The diocese of the Arctic will consider at its 2005 synod whether employees will be required to approve a statement saying, in part, that “homosexual unions are intimacies contrary to God’s design.”
At its fall meeting in Iqaluit, the 13-member diocesan executive committee voted to endorse the Montreal Declaration, a statement of belief written in 1994 at a Montreal meeting of three conservative Anglican groups. The meeting resulted in the formation of Essentials, a national coalition that supports traditional biblical teaching. (The full text of the Montreal Declaration is available at http://www.anglicanessentials.org/montreal.htm.)
According to a report in the fall/winter 2004 issue of Arctic News, the diocesan magazine, the executive committee asked that the Montreal Declaration be put before the synod “for ratification.”
The committee also “said that future employees of the diocese be made aware of this decision and affirmation of the Montreal Declaration would be one of the conditions of employment in this diocese,” according to the report.
On the topic of sexuality, the declaration says that fidelity between wife and husband “are the only sexual relations that biblical theology deems good and holy.” The statement also cites “homosexual partnerships,” along with divorce, child abuse and rape as reflecting “weakening of the family ideal.”
Ron McLean, a member of the committee and acting dean of St. Jude’s Cathedral in Iqaluit, Nunavut, said that the resolution reflects “where we are coming from in the North,” in relation to current debates about homosexuality and religion.
The group did not discuss nor make any decision on whether such a policy would apply to lay employees as well as clergy, nor how it would be implemented, he said. “We thought that there will be a good deal of discussion at the synod,” he said in an interview with the Journal.
Rev. George Sinclair, national chair of the Essentials Council and rector of St. Alban the Martyr in Ottawa, said he is pleased that the diocese is using the declaration. “The Anglican church has to return to seeking people in paid leadership who affirm central tenets of the Christian faith,” he said in an interview. It “seems reasonable,” he said, that the Arctic diocese would propose asking people in paid leadership to uphold the declaration. The Montreal Declaration “is an attempt to put into words central essential tenets of the Christian faith.”
However, Steve Schuh, president of the Vancouver chapter of Integrity, a support group for Canadian Anglican gays and lesbians, said he believes the Arctic’s initiative is “problematic on several fronts.” In an e-mail response to a request for comment posed by Anglican Journal, Mr. Schuh said the proposal “contradicts the traditional Anglican reluctance to define our theology beyond the ancient creeds and the 39 Articles.” (The 39 Articles are statements of Anglican belief approved by the British parliament in 1571. They do not mention matters of sexuality, except to say that priests may marry.)
The proposal, wrote Mr. Schuh, seeks to adjust “the ancient Christian formularies” to “the prejudices of some 21st century evangelicals.”
Mr. Schuh also said he believes that the move could constitute employment discrimination. The chancellor, or legal officer, of General Synod, Ron Stevenson, and Brian Burrows, former chancellor of the province of Rupert’s Land, which includes the Arctic, both declined to give a legal opinion to the Journal on the record.
Mr. Schuh also wrote that he thinks that “such an affirmation would have a crippling impact on the witness of the Anglican church among both gay and lesbian people and those who support them, in the Arctic and throughout the country.”
The Arctic motion “widens the circle of discrimination to everyone who even supports gay and lesbian people … That would make a majority of Canadian bishops and the primate ineligible for leadership in the diocese of the Arctic.”
Rev. Kevin Arndt, chair of the national church’s eco-justice committee, commented, “I wonder how this relates to ‘dignity, inclusion and fair treatment.'” A policy called Dignity, Inclusion and Fair Treatment that prohibits employment discrimination was approved by the General Synod in 2001.
Canon Linda Nicholls, a priest in the diocese of Toronto who took up the post on Feb. 1 of co-ordinator for dialogue with the national church’s faith, worship and ministry department, said she is concerned that the proposal “creates a separate way of defining acceptability in ministry. I would be concerned about the desire to exclude rather than consider the life and witness of the individual.”
It has been common knowledge in the church that a diocese might have a “particular theological bent,” but that has never been enshrined in regulations, said Ms. Nicholls, whose portfolio includes ethics. The Arctic proposal seems to reflect “discomfort” with diversity or difference, she added.
The diocesan synod is scheduled to take place in Iqaluit from May 25 to June 3.