PEACE on earth, and a moratorium.
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the great reconciler, we also live with the daily reality that reconciliation within the Anglican Church of Canada seems tentative at best. We have churches at both ends of the theological spectrum straining any semblance of unity – those at the far left encouraging the blessing of same-sex unions, encouraging the church to simply get on with it; those at the far right who see homosexuality as sin and believe that the church has forsaken its traditional Anglican roots; and those in the middle who are struggling to keep both sides together.
The house of bishops, trying valiantly to develop a pastoral way forward, was generally agreed to the intent of a moratorium. It took to heart the three moratoria suggested by the Lambeth Conference, putting on hold any further actions on the blessing of same-sex unions, on the ordination to the episcopate of people in same-sex relationships, and on cross-border interventions.
Not all bishops agreed, however. Bishops from the dioceses of Ottawa, Montreal, Niagara, Huron and the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior came to the house of bishops with requests to allow them to bless same-sex unions, and most of them returned home, indicating that they will continue down that path, slowly but deliberately.
We need a full and complete moratorium until General Synod meets in 2010. That applies equally to the blessing of same-sex unions as it does to cross-border interventions. It is time for serious discussion, especially between the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC) and the Council of General Synod.
We need to create space within the Anglican Church of Canada for both theological perspectives.
By agreeing at the house of bishps to the moratoria, most bishops understood that it is important for the church to catch its collective breath: to stop, to reflect, and to enter a time of conversation and dialogue.
The commitment to establish diocesan commissions is a valid one. At issue, it seems, is the need for a theological discussion on the significance of “blessing.” Since the marriage canon has not been changed, what does it mean, for example, for the church to bless the relationship of a same-sex couple who are civilly married?
Some dioceses say that they have studied the issue to death and are ready to move on. Others haven’t even begun to deal with the issue and welcome the opportunity to discuss it. Therein lies the frustration.
The moratorium is both pastoral and utopian. It is pastoral in that it allows dioceses time to reflect on the issue. It is utopian in that a diocese or a church will be hard pressed to change its mind on the issue. The moratorium, it has been argued, simply postpones the inevitable.
Until there is a change in how we ‘do church’, a few things seem quite clear:
- Some dioceses will continue to allow blessings of same-sex unions.
- Some churches will be opposed to it and will decide to leave.
- Cross-border interventions will continue.
- Hundreds of churches will be caught in a theological quandary; not agreeing with blessings of same-sex unions but not wanting to leave the church either.
Questions remain: Will both sides of the issue be able to find room within the denomination where their perspectives will be acknowledged and valued? Just as the church considers creating a separate indigenous province, is it possible to create a province along doctrinal lines? And should such a province consist of those who embrace blessings of same-sex unions, or those who oppose it? In other words, which group will be considered the exception?
We have strong-willed and bull-headed Anglicans at both extremes and they need to come together in prayerful dialogue. This may lead to a new direction for the Anglican Church of Canada, a direction as yet undefined.