Council of General Synod (CoGS) wrestled with the blessing of same-sex unions and marriage when it met here May 8 to 10 and in the end decided not to ask General Synod 2010 to amend the marriage canon to allow for the marriage of same-sex couples.
The discussions focused on responding to two new documents produced by the Primate’s Theological Commission and the Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee. There was also a report about an international dialogue about sexuality that was initiated between Canadian dioceses that have taken steps toward the blessing of same-sex unions and dioceses in Africa. CoGS responded in a written statement, “A Word to the Church on Questions of Human Sexuality from the Council of General Synod Meeting, May 2009.”
The Galilee Report
Bishop Linda Nicholls, chair of the Primate’s Theological Commission, explained that the Galilee Report was written in response to a request from General Synod 2007 to consult with dioceses and parishes and report prior to General Synod 2010 on two points:
-the theological question of whether the blessings of same-sex unions is a faithful, Spirit-led development of Christian doctrine; and
-Scripture’s witness to the integrity of every human person and the question of the sanctity of human relationships.
Bishop Nicholls said that the commission was able to reach a consensus on the second point and their conclusions are summarized in one page. However, the commission could not reach consensus on the first question. Members of the commission “come from a diversity of positions on the questions we are facing,” said Bishop Nicholls, and they felt that the commission’s struggle reflected the broader struggle in the church.
“So, as the commission looked at the work it had done in writing papers to address its own internal conversation, we began to realize that maybe the best thing we could do was summarize that work and present those papers to the broader public, not as papers that are a consensus opinion of the commission. The papers each represent only the opinion of the person who wrote the paper, but the Galilee Report is a consensus document of the process by which we came to that,” she said. The papers address various aspects of the issue — scriptural concerns, development of doctrine, pro and con arguments for the blessing of same-sex unions, alternative approaches to considering human sexuality, holiness and tradition, and past examples of changes in pastoral practice and doctrine.
The commission has posted the report on the Anglican Church of Canada’s Web site and willl post the papers by the end of June. Commission members are inviting individuals (clergy and lay), parish groups, diocesan gatherings, and theological colleges to read and respond to the commission by Dec. 1, 2009. Those responses will be incorporated into the report of the commission to General Synod 2010.
Rev. Isaac Kawuki-Mukasa, co-ordinator for dialogue: ethics, congregational development and inter-faith relations for faith, worship and ministry, reported to CoGS about a new program of conversations initiated between Canadian dioceses and dioceses in Africa, which he also presented to the house of bishops in April.
General Synod 2007 asked faith, worship and ministry to develop a process that would “engage the church in conversation, in study, on the broad issue of human sexuality in all of its complexity, using the lenses of scripture, reason, tradition, and science,” Mr. Kawuki-Mukasa said. Within Canada, focus groups were formed to gather information about the kinds of problems that people are interested in studying and having a conversation about in their local communities, and an online resource is being created.
“It also became clear that, since this is an issue that is causing some tensions worldwide in the (Anglican) Communion, and people have very strong feelings about it, that if we are going to develop a process of study and conversation on the issue, it would also have to include some (international) views and perspectives, so we are beginning to develop conversations on the international level,” he said.
The project involves Canadian dioceses that have taken steps towards the blessings of same-sex unions writing letters that explain how they arrived at the conclusions they did and then the dioceses in Africa receiving those letters, studying them and responding about their own views of the situation. Mr. Kawuki-Mukasa says the hope is that direct conversations will help to counteract the “demonization of the other” that tends to happen on both sides.
So far, these international conversations include Toronto and Mauritius; Niagara and Central Tanganyika, Dar es Salaam; Ottawa and Rift Valley, and there is interest from more dioceses.
“We hope that, in the end, all of this work will be pulled together with a meeting of all the bishops or their representatives to plough it into the Anglican Communion listening process. That meeting is proposed to take place in February 2010 in Canterbury,” said Mr. Kawuki-Mukasa.
