He calls it “justice denied,” but Michael Ingham, Bishop of New Westminster, will delay a decision on approving relationships between committed gays and lesbians for at least two years. The bishop said he wants the diocese to vote on the issue again in 2001 and said a “substantial consensus” is needed if the Vancouver diocese is to allow clergy to bless same-sex unions.
A vote at last May’s diocesan synod saw only a slim majority of delegates approve a motion asking the bishop to approve blessing of same-sex unions.
The bishop said he’s confident homosexual relationships will be blessed some day, but he’s not prepared to act now, citing too much opposition among Anglicans.
“It’s a call for a new vote,” said the bishop in an interview. “It’s not a yes and it’s not a no.”
Reaction to the announcement was mixed.
Peter Elliott, dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver said, “In our congregation, many were disappointed the bishop didn’t announce a quicker time line. But this is a time for the church to come together and talk about something that’s clearly important.”
Don Meen, past president of the gay lobby group Integrity in Vancouver, also expressed frustration with the two-year delay.
“I think the Anglican Church has some very funny ways of making decisions,” he said. “When does a majority vote mean something and when does a majority vote mean nothing?”
Dr. Meen thinks the decision won’t do anything to appease the anti-gay Anglicans in the diocese. “They’ll simply threaten to leave again in 2001 if they don’t get their way,” he said.
Rev. Ste-phen Leung, rector at Good Shepherd Church, a Chinese Church in East Vancouver, said he opposes same-sex unions but welcomes the bishop’s decision, saying it “will encourage further dialogue, further study and further understanding.”
Rev. Bob Wismer, rector at St. Helen’s Church, said the issue of same-sex unions is “certainly divisive” and “possibly irreconcilable.”
Mr. Wismer said Scripture is clear in its prohibition of gay marriages and “we don’t want to bless homo-genital sexual behaviour.”
Rev. Margaret Marquardt, rector at St. Margaret’s Church, said “I’m deeply moved by the homosexual members of the congregation who continue to stay in the struggle.”
Bishop Ingham acknowledged some people’s disappointment with his decision, saying he feels “personally sad” that he doesn’t have a more definitive answer at this time. “Justice delayed is justice denied,” he said.
But he said he didn’t have much choice “because of the pressure that’s been put on us from the House of Bishops and the Lambeth Conference.”
The Lambeth Conference said homosexual relationships are “incompatible with Scripture” and the House of Bishops so far opposes letting one diocese change policy on its own.
An advisory group appointed by Bishop Ingham had recommended he wait until at least next summer before making a decision but he was urged to go public with his ruling last month by the New Westminster diocesan council.
In his statement at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver in mid-January, Bishop Ingham said “change happens slowly, and it happens step by step.”
Between now and 2001, the bishop is calling for more dialogue.
All parishes in his diocese will be twinned so people of differing views can listen to each other.
A Commission on Gay and Lesbian Voices, a fairly large group that will assist the parishes in hearing the voices and experiences of gay and lesbian Christians as well as ex-gays, will be set up.
The bishop is also setting up two other commissions.
A faith and doctrine group will provide short study papers, discussing the doctrinal and ethical issues raised by same-sex unions. And a canonical and legal group will determine whether a bishop has the authority to allow the blessing of same-sex unions.
Lastly, the Bishop’s Commission on Liturgy will prepare the possible wording of such a blessing.
In his statement, Bishop Ingham said “this is not to pre-judge the outcome … , but to satisfy the desire to know in advance what such a blessing would look like … .”
Archbishop Michael Peers issued a statement saying, “I believe he has acted responsibly in withholding his consent, pending further dialogue, in a situation where the subject is potentially divisive and in which the motion passed by a narrow majority.”