A Church of Ireland minister is to walk in Newry’s Gay Pride parade today, with placards apologising for “how the church has mistreated LGBT+ people”.
Rev Andrew Rawding, a rector from in Coalisland in Co Tyrone, is taking 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.
“After listening to young adults and parents from my parishes, and after hearing the stories of LGBT people and knowing the very serious mental health implications including self harm and suicide, I decided that I needed to publicly acknowledge how the church has mistreated LGBTQI+ people,” he told the News Letter.
The church generally has “judged, condemned, rejected, isolated, spiritually abused and mistreated LGBTQI+ people” he added.
The cleric, who supports the introduction of same sex marriage into Northern Ireland, says he sees “no tension at all between the practise of homosexuality and my Christian faith because at the heart of my faith is God’s love”.
One of LGBT community he has been supportive of is Gareth, a 38-year-old mental health professional from Co Down who told the News Letter he had at one time been a youth leader in the Presbyterian church: “I had great relationships within the church and was a member of a small group”. However he later confided in church leaders about the “struggle with my sexuality” and following “a huge psychological struggle that nearly killed me” he explained to them that he “would have to accept myself how God had made me or die”.
He has since severed his connection with his original church but is now engaged with a number of LGBT affirming faith groups across Northern Ireland.
A spokesman for the Church of Ireland said that a church Synod resolution on human sexuality in 2012 affirmed that marriage is “a holy mystery in which one man and one woman become one flesh”. The resolution also opposed “bigotry, hurtful words or actions and demeaning or damaging language” in relation to sexuality.
The spokesman said that church teaching is agreed in a “democratic” process; Many clergy and laity disagree with church teaching “and may continue to hold their point of view, but it will not be the official position of the Church”.