject any implication, explicit or implied, by default or by design, that somehow those who hold to and affirm the teaching and doctrine of the church are somehow ”˜less informed’ or have a ”˜less developed understanding’. Whilst none of us see all things clearly, there are matters on which it is possible, on mature and informed reflection, to be clear. We welcome the inclusion of, and opportunity to engage with, all shades of opinion on the presenting issues….

We welcome this purpose and hope and pray we can conduct ourselves and our conversations with sensitivity, honesty, truth and grace. We would observe however that it is not just issues ”˜related to’ human sexuality that need to be addressed, but rather issues ”˜within which’ the current issue of human sexuality presents itself. We recognise the need to establish clear parameters that will enable us to deal specifically with the issue of sexuality. However, the framework in which we must think is indeed, as you have asserted, biblical, theological, and legal, to name but three. These are issues of how we interpret scripture, how faith engages with and critiques culture, of what it means to have a unity of mind and purpose, of what our mission is. The presenting issue is human sexuality but it is not the defining issue. We must not make the mistake of allowing human sexuality to become the lens through which we look at and understand wider issues.

The defining issue is our vision of God, and what it means for His people to represent Him in His mission of love to redeem His world. If we start with the ethics of human sexuality the danger is that we will end up with rather legalistic and regulated forms of wording as to what is or is not acceptable, with potentially some very hurtful and divisive dialogue along the way. If we start with our vision of God we might just end up with a renewed confidence in what it means to be a redeemed and transformed people, a new creation, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. Perhaps in so doing the Word of God made flesh may well redeem our words that they might speak truth in love, seasoned with grace. Language, and how we use it, will be very important as we proceed. We would respectfully suggest that the third purpose be stated as being ”˜to explore issues that include and may be related to human sexuality’.

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