Saturday, 2 October 2010

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland's Take on Homosexuality and Me

Yesterday evening while I was at the Peace Centres Ireland and Changing Attitude Ireland event in Belfast it was mentioned that in 2007 that my church, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI), had come up with Pastoral Guidelines. I thought I'd better read them, especially as I also felt compelled to write a letter to my minister following last Sunday's sermon which was on 1 Thessalonians 4.

The first thing that strikes me is the first paragraph of the preamble:

While a person's sexuality is a very important part of their lives, it does not define who they are. Biblically we as a church maintain that a person is defined in the first instance in terms of their relationship to God – creation in relation to Creator. To refer to a person as a homosexual, a lesbian or a heterosexual is therefore to narrow their identity to their sexuality alone. For this reason it seems better to refer to 'people' who have 'same sex attraction'.

Now there are a lot of things that define my identity. I don't call find a way to avoid the fact that I am male, even though that doesn't express my identity alone. Nor do I shy away from being a Liberal Democrat, an ex-sportsman, a geek etc. There are many things that make up my identity, being homosexual is just one of them.

My homosexuality isn't also merely a matter of attraction to someone of the same sex. A dictionary definition of attraction is:

1. The act or capability of attracting.
2. The quality of attracting; charm.
a. A feature or characteristic that attracts.
b. A person, place, thing, or event that is intended to attract
a. The electric or magnetic force exerted by oppositely charged particles, tending to draw or hold the particles together.
b. The gravitational force exerted by one body on another.
Now, of course there are things about the person/s that I fall in love with that attract me to them, but like any relationship hetero or homosexual the more you get to know someone you also find the dark recesses. Those things are not attractive, sometimes the things you end up doing for someone you love are not attractive. It doesn't mean that you do not love them but is it then that you realise that it beyond mere attraction, when you still feel the same about them despite the ugly, unattractive parts of what being part of a couple entails.

There is hope in the opening paragraph setting out the need for Pastoral Care with this paragraph:

It is clear that people of all ages who have same sex attractions are very reluctant to tell others because of fear, prejudice etc. Keeping their feelings hidden out of fear has a significant impact on mental health.

Sadly it is very true, that the element of keeping sexuality hidden can have an impact on sexual health. We are taught as Christians not to bear false witness, yet part of our witness as gay Christians is our sexuality. As I mentioned last night the fact that when people realise it affects people they know

There are some positive affirming statements (emphasis mine):

When we condemn homosexual practice in isolation or single it out as somehow worse than other sexual practices outside of heterosexual marriage then we demonstrate homophobic attitudes.


There needs to be the recognition within the church that the desires for love (in all its aspects), intimacy, companionship etc. that move heterosexual couples towards marriage are the same desires that motivate those with same sex attractions.

Sadly there is the footnote:

As stated, the position of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is that sexual practice is only for heterosexual marriage. As a church therefore our aim ought to be to help ALL unmarried people to cope with sexual pressures. We realise this raises issues regarding celibacy. While this is an area of debate in relation to the 'hope of marriage', essentially ongoing sexual pressures still need to be controlled.

The debate for the 'hope of marriage' is one that I think needs to be discussed, especially in light of the comments above about desires for love in all aspects. As I've mentioned before 1 Corinthians 7: 7-9 says:

"I (Paul) wish that everyone were like me, but each person has his own gift from God. One has one gift, another has another gift. Now for those who are not married and for the widows I say this: it is good for them to stay unmarried as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry. It is better to marry than to burn with sexual desires." New Century Version

So you have a church that is telling me it acknowledges my love has desires in all its aspects yet denies a physically expression of that love outside marriage. What level of that physical expression is a line to drawn? Wherever it is I have already crossed it, because I do burn with sexual desires, often stemming out of deep love, not merely attraction, for a man. The bible through Paul tells me it is better to marry than to burn with such desires, yet I don't have that option from my church, however much I want to.

What am I to do?

I'm writing two letters one to my own minister in light of last Sunday evening's sermon, the other to Board of Social Witness to ask about their seven recommendations, especially some of the latter ones.


  1. I'm neither gay nor christian (and haven't been a Liberal for a long time) so my point of view may be a little distorted, but it does puzzle me why you would want to be part of an organisation that doesn't value your lifestyle or sexuality.

    If I were part of a group that campaigned against people that had red hair for instance, I could dye my hair, I could campaign within the organisation to persuade them to stop discriminating against people with red hair. Or I could be proud of my hair colour and leave the organisation to get on with its stupidity.

    I think you should do the same.

    The church's stance on homosexuality is consistent only in so much as it upholds a bigoted and prejudiced point of view that has existed for a long long time. It's one of the many reasons why I'm not a Christian.

    Be who you are, celebrate it, and kick the bigots at the church in to touch.

  2. Ah but the thing is I am a Christian who happens to be gay. I'm also an activist for equality and Liberal values. Also for all that I'm a vocal voice, someone who can front and debate so that others do not have to go through the self-doubt, self-examination and process that I had to go through to get to where I am.

    As a Christian we are told to be in fellowship with one another, so I have to be that. I also have to love others, even if on the outward appearance they do not seem capable of loving me 100%.

  3. Trying to out myself in the position of being a Christian (and my secular upbringing is still heavily based on Christian morality however atheist I am), I'd suggest that your beliefs in the value of your own sexuality and your Christian beliefs are not in conflict being in fellowship with members of your church, or with other Christians, or indeed non-Christians - you can still love them, but I don't think that you can in good conscience continue as a member of their church. Instead you should continue your Christianity without them. And remember that a church is not necessarily a building, or even an organisation. "Where even two or three at gathered in my name" is the passage I'd be thinking of - sorry I don't have a reference to hand.

    I'm not meaning to criticise you on this - it must be quite a dilemma.

  4. Sorry in that last comment I meant "put myself in the position of being a Christian"

    My biblical reference is Matthew 18:20 btw but you probably knew that