Richmond Hill, Ont.
A Friday night media panel featuring a diverse group of experts urged Anglicans not to assume the question of whether or not the church will choose to allow the solemnization of same-sex marriages is already decided.
Following a February communiqué from the House of Bishops saying the vote was not likely to pass with the required two-thirds majority in the Order of Bishops, many Anglicans have prepared themselves for the fallout of a “no” vote.
But Bishop Linda Nicholls, coadjutor of the diocese of Huron and convenor of the Commission on the Marriage Canon, cautioned Anglicans against prejudging the decision.
“I would never want our church to come with a kind of cynicism that says that the decision is already made, so why bother,” she said. “I’ve seen surprises at every General Synod I’ve been at, so I’m just waiting to see what’s going to happen this time.”
The panel was held following the first of three General Synod plenary sessions dedicated to the proposed change to the marriage canon (church law) allowing same-sex marriage. It included Chris Ambidge, who works with Integrity, the Canadian church’s LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) caucus, Stephen Martin, a theology professor at the King’s University in Edmonton, and Dean Iain Luke, of the diocese of Athabasca.
While panelists represented a variety of theological perspectives, they arrived at surprisingly similar conclusions about the importance of the synod process, and its limitations.
“We come [to synod] to encounter one another, to be accountable to one another, and- particularly on controversial matters-to be in the same room when the conversation is happening,” Luke said, noting that even if everyone already knew how the vote would go, it would still be important to show up.
“Our relationship with one another and our communion with one another is expressed in our presence, even if it is not expressed in agreement.”
But he added that given the deep divisions that exist within the Canadian Anglican church on matters of doctrine, the church should look at new ways of framing its decision-making process that do not inevitably lead to a binary of winners and losers.
It was a position Ambidge agreed with.
“I don’t think the Westminster parliamentary system is serving us well for things other than budgets,” he said. “For things that hit us not in the head or the heart but the soul, I think we need to learn a whole lot from the Indigenous people, because Westminster is really not helping us at all.”
Nicholls voiced similar concerns when asked whether there was anything she would change about the work of the Commission on the Marriage Canon.
She explained that the commission had been given a fairly strict mandate by General Synod 2013, and therefore had legal limitations on what it could and could not do, and how quickly it had to be done.
For example, the commission was required to, among other things, perform a broad consultation with the Anglican church and its ecumenical partners, craft a rationale for changing the marriage canon and draft a resolution to send to General Synod 2016.
She said these constraints hobbled the commission’s ability to do a thorough consultation, especially with Indigenous Anglicans.
“Indigenous communities work at a very different pace,” she explained. “What we had to do was approach it through asking the Indigenous bishops. But we heard some criticism that we did not consult with elders-but my goodness, I mean, that would have been a very long process to do that and to do that well.”
Luke also felt that the way the legislation was written hindered the commission from doing its work properly, in particular around the question of even-handedness.
“I think if we had given a similar amount of time and resources to the theological rationale for not changing the marriage canon, we could be having a much more genuine and mutual conversation here and now,” he said.