Introduction by Matthew Townsend, supervisor, editorial
As delegates to General Synod prepare to vote on a second reading of Resolution A051-R2, potential changes to the Anglican Church of Canada’s marriage canon, the Anglican Journal’s editorial staffers have given much consideration to our task. What should we write? What should readers hear before the vote?
Few topics have further challenged the church—in recent years, at least—than same-sex marriage. Is love or tradition more important? Could God make the two mutually exclusive? Should the church hold people back or press people forward, unwillingly in either case?
There are no easy answers to these questions, as acknowledged by the “A Word to the Church” document about the proposed amendment of marriage canon and potential amendments, proposed by Council of General Synod in March, to the resolution considered in 2016. “Members are entitled to hold and exercise either view provided they recognize and respect that others may with integrity hold a different view,” the amendment reads. “All Anglicans accept that marriage is a sign of God’s redeeming purpose to unite all things in Christ. We are committed to graceful walking together in a spirit of generosity as part of the same Christian community.” The amendment also “recognizes that Indigenous communities have particular understandings about the nature of marriage as well as their own ways of making decisions.”
Scholars, theologians and experts will continue to speak about this challenging topic. An open letter to the House of Bishops written by four Toronto priests and published by the orthodox-leaning Anglican Communion Alliance is one such example. They wonder, “given the magnitude of the proposed change, where is the rationale for it? Where, for a matter of this gravity, is its explanation and rooting in the Scriptures and the received tradition of the church?”
The words of theologians (of all views) may help Anglicans better understand the vote at hand. There are also the words of Anglicans who are not regularly seen and heard. For example, the Journal received a letter to the editor from former reader Natalie Flam. “I am a practising Anglo-Catholic lesbian who is tired of reading about how much we are not welcome in the Anglican community. I am happy with my parish for its open recognition of myself and my wife. I love the Eucharist and the liturgy as a whole,” she wrote.
“However, after being reminded each issue at some point, whether headlines or letters to the editor, of how terrible we are for loving who we love, I have decided not to read these Journals. So, to help save a tree and the paper it makes, please cancel my subscription.”
The Journal’s decision was to share the words of people like Natalie: people with lived experiences that extend beyond a yes-or-no question. The Journal’s Joelle Kidd and Tali Folkins spoke with six Anglicans—three in favour of the resolution and three opposed to it—to ask them:
How does your view of marriage fit in with your faith? And what does this vote mean to you?
One final note: You may notice that the voices of Indigenous Anglicans are not included in this forum. General Synod will also consider resolutions to establish a more self-determining Indigenous church, aligning the Anglican Church of Canada with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Should this legislation pass, Indigenous Anglicans may discuss this matter in different forums and in different ways, and the Anglican Journal wishes to respect that right. For more on this, see National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald’s June column.
The Rev. Marnie Peterson
Priest at St. Brigid, an LBGTQ2S+ affirming ministry of Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver
I’ve been married for 20 years, and the reason I wanted to get married was to come in front of my community and before God, to name the chosen-ness of my spouse, and have them witness the vows that I took, help support us and help us live into our vows. That’s really rooted in my faith, and my understanding of what Christian community does. To be surrounded by the love and prayer of our community, the people who love us and know us best, and who know how hard taking vows is.
I think what the marriage canon vote means for me is the possibility of all couples to have that same opportunity that I had.
I watched the debate three years ago on my computer, with my daughter who was then 14. Having lived through all the debates and conversations in [the diocese of New Westminster], remembering how awful they were, it was really hard to hear the debates again at General Synod. It was hard to watch them with my daughter, who couldn’t believe that that was our church.
Some of the things that were said were very careful, and [the speakers] remembered that you’re talking about people who are in the room. I think that’s the thing that broke my heart. I don’t expect us all to be in the same place. I’ve been an Anglican my whole life—I get that we’re a broad tent, and there are diverse stances on these things. But I feel really sad when we can’t have those kinds of debates without remembering that you’re talking about other humans in the room. You’re talking about their lives and their bodies and the people that they love.
I don’t need us to all land in the same place, but I need us to remember that we’re all beloved of God.
Going into General Synod 2019, I feel nervous, but I mostly feel nervous about the debate, to be honest. I just want us to be so careful with our words.
Worships at St. James Anglican Church, Kemptville, Ont.
I have a very traditional view of marriage. I believe that Biblical marriage is one man, one woman for life. I really firmly believe that. My entire life of faith is searching for truth, and so if I’m looking for truth in my own conscience, I must follow God’s plan for every aspect of my life.
The reason that my wife and I are in the Anglican church is because we love the liturgy, we love the formality, and that’s also why we stay.
The vote in one way means a lot to me, and in another way, not very much. I don’t perceive that there’s been a fair dialogue, and unfortunately, it’s my conservative side that’s been shut up and told that we’re intolerant. I don’t believe that we are at all.
I don’t think that same-sex marriage is the whole issue. The real issues for me are objective versus subjective truth, the primacy of Scripture, the nature of moral truth, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.
When you have committed Christians from other churches asking you questions about the inconsistency, the perceived credibility, integrity of what you believe…that’s when you become a little discouraged.
I used to get really upset. I have many books on same-sex marriage—pro and con and everything in between—and read them and got my shirt in a knot, and I think God just worked in my life and said, “You need to concentrate on what your gifts are,” and so that’s what I’ve done. [Leading Bible study] is where I’m finding my joy and peace and comfort. So I’ve sort of veered away from worrying about this particular issue. It’s important to me, but it’s not a primary concern any more. Things have been set up for there to be a win-lose situation, and, unfortunately, nobody will win. I just concentrate on what I can do in my local church.
Not currently attending an Anglican church, lives in Halifax, N.S.