The Rothesay Report
CoGS devoted more time and debate to the Rothesay Report, which is the response from the Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee to a request from CoGS in March 2008 to prepare “a theological rationale to allow for the marriage of all legally qualified persons,” (later clarified as referring specifically to the marriage of same-sex couples). General Synod 2007 requested that CoGS “consider a revision of Canon 21 (on marriage) including theological rationale to allow marriage of all legally qualified persons and report back to General Synod 2010.
The report was introduced by Janet Marshall, chair of the committee, who said that, although the committee has a “long history of being dedicated to, and invested in, preparing materials on behalf of General Synod to resource the church’s controversial discussions and discernments regarding issues of marriage and sexuality,” its members found this request problematic. Committee members come from diverse cultures (including First Nations), and different ministry and academic backgrounds, and some found themselves preparing an argument for a change they would profoundly disagree with personally, she said. They were uncomfortable creating a rationale for only one side of the argument and some expressed “grave concerns … that the resulting rationale would be experienced by some within the church as deliberately provocative, and as such block its helpfulness as a resource,” she added.
But Ms. Marshall noted that “one of my own convictions is that, in order to truly begin to understand each other, we need to be able to clearly, carefully and fairly articulate the position of those people with whom we mot profoundly disagree.” This happened on the committee, she said.
The paper submitted to CoGS had gone through two drafts and consultations with theologians and others chosen specifically for the diversity they represent, she said. “Rothesay is an answer to General Synod’s and CoGS’s request for a theological rationale for the change to the marriage canon to allow for the marriage of same-sex couples. It is not a recommendation. It is not the opinion of members of FWM. It is now for CoGS to discern what is to be done.”
CoGS members discussed the report in small groups, and in a plenary session on Saturday asking the question “Should the question of changing the marriage canon go to General Synod 2010 for decision?” Opinions were diverse and many possibilities for responses and alternatives were discussed. Some of the concerns of CoGS members echoed concerns of the committee – the Rothesay report was not complete and more resources would be needed for General Synod to make an informed decision; it represents only one side of the argument; or could be perceived as an agenda from CoGS.
Ms. Marshall observed that there seemed to be a “will to move the conversation forward,” but how to do it was the question. “Consider whether or not to bring a motion for a change the marriage canon,” she said, directing members’ attention to General Synod’s request, but she suggested that CoGS could also move beyond that. “You can say, ?No, we’re not going to bring a motion for a change in marriage canon, however we are going to do this.'” A small writing group was appointed to work on Saturday night on transforming the discussion into a document that the council could respond to on Sunday.
Rev. Lee Titterington of the diocese of Yukon expressed gratitude and admiration for the writing group’s success in gathering the broad discussion comments from Saturday into a concise document. Council members went through the document section by section, suggesting and discussing amendments. The first point, which states that the CoGS “reached a consensus that this is not the time to ask General Synod to amend the marriage canon” was discussed at length, with some members suggesting that it should include an expression of “regret” that this is not the time. Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said that while some members might feel regret, others would not, and it was decided that the language must remain neutral.
CoGS commended the Galilee Report to the church for study but noted that more work is required to clarify distinctions between blessing and a nuptial blessing, as well as among marriage, the blessing of a civil marriage and the blessing of a union. CoGS also asked for more information on the “theological significance of blessing the civil marriage of a same-sex couple.”
The statement thanked faith, worship and ministry for its work establishing the conversations between Canadian diocese and dioceses in Africa and urged other Canadian diocese to participate in similar conversations with each other.
CoGS also thanked faith, worship and ministry for the Rothesay Report and asked that it be expanded to “include a broader spectrum of theological thought on the question of the marriage of same-sex couples.”
The full statement, entitled “Word to the Church of Questions of Human Sexuality from the Council of General Synod, May 2009” is posted on the Anglican Church of Canada’s Web site.