Less than two months before General Synod in June, the Primate’s Theological Commission, as well as one third of Canadian bishops, 25 theologians and an interest group have issued separate statements distancing themselves from resolutions dealing with the blessing of same-sex unions forwarded by the Council of General Synod (CoGS) to synod delegates for action.
The commission has clarified that only one of five resolutions related to the blessing of same-sex deals with the St. Michael Report it released in 2005.
That resolution states, “That this General Synod accepts the conclusion of the Primate’s Theological Commission’s St. Michael Report that the blessing of same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine, but is not core doctrine in the sense of being creedal.”
Another related resolution states that “the blessing of same-sex unions is consistent with the core doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada.” Delegates will also consider a resolution deferred by General Synod in 2004 that affirms “the authority and jurisdiction of any diocesan synod, with the concurrence of its bishop, to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions.” Another states that these two resolutions “be deemed to have been carried only if they receive the affirmative votes of 60 per cent of the members of each order present and voting, and if a vote by dioceses is requested, only if they receive the affirmative votes of 60 per cent of the dioceses whose votes are counted.”
Bishop Victoria Matthews, chair of the commission, explained why the commission issued a clarification: “I don’t think the Anglican Church of Canada has been as diligent as I would like to think it has. And so I’m afraid that people could read those resolutions and believe that that’s the recommendation of the St. Michael Report.” She added: “We don’t make recommendations, we do raise theological questions.”
(General Synod in 2004 asked the primate to seek the commission’s opinion on whether the blessing of same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine.)
Meanwhile, the house of bishops of the ecclesiastical (church) province of Rupert’s Land expressed concern with the resolution expressing that same-sex blessings are consistent with the core doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada. The bishops of the province (which includes the dioceses of Athabasca, Arctic, Brandon, Calgary, Edmonton, Keewatin, Qu’Appelle, Rupert’s Land, Saskatchewan, and Saskatoon) said there isn’t enough time for delegates or the church to be educated and to “be in a position to determine whether the blessing of same-sex unions is scripturally sound and theologically consistent with core doctrine.” They requested General Synod to ask the Primate’s Theological Commission’s to prepare a report answering the question. “While there has been a huge amount published on these matters from both sides of the question, there is no one Canadian Anglican position paper that we as a church own and can use to help others engaging this question,” wrote the bishops. “If the blessing of same-sex unions is consistent with core doctrine and right, then it is incumbent upon us to help educate Anglicans, and other Christians, in Canada and around the world.”
The bishops said the resolutions do not address what effect, if passed, they would have on the Canadians’ membership in the Anglican Communion. If General Synod deems the blessing of same-sex unions to be scripturally sound and consistent with core doctrine, it must “develop a vehicle for considering whether it is better for us to stay at the table and insisting on ongoing conversation with all of the other parts of the Communion – particularly those where gay and lesbian relationships constitute illegal or even criminal activity – or to walk away from our Anglican brothers and sisters, and our ecumenical partners,” they added.
In an interview, Bishop Matthews said that she was “very surprised” by CoGS’ recommendation that General Synod deal with the issue of same-sex blessings through resolutions requiring the approval of a 60 per cent majority of the members of the order of bishops, laity and clergy or 60 per cent of dioceses if a vote by dioceses is requested, instead of the adoption or amendment of a canon. (In comparison, a change to the church’s canons, or laws, requires a two-thirds majority vote of each order at two successive synods.)
“CoGS has the right to do what CoGS will do. There’s no question about that,” said Bishop Matthews. “I think it took many people by surprise and I certainly have heard some distress. But, on the other hand, we don’t know, maybe there’ll be a resolution that would ask for it to be dealt with as a canon.” A delegate at synod may request that the matter be considered canonically.
She said that she was surprised by CoGS’ decision because when she presented the Commission’s report to CoGS, she had heard the chancellor (legal advisor) of General Synod express a legal opinion that it would be dealt with as doctrine.
A majority of CoGS members decided at their March meeting that a canonical change “set the bar too high” and would create an impasse in a church already exhausted with the divisive issue of sexuality.
The commission, appointed by the primate to consult on theological matters, also said that General Synod should, as part of its determination, consider whether it is “theologically and doctrinally responsible for one member church of the Communion to approve a course of action which it has reason to believe may be destructive of the unity of the Communion.”
In related news, theologians across Canada sent a letter to the house of bishops stating “a matter of this gravity (same-sex blessings) should not be dealt with in the manner of a simple resolution.” They also disagreed with the argument that the issue should be settled through a resolution since important matters such as the ordination of women were dealt with in that way. “Some of these matters are sufficiently contentious even now that it may be asked whether the church was wise to dispatch them so readily,” they said. “Nevertheless, we forget that in each of these actions a developed biblical and theological case was available. The ordination of women had been a matter of discussion in the church ever since the first deaconess was ordained in the Church of England in 1862.”
Similarly, Anglican Essentials Canada – a coalition which supports conservative views on homosexuality and traditional Christianity – has expressed “grave concern” that the CoGS-forwarded resolutions dealing with sexuality could lead the Anglican Church of Canada to be excluded from the Anglican Communion. Essentials said that if the motions are approved, “it will be understood that the Anglican Church of Canada has chosen to ‘walk apart’ from Canterbury and the international Communion.”