General Synod will wait another two years to reopen discussion of two resolutions which would change the way the church votes on some of its biggest decisions. After some debate July 2, General Synod voted to postpone a decision on them until it next meets in 2025.
The first resolution would lower the threshold needed to vote on changes to the church’s constitution, declaration of principles and on canons related to doctrine, worship or discipline. Currently, a resolution on these matters requires a two-thirds majority in each of the three orders of Clergy, Laity and Bishops to pass. That is, a dissenting minority of one third plus one vote in any one of the orders is enough to block a vote from going through. The first resolution General Synod postponed would allow a resolution to pass so long as it had a majority of two thirds across all the votes, plus a majority of at least one half of each order. In other words, to block a motion, at least half the members of any order would need to dissent.
And in cases involving those canons or the declaration of principles, they must pass that threshold at two separate votes in consecutive General Synod gatherings. The second resolution General Synod postponed would remove this requirement, allowing changes to become official after just one vote.
At the suggestion of Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, members of General Synod discussed the first motion in a format called the committee of the whole, which allowed them to bring forward their thoughts, concerns or endorsements of the motion without the urgency of the final debate.
During that discussion, members primarily spoke of the motion in terms of its effect on the voting power of the Order of Bishops. As the smallest of the three orders, it takes the fewest votes from the Order of Bishops to constitute a one-third minority and thereby block a motion.
Some members of General Synod argued it was unfair or undemocratic for such a small number to be able to block the wishes of the great majority of the voting body.
Others argued it was appropriate for the bishops—as lifelong experts in ministry and doctrine who regularly hear from multiple congregations—to have a greater role in guiding and sometimes slowing the church’s decisions.
The Rev. Iain Luke of the diocese of Saskatchewan, meanwhile, entered a different perspective. The problem the Anglican Church was facing was not about what threshold was enough to ensure a vote passed sufficient scrutiny, he said, but a deeper question about trust among elements of the church who disagree with one another.
“If we were more practised in the ways of consensus and if we thought more thoroughly and carefully about how we incorporated dissenting minorities—although in some recent cases I appreciate it’s been a dissenting majority who have found themselves on the wrong end of a decision—we would find this a lot easier,” he said. “And we are not going to be able to legislate ourselves back into trusting each other across dioceses, across provinces, across orders.”
When it came time to debate the resolution formally, Canon (lay) Ian Alexander, of the diocese of British Columbia, instead moved that consideration on voting thresholds be postponed until 2025. Members voted in favour by a margin narrow enough that the vote had to be manually counted.
Due to limited time and the connection between the two motions, Canon (lay) David Jones, chancellor of General Synod and mover of both motions, suggested General Synod also postpone the resolution on consecutive votes to 2025, which a successful motion from Archdeacon Tanya Phibbs, of the diocese of Huron, accomplished.