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Andrew Rawding: Minister quits 'homophobic' Church of Ireland

A Church of Ireland minister has resigned his post claiming that the church is "structurally, culturally and socially homophobic".

The Reverend Andrew Rawding is rector of Brackaville, Donaghendry and Ballyclog in County Tyrone.

He announced his resignation in his three parish churches on Sunday morning.

The Church of Ireland declined to comment on Mr Rawding's resignation and comments when contacted by BBC News NI.

Mr Rawding said that his parishioners were in shock and some were in tears when he said he was resigning.

He told BBC News NI that many had "expressed sadness" that he was leaving his role.

He has been a Church of Ireland minister for a decade and has previously helped run Pride parades in the mid Ulster area.

'Weaponising Bible verses'

Mr Rawding claimed that the Church of Ireland was "structurally, culturally and socially homophobic".

"There are some kind and compassionate individuals but corporately, at best there is indifference, at worst there is hypocrisy," he said.

He also claimed that there was "an aggressive and proactive opposition to full inclusion and equality for LGBT+ people, with some people still weaponising Bible verses and using the language of condemnation and rejection".

"I have made a public stance in the past as a Church of Ireland rector to send a message to the LGBT+ community that it's OK to be LGBT+ and to be a Christian and to show my full support for same-sex marriages within the Church of Ireland," he said.

"Currently the stance is homophobic and discriminatory."

Mr Rawding said he was "originally motivated" to make this stance within his parishes.

"Although sadly there are still grandparents and relatives who will not accept LGBT children within their own families," he added.

'A tick-box exercise'

The Church of Ireland has established a select committee on sexuality to enable "the listening, dialogue and learning process on all aspects concerning human sexuality in the context of Christian belief to continue".

That committee reported in 2016 and found that how a gay Christian in the Church of Ireland felt they were treated often depended on "the stance of the rector".

The Church of Ireland synod had previously said that "members of the Church have at times hurt and wounded people by words and actions, in relation to human sexuality".

But Mr Rawding said that, in his view, the "listening process" carried out by the church had been a "tick-box exercise".

"At no point has anyone in a position of authority within the Church of Ireland been in touch with me or during a conversation with me said: 'Thanks for making a compassionate stand Andrew, let's see how we can progress this'," he said.

"All I have had is blank looks and silence, or comments like: 'I'm not homophobic because I know gay people', or even: 'You need to be careful because people will think you're gay.'


Dissatisfaction with Church's stance had been building

Mr Rawding's resignation came as a surprise, according to his parishioners. Many were in shock and in tears when he announced it.

He is someone who has spoken out quite openly in the past for his support for LGBT rights and his disappointment in the church's negative attitude to LGBT people as he saw it.

He was one of those behind the first Mid Ulster pride parade, carrying a banner apologising for the church's attitude to LGBT people, so he has been someone who made his views known on the issue for quite a while.

When he had spoken out in the past in support of LGBT rights, he'd had very little or no support from senior church figures.

Like all Christian denominations, the Church of Ireland has been wrestling with LGBT issues and how to treat members who are LGBT.

It does seem like dissatisfaction with the Church of Ireland's stance on LGBT rights has been building up with Mr Rawding for some time.

"In my experience, the listening process to LGBT+ people has been a tick-box exercise, being seen to be doing the right thing but not exercising courageous and compassionate leadership."

Mr Rawding said there was a very serious issue of self harm and "suicidal ideation" within the LGBT community.

"Particularly when people in the Church of Ireland and other churches continue to proactively discriminate against LGBT+ people and use the language of 'sin' in relation to not just someone's identity but their very being," he added.

Mr Rawding said that he now plans to start a degree in social work.

He said that was to "follow a call to help encourage and empower those people that Jesus called "the least of these", that is those adults and children who through no fault of their own have been let down by society and the churches," he said.

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