Indigenous bishops opt for third way in marriage canon issue

Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh and National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald at Council of General Synod in 2014. Photo: André Forget
Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh and National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald at Council of General Synod in 2014. Photo: André Forget
Published August 11, 2015

On August 7, the Anglican Church of Canada’s Indigenous bishops attempted to chart a course between the liberal/conservative binary on the question of whether the church should practice same-sex marriages in their statement to the commission on the marriage canon.

“Though many, if not most, of our [Indigenous] societies appear to have had protocols of welcome and acceptance for homosexual members, we see little evidence that these practices were thought to be similar to marriage,” read the statement, signed by Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, Indigenous Bishop of Missinipi Adam Halkett of the diocese of Saskatchewan, and National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald.

This does not mean, however, that there is a “clear consensus” among Indigenous Anglicans about what course the church should take regarding same-sex marriage, and the statement acknowledged that there was disagreement among elders as to what the response should be if the church were to change its canons to allow for such marriages.

“Some view this as intolerable, a few find this acceptable, and many would be willing to accept that we disagree with the larger church on these matters, as long as our societies, communities, and nations have the acknowledged and welcome freedom to act on their own,” the bishops said, adding that, “This last view is certainly the most widely held across the whole of our discussions on the issue.”

Mamakwa and MacDonald presented the statement (to which Halkett had also contributed) to the commissioners orally on Nov. 14, 2014, in response to a request for a submission from the commission earlier that year. The document posted to the commission’s website is not substantially different from what they presented at that time, MacDonald said.

The statement is careful to “affirm that we understand gay and lesbian Indigenous people to be members of our communities and family,” and to emphasize that “there is no place for hatred and separation in Indigenous communities, and especially, in Indigenous Christian communities.”

Rather, the concerns voiced by the bishops-and by the elders they consulted in drafting the statement-are over the meaning and purpose of marriage. To that end, the signatories declare their “commitment to what we understand to be the traditional, spiritual, and Indigenous understanding of marriage,” and conclude that, therefore, they “cannot accept any changes that might be made without consultation with our communities.”

In an interview with the Anglican Journal, MacDonald noted that while he and his fellow bishops understand the importance of contributing to the conversation, they were “reluctant to do it” because they felt that, due to general ignorance among non-Indigenous people about traditional Indigenous social structures, “this type of cross-cultural communication generally does not work in our favour.”

Indeed, the statement pointed out that many Indigenous Anglicans feel that their perspectives and opinions are not well represented in current debates over human sexuality.

“At present, we do not hear our concerns and approach in either side of this very strained discussion,” the bishops said. “Our approach is not understood by either.”

The 1,716 word statement also said that while Canadian society at large views marriage as a “social contract between two people” with an emphasis on individual choice and freedom, “for our elders marriage is a ceremony of community and the primary place where we enact our understanding of Creation and the relationship of God to the universe.”

The commission on the marriage canon was established by Council of General Synod in fall 2013, in response to a resolution approved at General Synod to bring a motion regarding same-sex marriage to its 2016 meeting. As part of its mandate, the commission solicited opinions from various bodies within the church as well as ecumenical partners and individuals in Canada and overseas. The submissions can be found on the Anglican Church of Canada’s website.


  • André Forget

    André Forget was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2014 to 2017.

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