Dialogue on same-sex unions criticized

Published April 1, 2000

The dialogue on same-sex unions has exposed a split in the Diocese of New Westminster that shows no signs of repair.

Conservatives have called for the dialogue to be shut down and the rector of the diocese?s largest parish acknowledges there has been informal talk of alternative episcopal oversight to allow traditionalist parishes to fall under the authority of a more traditional bishop.

The dialogue began after a May 1998 diocesan synod vote of 179-170 in favour of permitting blessing same-sex unions. Bishop Michael Ingham withheld his consent, instead beginning a two-year dialogue in the diocese, which will culminate in another vote in 2001. The wide-ranging process includes twinning parishes for discussions, a series of four discussion papers written from the perspectives of three theologians with views ranging from conservative to liberal, a legal and canonical commission and a commission of gay and lesbian voices.

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Rev. David Short, rector of St. John?s (Shaughnessy), said his parish is deeply concerned. ?The way in which the process has been set up is to attempt to do theology by anecdote,? he said. ?Experience has been elevated to be an equal authority as Scripture, which is not an Anglican way, as I understand, of making decisions.?

St. John?s is the largest parish in the diocese, with more than 2,700 on the parish roll and 1,000-plus attending on a typical Sunday.

?Traditionalist churches understand themselves to be in the mainstream of Anglicanism,? Mr. Short said. ?Those who want to sanction same-sex unions want to step away from the voice of Lambeth, the voice of tradition and step away from the voice of Scripture.?

Traditionalists have contemplated what to do if the diocese was to move to bless same-sex unions, although they have taken no legal or investigative steps in that direction, Mr. Short said.

?I think that the model in England of alternative episcopal oversight, non-geographical bishops, does offer a possible way forward. Nobody is really seriously considering that yet. I think we are praying that the decisions we make will be obedient to Scripture.?

Bishop Ingham addressed the issue briefly in a letter to clergy discussing the Singapore consecrations, saying, ?I ask that you redouble your efforts to invite all parishioners to participate in the local dialogue, and use your office to encourage every voice to be heard ? I hear rumours of conversations by some in the diocese about ?alternative episcopal oversight? and I want to discourage any such hopes in that direction.

?Dioceses are not political entities of those who agree on certain issues,? he continued. ? ? We have not chosen each other, we have been chosen by God. Our task is to remain together and to act justly for His sake.?

A task group of people who belong to Essentials, a group of Anglicans devoted to traditional teachings, has written twice to Bishop Ingham, asking that he end what it called ?an unfair exercise in persuasion? that is ?exacerbating very deep divisions in the diocese.?

?There?s no attempt at persuasion in this process,? Bishop Ingham said. ?The process is designed to create a space for people in the diocese to seek the mind of Christ.?

The conservatives had asked Bishop Ingham to have the legal and canonical commission address what rights traditionalist parishes would have, including to alternative episcopal oversight, if same-sex blessings were to be permitted. George Egerton, one of the Essentials writers, said pulling out of the diocese is a ?worst-case scenario? that ?would be done with extreme reluctance.?

Bishop Ingham said a ruling from the commission?s chair, diocesan chancellor George Cadman, concluded the issue was outside its mandate. ?At this stage, this is unhealthy and unhelpful speculation and could be perceived by many as a threat to manipulate the process,? the bishop said.

He said the diocese is approaching the question of homosexuality methodically. ?The reports that we?re getting from the local dialogues are encouraging. People, for the most part, are entering into the discussions constructively, responsively and openly.?

Bishop Ingham wrote to Mr. Egerton on March 8, noting that in parish twinning dialogues that are having difficulty, the diocese is trying to support the local facilitation process more effectively. ?There are no indications, other than in a few parishes, that people are feeling manipulated or coerced.?

But Mr. Egerton has a different view. Members are concerned ?it?s creating real divisions that are going to be very difficult to heal. And we?re frankly skeptical about any healing process coming out of all of this.?

Mr. Egerton sees no middle ground possible in the discussions of homosexuality. ?We think the best way to bring people together is to come on the terms spelled out by the House of Bishops, by Lambeth, indeed reaffirming traditional teachings that have kept the church together on this for many, many years. The revisionists, in challenging the traditional teaching and practice in this area are the ones who are dividing this church so deeply.?

Mr. Short said the biggest issue in the Anglican Church of Canada involves a crisis in membership and a loss of confidence in the leadership. The same-sex dialogue detracts from that, he said.

Essentials also had some specific complaints, noting that the commission on gay and lesbian voices contained only one ?ex-gay? person. But Bishop Ingham said he asked Essentials to recommend people to fill that role and it could only come up with one candidate, which he appointed.

The bishop said the diocese is in fact complying with the Lambeth resolution on homosexuality in that it is not now moving ahead with blessing same-sex unions. At the same time, it is complying with the part of the resolution that called on bishops to listen to the voices of gays and lesbians.


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