It’s not a foregone conclusion.
As much as some quarters would have everyone believe, there’s no telling how the 2016 General Synod will act on a motion to change the church’s law so that clergy can marry same-sex couples.
The answer will come in about nine months, when the church’s governing body gathers for its triennial meeting in Toronto. But right now, there’s work to be done, if the church hopes to arrive at a faithful and principled decision about this weighty matter.
In 2013, General Synod passed Resolution C003, which asked Council of General Synod (CoGS) to draft a motion “to change Canon XXI on marriage to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples.” It also asked for supporting documentation that: demonstrates broad consultation about the motion; explains how this motion does not contravene the Solemn Declaration; confirms immunity under civil law and the Human Rights Code for bishops, dioceses and priests who refuse to participate or authorize the marriage of same-sex couples on the basis on conscience; and provides a biblical and theological rationale for this change in teaching on the nature of Christian marriage.
CoGS, in January 2014, established the commission on the marriage canon to assist in this task.
On September 22, 2015, the commission submitted a 65-page report, which includes a recommended wording for the motion that will go before the 2016 General Synod, as well as the conscience clause that would allow dioceses and clergy to opt out of authorizing or officiating same-sex weddings. It also prepared the supporting documentation that would demonstrate “how such a change in the church’s traditional teaching on Christian marriage could be understood to be scripturally and theologically coherent.” (See related stories, pages 1, x)
Not surprisingly, there were mixed reactions to the report. Several CoGS members described it as “deep, clear and respectful (of diverse opinions).” Elsewhere, the ink had barely dried on the report when critics dismissed it, some declaring they won’t even bother reading it. Others simply regurgitated well-worn opinions on sexuality instead of examining the report in its entirety. Such insouciance is unhelpful and disrespectful of the discernment process that has been put in place to address this difficult issue.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, acknowledged that it would be a challenge to ensure that when they arrive at General Synod, delegates would have read the report so that they can join discussions in an informed and meaningful way. And, one might add, so they can vote confidently and independently.
A lot will depend, Hiltz said, on bishops making sure that everyone has done their homework. In the end, however, the onus should be on delegates to whom dioceses and provinces have conferred their trust.
The report – available online at the church’s website, anglican.ca – is also there for every Anglican in the pew to consider and explore, no matter which side they’re on.
Anticipating the need for guidance in understanding the report, the commission has prepared a summary of its work in a question-and-answer format, as well as a study guide for individuals or groups. The guide includes prayers and thoughtful questions designed to facilitate personal reflection and serious discourse on various sections of the report.
It is now up to individual Anglicans, parishes and General Synod delegates to take advantage of this resource. In the face of what is bound to be a momentous decision in 2016, now is not the time to bury one’s head in the sand. Now is the time for honest engagement.