For the second time in three years, Bishop Michael Ingham of the diocese of New Westminster declined to approve church blessing of homosexual relationships, notwithstanding a synod vote supporting such ceremonies.
The bishop, a supporter of same-sex blessings, said a wider consensus is needed on the emotional issue before he consents.
Meeting in North Vancouver in early June, 226 delegates at the annual diocesan synod approved Motion 9 on same-sex blessing by a margin of 56.5 per cent. At its 1998 synod, diocesan delegates had voted 179 to 170 for the motion, which asked the bishop “to authorize clergy in this diocese to bless covenanted (committed) same-sex unions, subject to such conditions as the bishop deems appropriate.”
New Westminster, which includes the city of Vancouver and the British Columbia coastline from the U.S. border to Powell River, is the first Anglican diocese in Canada to vote to approve such blessings.
Lesbian and gay Anglicans say they would like to celebrate their relationships in church before friends, family and God. They and their supporters see this as a legitimate sign of full inclusion in the church community and an important sign of respect.
Opponents, citing Scripture, see such a move as contrary to God’s will and a dangerous challenge to traditional Anglicanism and orthodox Christianity.
After Bishop Ingham announced the vote totals to a hushed assembly gathered in Capilano College’s large gymnasium, he said that the widening margin of approval indicated “a pattern of acceptance of our gay and lesbian members.”
Nevertheless, he added in a steady voice, “people need more time to understand the direction the church is moving in. We are not yet in a position to change the pastoral practice. I continue to withhold my consent.”
Previously, Bishop Ingham had said he would give his consent only if the vote showed a “clear and substantial majority,” but had declined to say what percentage might be “substantial.” Now, however, he noted that “the closest I can think of” was the recent margins in episcopal elections – around 60 per cent.
Bishop Ingham said he realized that gay and lesbian Anglicans will be upset with his decision. “I know very well their pain,” he said, and asked that they “put this in the context of a journey.”
After Bishop Ingham ended his remarks, applause began at the back of the room, building to a standing ovation.
At a news conference held after the vote announcement, Maureen Ashfield, a lesbian synod delegate, said she and a number of gay friends felt “silent disappointment” at Bishop Ingham’s decision. “How long do we have to wait?” she asked.
Rev. Robert Wismer, rector of St. Helen’s church in Vancouver, a synod delegate and a supporter of the conservative Essentials group, said traditionalists are “deeply troubled” by the vote and the increased support for gays and lesbians. “We do not believe that the Bible allows for the blessing of same-sex unions, covenanted or not. It is not a suitable means to minister to people with a homosexual orientation,” he said. “We will offer support to those who desire encouragement to abstain from homosexual activities,” he added.
When asked where the issue goes now, Bishop Ingham said he did not intend to re-introduce Motion 9 or introduce another dialogue process. After the 1998 synod, he asked the 80 parishes in the diocese to conduct a dialogue in which each parish was twinned with another for discussions.
However, he noted, “any member of synod can re-introduce it at any time,” and he said he thinks that will happen.
Before the vote, the three-and-a-half hour debate in which about 80 synod delegates participated reflected all sides of the question.
Scripture was cited by supporters and opponents. Some said the motion should be defeated because it is divisive. Others said it was a matter of human rights. Still others complained that the views of those who are no longer gay are not being heard. They believe that homosexuals, given enough pastoral care, can become heterosexual.
“The Bible is clear that homosexuality is wrong and Jesus’ silence on the subject would only mean that he concurred,” said Rev. Charles Balfour of St. John the Divine in Maple Ridge.
“Motion 9 is an issue of justice. It is illogical to say you are children of God if there is an exception to that welcome. Are we prepared to love our neighbour?” said Ian Birtwell, of Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver.
“I am torn apart. If I go with compassion, I vote yes, but Scripture does not allow me to do that. I will vote against this motion, but it kills me to do it,” said Rev. Trevor Walters of St. Matthew, Abbotsford.
“The implication of passing Motion 9 will be schism. Do not go there,” said Rev. Barclay Mayo of St. Andrew, Sechelt.
“I am ex-gay. Think very hard. What are you saying to the ex-gays if you vote yes?” said Rev. Dawn McDonald of Holy Cross, Vancouver.
“We are not condemning ex-gays. The Bible is silent on life-long, committed (gay) relationships. It is against violent, promiscuous sex. This is a matter of practice, not doctrine or faith,” said Rev. Lynne McNaughton of the Vancouver School of Theology.
Youth delegate Tanya Eades, from St. Hilda, Sechelt, her voice shaking with emotion, told of a gay friend on the verge of suicide who told her, “the church won’t accept me.” She added, “Why can’t he celebrate his love? Please, as God loves you, let my best friend love and be loved.”