Our divided bishops: Sympathy and regret

Published December 1, 2002

It might be possible – or relatively easy – to feel sympathy for the house of bishops’ failure after three days of discussion, to come to a consensus on the issue of same-sex blessings. However, it is equally possible to deplore that failure and to regret the decision the bishops made to pass the matter along to General Synod at its next meeting in May, 2004. Having failed to agree, they may well have felt that passing the thorny issue on was the only course left to them. But it is no less regrettable because of that.For one thing, May 2004 is a very long time for such a damaging and divisive issue to be left festering and eating away at the fabric of the church. It is also a very long time for gay people, who seek acceptance of their commitment to life partners and to the Anglican church, to be left hanging. Many gay Anglicans might have preferred to receive even a negative answer from the bishops rather than no answer at all. Now, they face yet another long delay with no assurance that General Synod will be any more effective at resolving the issue any better than the house of bishops was. An 18-month deferral, moreover, can only result in the hardening of positions and continued erosion of solidarity within the church.In this context, we note with some relief the retirement at the end of October of Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, who, in his last months in office, may have done more than any other person alive to raise the New Westminster decision to a level where it acquired the real potential to divide the church. Even so, 18 months is a long time for the Anglican Communion abroad to be looking at the Canadian church askance, wondering what we will do, what will happen. It is sad to note that nothing the Canadian church has done in the past decade has garnered as much international attention as has New Westminster?s decision to bless same-sex unions. Bishop Caleb Lawrence of Moosonee was most perceptive among his fellow bishops when he noted that he had grown old in the house of bishops while issues of sexuality were being debated. (Bishop Lawrence, when elected in 1979, was the youngest bishop in the communion.) We can only speculate about the extent of the division in the house of bishops. We can only speculate about the quality of the debate. We are reduced to speculation because the bishops? deliberations on this issue were almost entirely in camera, expect for a small part at the end when they debated the adoption of a ?statement to the church? which was subsequently made public. This was not surprising; Canadian bishops have a propensity to move to closed sessions when addressing sexual issues. We will not revisit the advisability of the bishops holding this debate in private, other than to express regret about our resultant inability to weigh and assess for ourselves the arguments that were made, the tone of the debate and the extent of what the bishops themselves described as deep division. And so, the issue goes to General Synod. Eighteen months from now. It joins on the agenda the assessment of the intentional listening process initiated in 2001 and the resultant Environics surveys of Anglicans, the formulation of a strategic plan to replace the one adopted in 1995, the denouement of the residential schools legal tangle and what that will bode for the future, the Marigold report on what is to follow the age of residential schools, and the myriad other issues, resolutions and memorials which make up the life of this gathering. This too is the General Synod that will likely be charged with the selection of a new primate. It was not, in other words, exactly a light agenda even before the issue of same-sex blessings was added to it. It would be most unfortunate if the single issue of same-sex blessings, important as it is, were allowed to overwhelm General Synod either in the energy required to deal with it, or the time it takes to dispose of it. This will, in many ways, be a seminal General Synod, one mandated to chart a post-residential schools course for the church and to decide who will lead it. Until General Synod addresses the same-sex blessings issue and comes to its own conclusion (yet another failure to come to a resolution is too painful to contemplate), we are left in an all-too-familiar quandary, with theologians, would-be theologians and lay people with no theological background expressing their deep convictions among themselves and on our letters page. We are left with the realization that the issue is so difficult that our leaders themselves cannot agree. And regardless of which side of the debate one takes, one must be left with deep compassion and regret that homosexual Anglicans have once again been told to wait a little bit longer while their church decides what to do with them. The amazing thing in this, proof, perhaps, of God?s grace, is that so many of them have waited faithfully for so long, their pain intact, their status in the church in doubt, while people who clearly do not fully grasp what they are about, determine on their behalf if they are part of or peripheral to the church of God. Some of our sympathies may well go to the divided bishops and to Caleb Lawrence who will, alas, grow older yet in this debate, but our hearts go to homosexual Anglicans, people of God no less than heterosexuals, whose patience has been tried beyond belief and yet who remain with us still.


Related Posts

Skip to content