IT IS a tragedy for Christians that so often their churches are seen as anything but the all-embracing fountains of compassion that might be expected. Too often when they speak of exercising religious freedom, it means they wish to discriminate against those with whom they disagree, not least when it comes to same-sex issues.
Schools are an example. The Irish churches sought and were granted an EU-opt out so they could legally discriminate against gay teachers whose lifestyle they deem to be at variance with their ethos. By objective standards, moral or otherwise, this is an infringement on the rights of teachers who happen to be gay, all the more so in a state where homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993.
The current crisis in Anglicanism over same-sex clergy is symptomatic of a more basic problem facing all churches: their relevance to societies which have moved on. This is very much the case in Ireland. Yet they continue a never-ending wrestling match with conscience on this and other human sexuality issues. They refuse modern insight or to read the signs of the times.
As with the issue of women priests, however, the Church of Ireland has shown the courage and honesty to face up to the reality of homosexuality in its midst. There can be no doubt that it was forced to do so by disclosure last autumn that the Dean of Leighlin Very Rev Tom Gordon had entered a civil partnership last July.
A special General Synod conference in Co Cavan last weekend was a positive start but there is a long road ahead. And while some gay men did address that conference, it is to be regretted that no lesbian did so and that a greater number of gay people were not invited to take part. As has been found with the clerical child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, nothing educates others quite as effectively as direct contact with people who have lived the experience.
Next step for the Church of Ireland will be a debate on same sex issues at its General Synod in May. Meanwhile, other churches continue to ignore the reality of homosexuality within, even while gay men and women are at least as prevalent among their congregations and clergy as in the Church of Ireland. Those other churches have long since adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the matter, when at their most benign. This is not merely dishonest, it perpetuates intolerance towards this most vulnerable group of men and women. Those other churches must also face the truth.