A national church commission has concluded that the blessings of same-sex unions is “a matter of doctrine,” thereby giving General Synod, not diocesan synods and bishops, the final authority to decide whether they should be allowed in parishes.
It will be up to General Synod, the church’s governing body, which next meets in 2007, to determine whether it will accept the Primate’s Theological Commis-sion’s findings as authoritative, said Ronald Stevenson, chancellor (legal advisor) of General Synod. It will take a simple majority to approve the report’s findings.
The report was released at the spring meeting of the Council of General Synod, the church’s legislative body between meetings of General Synod.
If General Synod upholds the commission’s findings, a motion deferred in 2004, which would have allowed dioceses the so-called “local option” to decide on same-sex blessings, would no longer be considered, said Mr. Stevenson.
Any subsequent move seeking the approval of blessings would require the adoption or amendment of a canon (church law) in which case the vote of a two-thirds majority of each of the three orders of bishops, clergy and laity of two successive General Synods (in 2007 and 2010) must be obtained, he added.
Another possibility that could emerge if General Synod accepts the opinion is for members to “go all the way and say, ‘fine, we’re going to marry same-sex couples,'” said Mr. Stevenson, in which case an amendment to the canon on marriage could be introduced.
The last time General Synod introduced changes to a church doctrine was when it allowed the remarriage of divorced persons after two successive synods in 1965 and 1967.
If, on the other hand, General Synod rejects the Commission’s decision, the vote will proceed on the question of whether dioceses may decide on their own about the blessings, in which case only a simple majority is needed for the resolution to pass.
The report was released one year ahead of schedule by the 12-member commission composed of bishops, clergy and laity from various dioceses.
Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster, the only Canadian diocese that allows same-sex blessings, objected to the commission’s opinion.
“They have said that it’s a matter of doctrine but cannot say what doctrine it is a matter of,” he said in an interview. He questioned why same-sex blessings should be considered doctrinal while the ordination of women and the introduction of the Book of Alternative Services (BAS) – both of which, he said, altered the way in which Canadian Anglicans worship – were not.
Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of the national church’s faith, worship and ministry department, agreed with Bishop Ingham’s view that the commission’s findings could be challenged. “It seems to me that we never talked about what defines doctrine.”
She added: “I still think you could say that a rite of blessing is a liturgical rite which is analogous to marriage, but if it’s not marriage it doesn’t have to be treated that way.”
The commission’s chair, Bishop Victoria Matthews, commented in an interview, “the question that I think is important is whether you want to do a quick fix and have a blessing of same-sex unions but not marriage and saying that it’s entirely different from marriage.”
At the same time, however, the Commission stated that the blessing of same-sex unions “is not a matter of core doctrine in the sense of being creedal.” What this means is that “the determination of this question will not hinder or impair our common affirmation of the historic creeds,” the Commission said in its findings.
Bishop Matthews said people should understand that “Christian doctrine is capable of developing, bearing fruit if you will, and changing.”
The bishop said she viewed the Commission’s recommendations as not something that is “creating a barrier of any sort” but rather as “raising the theological bar of the discussion” on human sexuality.
The commission’s decision and list of the members can be found on the national church Web site, www.anglican.ca.