Rector challenges Church of Ireland’s ‘homophobic’ teaching

Coalisland rector Rev Andrew Rawding took his apology placard to Newry  Gay pride parade. Also pictured is his wife Loveday, daughter and a friend they met on the day.
Coalisland rector Rev Andrew Rawding took his apology placard to Newry Gay pride parade. Also pictured is his wife Loveday, daughter and a friend they met on the day.

A Church of Ireland Rector who walked in the recent Newry Gay pride parade has branded his own church’s teaching on same sex marriage as “homophobic”.

Rev Andrew Rawding, a rector from Coalisland in Co Tyrone, took the stand due to serious mental health issues he sees among the LGBT community which he says are partly due to how they have been treated by the church.

Speaking after the parade on Saturday, he told the News Letter: “It went very well. People in the crowd were clapping and cheering my placard, and taking photos of it.

“Several people came up to me to thank me and some shared their experiences of being LGBT and in churches.

“One person had travelled from Cavan and chatted about loneliness, depression and mental health struggles.”

The 49-year-old former army officer attended with church members and his family. “I can’t think of anything more in line with the thinking and example of Jesus to be there with people who have been so rejected, isolated and condemned.”

He grew up with “homophobic” views in a conservative Christian environment but changed his opinions after hearing the stories of LGBT people and their experience in churches.

Asked if he believes the Church of Ireland teaching on marriage - that it is exclusively between a man and a woman - is homophobic, he replied:

“I think so. I know that is going to set up all sorts of things... But I’ll be honest, that is my experience. I can sit in a room with Church of Ireland rectors and they do not want to discuss this.”

He added: “If we say homophobia is genuine fear and anxiety about homosexual sex and orientation and the possibility that same sex marriage might impact on heterosexual marriage, then yes I would see it [the teaching] as homophobic.”

But he is not issuing a blanket condemnation of the denomination’s members.

“I think there are lots of loving people there in the church of Ireland who genuinely want to love and accept LGBT people. But my experience, having listened to LGBT people, is this - ‘until you offer and say it is okay to be in a same sex marriage you are not fully accepting us’.

“The church teaching is not accommodating of the needs of homosexual people so the doctrine - yes it has been around for 2000 years - but from an LGBT person’s point of view it is homophobic because it is not giving us equality.”

He believes the church has changed its teaching on the role of women, divorce and slavery and can do so on same sex marriage. But he is keen not to portray church members as “against homosexual people”.

He added: “I don’t want to close down the argument and contribute to a stand off. I am willing to host events where people can come and have open discussion.”

A Church of Ireland spokesman declined to comment but referred to its 2012 resolution on human sexuality agreed by the church leadership, which affirmed that marriage is between a man and woman.

Canon Ian Ellis, a former editor of The Church of Ireland Gazette from 2001-2017, said there was a general acceptance within the denomination that some people differ from official church teaching on sexuality. “I also think there is a recognition that the church has often not been sufficiently understanding of people in same-sex relationships and has treated them in hurtful ways,” he said.

Despite apparent changes in civic society, however, he does not believe there has been “a huge change in view” in the church since the matter was debated internally in 2012.

“I do not expect that the Church of Ireland will change its teaching that Christian marriage is between a man and a woman,” he added.