When I was little, me and my family went to St. Margaret of Scotland Anglican Church in Halifax. We had a wonderful relationship with the parish and with everybody there. I went to Anglican youth conferences. I really felt a lot of spiritual connection to the Anglican church.
At the time [of General Synod 2016], I was still really active in the church community. And then after the vote happened, it felt like it wasn’t as welcoming and open.
I’m part of the queer community, so it was a very important voting moment for me. To see that there was this very large opposition that I was supposed to be connected with, and we were all supposed to be kind of on the same journey of love and teaching, it really hurt that I wasn’t accepted.
Our church was always so open about accepting everybody over spectrums of gender identity, sexual orientation, racial identity and whatnot. It was very disheartening to see that the rest of the Anglican community didn’t share those views.
I’d always received unconditional love from the Anglican church, and then suddenly I was awoken to the conditions of [that] love.
I went to church every single Sunday, and then this vote happened, and I haven’t been since. Imagine what could happen if we open up our doors and say, “We accept you, we want you to be part of our church and to share the word of God, and to share Jesus’ teaching.” How many more people would we have that agree with us and want to share that love?
I would love to be able to come back to the church. It’s so beautiful. Beyond the aspect of faith and worship, it’s such an important thing for individuals to have that community support. Church can do so much good, and I think the focus should be on doing good rather than limiting who can be recognized and who can be part of the church.
Worships at St. Aidan Anglican Church, Moose Jaw, Sask.
To me, every aspect of our Christian life is dictated by what God has revealed in Scripture. With marriage, I believe that it’s between a man and a woman. Scripture actually teaches us that marriage is the place for sex, and so if you’re a homosexual, if you’re single, if you’re divorced, if you’re widowed, then you don’t have that option of having sex. It’s something that makes us stand out in the world—as the church, we stand apart from culture and we say, “We have made a choice to live consistently with what God has taught us.” I don’t want this vote to go through, and I want to stand with my fellow Christians who are gay and have chosen this hard, narrow path that’s different to the world.
I do know that our churches will reshape [if the resolution is passed], because I already know several fellow Anglicans who have said to me openly, “If this goes through, we cannot stay in the Anglican church.” Up until now, if you held an alternate view to a conservative view on marriage, you were out of step with what the church taught. If this goes through, then you’re in step with it, and everyone who has a conservative voice is out of step.
I’m going to be one of the conservatives who’s in a really difficult situation because I work with young people, and my question will be, “Can I actually remain in the Anglican church and authentically minister to young people?’ What I say to a young person about this issue is not going to be consistent with what the church teaches, and so I’m going to be out of step with my own church on this teaching.
I would have to work out: is worshipping in a local church that holds a conservative view inconsistent, because we as a church will be out of step with the national church? At so many levels, there’s a tension in relationships.
Worships at Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver
I was raised Roman Catholic, came out in 1985 at the age of 21, and walked away from the church in the 1980s. It was a long journey back to faith that began with recovery from alcohol addiction in 1999 and saw lots of deconstructing and reconstructing of my theological underpinnings. I found my way to Anglicanism around 2010.
Though the sacrament [of marriage] isn’t a calling for all people, I strongly feel that, as is mentioned in Ecclesiastes 4, a cord of three strands isn’t easily broken. I have always taken that to mean that two of the strands are the union of two, and the third is either God, or a community of faith.
I’m in a relationship with a Christian man, and walking with God in our journey has been liberating and has deepened what I already feel for him.
Healthy marriage was modeled for me by my parents and by my uncles and aunts. This was always something that I deeply wished for myself, but never thought it would be an option in my spiritual home. [Amending] the marriage canon would begin to undo 55 years of pain in being denied that possibility. As I look forward to a partnership now where I feel seriously that I’ve found “the one,” this option is less of an abstraction than it has been in the past.
Honestly, I’ve heard about every argument against me since I first told someone that I was gay in August of 1985. Thirty-four years later, I thought that I was immune to the sting of being at the receiving end of a debate. However, living through the first round a few years ago, I was at first deflated, then elated at the recount.
I’m lucky to be a part of affirming congregations, so that shields me a bit from the worst of what these debates trigger in people. I guess that the perspective of having come out in a time when these conversations and possibilities were a non-starter, versus being where we are now, shows me what the trajectory is when considering the long view. That helps.
Worships at Anglican churches in the Newmarket, Ont. area
I grew up in the Christian faith, so my understanding of marriage was that it was a bond between a man and a woman, and I still hold to this. But today, many are questioning this understanding and would like me to change my view. I’ve really felt the pressure. To me this is a matter of conscience, and we are only accountable for what we teach. I myself want to be true to the Christian faith and to my lord Jesus, in whom I place my faith. That’s kind of the bottom line for me.
If the marriage canon is changed, then the official teaching of the Anglican Church of Canada will conflict with my understanding of the Christian faith. So that’s a big deal. I’m concerned that this will further confuse not only my children but my little grandchildren, who hear conflicting advice on this issue of same-sex marriage. And I’ll be blunt with you: I’m also afraid to give my opinion to other members of the church in fear that I may be labeled homophobic, and that’s a big concern of mine. I’m trying to stay true to my convictions, to my faith, but I’m afraid to give my opinion to other church members, which is sad.
I am scared of being judged and misunderstood, and of being labeled homophobic, which I am not. I don’t know if this vote will go through or not, but I know it has changed relationships within the church already. People are hurt, people feel marginalized. I get that, because I feel that as well, on the orthodox side. It’s a sad day for me that the church could be split over this. But it’s such a big deal to me. It’s really the core of who I am—trying to follow what I believe Christ’s teachings were and are.
I’m glad to be part of this because I love the Anglican church. Thank you for letting me speak.