(This editorial first appeared in the April issue of the Anglican Journal.)
On February 29, the House of Bishops dropped a bombshell when it issued a statement that they were “not likely” to muster enough votes among themselves to pass a draft resolution allowing same-sex marriage in the Anglican Church of Canada.
A draft resolution changing the church’s marriage canon to include same-sex marriage is coming up for a vote at General Synod in July. This potential change in doctrine requires the approval by a two-thirds majority in each order-bishops, clergy, laity-at two successive General Synods.
The bishops’ statement-which was sent to Council of General Synod (CoGS), the church’s governing body between General Synods-sent ripples of shock and anger among some Anglicans, and was met with relief and joy by some, befuddlement by others. Some cited its usefulness in figuring out how the resolution can be dealt with “without people being shredded in the process.”
Many of those dismayed by the move have asked why the bishops chose to disclose this information ahead of General Synod’s vote. Some see it as an attempt to influence the outcome of the vote and derail the process. It did not help that the House of Bishops deliberated behind closed doors, denying the rest of the church the benefit of context and perspective that is so critical in understanding a decision of far-reaching import. At the very least, the house could have, upon release of the statement, appointed bishops to explain the intent behind their action and the process for how they arrived there. In their absence, and as the Journal tried to contact bishops to put together a coherent story, conjectures and suppositions spread like wildfire on social media and elsewhere.
The primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, and other bishops maintain that their action was motivated solely by a desire to be honest and transparent. The church’s 39 bishops are split three ways on the issue-yes, no, maybe. “So clearly you haven’t got a two-thirds [majority], either way,” says Hiltz. Ottawa Bishop John Chapman says it would have been “disrespectful to keep [private] this knowledge.”
One can understand the bishops’ dilemma about whether or not to reveal their “inability to come to a common mind in discerning what the Spirit is saying to the church.” Either way, they would have been excoriated.
By informing CoGS, the bishops were “acting in good conscience,” says Hiltz, noting that “it’s far better for the council to have to wrestle with this now than for us to have to wrestle with it on the floor of General Synod.” The hope, some bishops say, is that well-thought out alternatives on how to move forward can be explored now, and not at General Synod. They note past instances when motions were brought forward that-because of time limitation, tempers flaring and exhaustion setting in-were not thoroughly examined and debated, producing the unintended consequence of bringing issues back to square one.
Only time will tell, of course, what the impact of the bishops’ decision will be. A draft resolution amending the marriage canon will still be brought forward by CoGS to General Synod 2016, as required by General Synod 2013. It would be up to General Synod to act on the resolution as it sees fit.
What is clear is that, regardless of one’s position on the issue, this is not the time to give in to frustration and despair, but to step back, pray and do some creative thinking.