The Anglican Consultative Council, which met June 18-29, voted to censure the Canadian and American churches for their more-liberal stand on homosexuality after listening to presentations from both churches.
The council, an international group that meets once every three years, also decided to allow the 38 primates, or national bishops, of the Anglican Communion to join.
The 70-odd members of the council met at the University of Nottingham in an auditorium that was physically hot, due to wobbly air conditioning and a heat wave, and emotionally tense.
Although the council discussed such matters as the Middle East and the United Nations’ Millen-nium Development Goals, public interest focused on sexuality.
On June 22, the council decided to endorse a request from Anglican primates that Canada and the United States withdraw from the council at least until the 2008 Lambeth Conference, suggesting that the two churches “voluntarily withdraw” from two important council committees.
The proposal was supported by 12 signatories, including Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, a critic of the North American churches.
Debate and voting was held in a closed session. The vote was held by secret ballot. Thirty were in favour, 28 against and four abstained. Seven members did not vote or were not present.
Officials from both North American churches noted that the resolution had little practical effect. Six council members – three from Canada, three from the U.S. – had already been instructed by their churches to attend the meeting, but not participate. The delegates sat at the back of the hall in an area reserved for visitors. The churches felt this action respected the primates’ request, but also allowed their members to be available for questions and consultations. Therefore, their six potential votes were not part of the balloting. There are no further council meetings until 2008, when Anglican bishops worldwide will gather in England for the decennial Lambeth Conference.
As for membership on the two committees – the standing committee and the inter-Anglican finance and administration committee – Canada currently has no members on the committee and the U.S. member, Robert Sessum, ended his term on the panel.
Rev. George Sinclair, national chair of Essentials, a group of conservative Canadian Anglicans, said he hoped “the leadership of the Canadian church doesn’t spin this as being of no consequence.” Mr. Sinclair, attending the conference as an observer, also said “my prayer is that Canada will repent and amend its life.”
Archbishop Andrew Hutch-ison, the Canadian primate, commented in a statement that “we continue to be firmly committed to our international partnerships with other members of the Communion.”
Canadian and American participation in social work and other activities in the Anglican Communion was unaffected by the vote.
Referring to another, less-controversial vote supporting a “listening process” for the Anglican Communion concerning questions of sexuality, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the U.S. Episcopal Church said, “I very much hope that the listening process now mandated by the (council) will be one step in healing this divide.”
The day before – June 21 – representatives from the Canadian and American churches told the council that debate continues in their countries about the inclusion of homosexual people in the church, but that moves toward fuller inclusion make sense in their societies.
“I am a gay man. I am in a committed partnership myself,” said Dean Peter Elliott of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver and prolocutor (deputy chair) of the Canadian church’s governing body, General Synod.
Since his diocese, New Westminster, allowed parishes to offer a blessing rite to gay couples, he has presided at six such ceremonies, he said.
Dean Elliott’s words came at the end of an afternoon of presentations. Six American representatives and Bishop Griswold gave varying perspectives on the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, a gay man in a long-term relationship. Five Canadians and Archbishop Hutchison addressed the issue of offering blessing rites to same-sex couples. Both delegations also voiced strong support for continuing to be part of the Anglican Communion, obliquely referring to right-wing opinion that the churches be expelled and left-wing opinion that they leave.
The speeches came in response to a request from a February meeting in Ireland of the primates that the North American churches set out the thinking and theology behind their actions.
Dean Elliott noted that as a child, he wrote in his Bible – which he held up – “Today I gave Jesus my life.” That action “defined my life’s purpose and direction,” he added.
He addressed the question of Biblical passages that appear to condemn homosexuality and said they have been used to justify violence and discrimination against gay people.
Rev. Stephen Andrews, president of Thorneloe University and a member of the Primate’s Theological Commission, said the commission had expressed the opinion that blessing same-sex relationships is a matter of doctrine for the Canadian church, but should not be church-dividing.
Maria Jane Highway, who is Cree and a member of the faith, worship and ministry national committee, talked about the issues in the context of native communities. At a broadly-based meeting on her reserve, she recalled, “some people said, ‘How can we judge the people who live in these relationships? We’d better take some time to think about this.'”
Robert Falby, chancellor of the diocese of Toronto, covered Canadian legal decisions affecting gay people, such as the moves to legalize gay marriage, and provided background on the jurisdictions of the Canadian church.
Archbishop Hutchison closed, noting that some presenters had “put their lives on the line.”
Presenters from the Episcopal Church of the USA included Bishop Griswold, Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity USA, a gay and lesbian support group and Rev. Michael Battle, vice president of Virginia Theological Seminary.
On June 22, the council approved a major change to its structure, voting to allow the primates to join, a move that would increase its membership to about 115 from the current 78. It also urged continued lay participation.