Bishop Sue MoxleyPhoto: Art Babych
“Despite all our differences we are passionately committed to walking together.” So said a pastoral statement approved today by the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada on the issue of same gender blessings. And it may mark the beginning of a new spirit and approach to a question that has divided the church in recent years.
Unlike past General Synods, triennial meetings of the church’s governing body, where both those in favour of and opposed to same-sex blessings proposed resolutions and tried to win in parliamentary style debates, the members of General Synod 2010 were encouraged to try a new approach of small group discussion with the aim of producing a pastoral statement.
The result is a document that acknowledges continuing differences within the church on the issue, and says “at this time, we are not prepared to make a legislative decision.” The statement instead committed the church to more dialogue. This compromise left both sides wanting more, but there was a new and surprising level of support from both sides, and the statement was approved by a large majority within the 350-member synod made up of lay people, clergy and bishops.
The statement was crafted through a series of discussions in small groups of about 15 to 24 people. Feedback was recorded, summarized and reported back to the synod as a whole before another round of discussions. Comments from that round of discussions was then woven into a draft statement by members of the faith, worship and ministry committee and presented to General Synod members. The committee aimed to accurately reflect the various views and the statement acknowledged that the compromise may be difficult for both sides to accept.
“For many members of General Synod there is deep sadness that, at this time, there is no common mind. We acknowledge the pain that our diversity in this matter causes. We are deeply aware of the cost to people whose lives are implicated in the consequences of an ongoing discernment process…,” they said. “For some, even this statement represents a risk. For some, the statement does not go nearly far enough.”
The motion was seconded by Archdeacon Peter John Hobbs of Christ Church Bells Corners in the diocese of Ottawa. “There is much in this statement that, for me, is troubling…” he said, addressing General Synod when the motion was presented. “I am someone who wishes we could have gone much farther. Six years ago, we were able to affirm the integrity and sanctity of committed same-sex relationships. Three years ago, we were able to say that the blessing of same-sex unions was not contrary to core doctrine. We seem to be a church that has embraced relentless incrementalism, and it is there that I find my pain,” he said.
But he said General Synod needed to produce a statement about its conversations and discernment over the course of the synod and the document captured that accurately. “One of the realities of diversity is that while it enables us to find hope in difference, it also acknowledges the reality of the pain that abides in such diversity. I believe that very often, given that diversity, God is to be found in the connections not yet made,” he said.
People who have staunchly opposed the blessing of same-sex unions also found ground on which to support the statement. “I am deeply moved and deeply grateful for the process that led to such as wise pastoral statement,” Archdeacon Vicars Hodge from the diocese of Fredericton said. “In my discussion group when it became clear that we were being heard and the mutual listening and respect that was present here, it was so remarkably different from the adversarial, controversial style that we lived through in Winnipeg….I really do believe that God is going to work in our midst bringing about the possibility of hearing and mutual respect.”
Still, impatience lingered. “I’m disappointed with the statement, but maybe it’s the best we can do,” said Dean Sutton-Greenhalgh, a young member from the diocese of Niagara. But, he added, “If this is the best we can do, we need to step it up.”
And there were concerns expressed. Kellina Baetz from the diocese of Algoma said the document “fails to acknowledge the reality that inaction is also action.” She pointed to a piece of the text that said “we accept that different local contexts call at times for different local discernment, decision and action.” Then she asked, “Now I understand that the language here is perhaps deliberately vague for good reason, but I don’t know how you call that anything other than affirmation of local option.” Local option is a term used for one proposed resolution to the issue in which dioceses and local parishes could decide whether or not to bless same-sex unions.
Nevertheless, there was a great sense of relief that this General Synod had found a new way. “Our conversations were marked by grace, honesty and generosity of spirit towards one another,” the statement said.
After the resolution to approve the statement carried with broad support, Bishop Sue Moxley of the host diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, proposed a motion of thanks to the faith, worship and ministry committee for putting the process of discernment and discussion together for General Synod members. They responded with a loud round of applause. Definitely a new note for a General Synod discussion of same-sex blessings to end on.
One related motion was also proposed. It requested that all dioceses, the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, the Military Ordinariate, and Religious Orders engage in theological and scriptural study of human sexuality in the coming triennium. The motion was carried after some debate and an amendment to add the phrase “in conversation with gay and lesbian voices, and with the full range of theological opinion in the Canadian Church.”