IRELAND: REFORM Clergy say Bishop’s Letter on SS Marriage is Dangerous Departure from Confessing Anglicanism

Bishops’ neglect of Scripture departs from the Church of Ireland’s historic reformed protestant doctrine, say REFORM

By David W. Virtue DD
March 3, 2016

REFORM clergy in the Church of Ireland have written an open letter to their bishops saying that a letter put out by their leaders on same sex marriage is a “dangerous departure from confessing Anglicanism.”

It is dangerous, they say, because of its appearance of orthodoxy, while undermining the principles of our reformed protestant denomination.

The letter from the bishops proposes to encourage mutual respect and attentiveness, but it communicates something quite different, they say. “They make the Church of Ireland its own primary authority and source of unity, and then assume that the church’s teaching on the issue of human sexuality is liable, even certain, to change.”

The bishops make the Church of Ireland’s canons, rites, ceremonies and liturgies, the primary and ultimate authority for doctrinal and moral teaching. If this is true, they argue, the only barrier to a Church of Ireland minister conducting same-sex marriages is the canons and liturgy of the Church of Ireland.

REFORM leaders say the bishops’ letter defends this approach by suggesting this matter is of ‘expressly legal function’. The letter itself cannot sustain this tactic, as it later calls us to ‘offer service and leadership in the things of God.’

“Our bishops’ neglect of Scripture departs from the Church of Ireland’s stated principles in the preamble and declaration to our constitution and our historic reformed protestant doctrine contained in the BCP, articles, ordinal and homilies. The benefit of these Anglican documents is in their agreement with Scripture. Apart from their agreement with Scripture they have no Christian authority and cease to be identifiably Anglican.”

The REFORM priests argue their impediment to supporting, conducting of, or entry into so-called “same-sex marriage” is not the canons, liturgical resources, or others’ consciences as the bishops propose. “Our impediment is the clear and present word of God in Scripture from which our doctrine is derived. If Holy Scripture is not our bishops’ ultimate authority, then they have departed from the reformed Christian faith of which Anglicanism is a wonderful expression.”

The REFORM leaders said they long for a call from their House of Bishops to proper Christian restraint that is obedience to our Lord’s word. “To act without such restraint in this matter is not merely inviting division, it is open rebellion against Christ and a withdrawal from Christian life and doctrine, a willful sinfulness that Scripture and our scriptural Anglican traditions meet with rebuke and discipline.”


1. l am writing to you in the light of the Marriage Equality Referendum in the Republic of Ireland and the subsequent legislation. It is recognized that in the Church of Ireland, there are differing opinions and responses to the outcome of the referendum itself. Together with my episcopal colleagues, I seek to encourage a spirit of mutual respect and attentiveness to one another as we move forward together in a context of new civic realities and possibilities in the Republic of Ireland. There will be many new situations of pastoral sensitivity arising.

2. Hitherto, the Church and the State in both jurisdictions have substantially overlapped in their definition of marriage. This is no longer the case in the Republic of Ireland.

3. We also need to understand that under current legislation, involvement of a member of the clergy of the Church of Ireland as a solemnizer (Republic of Ireland) or an officiant (Northern Ireland) in a wedding is an expressly legal function.

4. The following are some questions that have already been raised:

5. Q. Will a member of the clergy who is on the Register of Solemnizers (Republic of Ireland) now be able to conduct a same-sex marriage?

6. REFORM: This will not be possible while the Canons of the Church of Ireland stand as they are. The powers of conducting a marriage as delegated to an ordained minister in the Church of Ireland require that the marriage be conducted according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of Ireland, and therefore the doctrine as reflected in those rites and ceremonies. The Church of Ireland does not have a liturgy of same-sex marriage.

7. Q. Are clergy permitted to conduct a blessing of a same-sex marriage?

8. REFORM: There is no provision in the Book of Common Prayer or other authorized liturgies of the church for the blessing of a same sex marriage. In addition the service known as A Form of Prayer and Dedication after a Civil Marriage presupposes the civil marriage of a man and a woman as husband and wife, and cannot be used in this context.

9. Q. If two people who enter a same-sex civil marriage ask a member of the clergy to say prayers with them, how am I to reply and what am I to do?

10. REFORM: It is not possible to proscribe the saying of prayers in personal and pastoral situations, nor would one wish to do so. In fact, in situations of rejoicing and crisis, such prayers often are at the heart of ministry. Any such prayers should remain consonant with the spirit and teaching of the Church of lreland.

11. Q. If I am asked to attend a same-sex marriage, should I go?

12. REFORM: The decision lies with the individual who will bring to this decision criteria of friendship and conscience, following personal prayer and reflection.

13. Q. What is the situation if I, as a member of the clergy serving in the Church of Ireland decide to enter a same-sex marriage?

14. REFORM: All are free to exercise their democratic entitlements once they are enshrined in legislation. However, members of the clergy, are further bound by the Ordinal and by the authority of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland. It is essential that any member of the clergy seeking to explore entering into a same sex marriage should think carefully about the response of others, not only in the immediate locality. This is an extension of the reflection, often requiring restraint in a range of matters, expected of clergy who are both public and private people at the same time.

15. The bishops of the Church of Ireland, acting corporately and individually, are well aware that, in the eyes of many, for an ordained member of the clergy to enter publicly into a civil marriage would be regarded as divisive. The backdrop to this is that such a situation is contrary to what the Church of Ireland currently practices within its own framework of regulation. The situation is that State provision in the Republic of Ireland now differs significantly from that in the Church of Ireland. It is for this reason that we encourage a restraint for the sake of unity that is respectful of the principles of others in the mixed flock to whom clergy offer service and leadership in the things of God.


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