Reflections from General Synod 2016

Published July 22, 2016

I was one of the people moved to tears on the floor of General Synod when the motion to amend the marriage canon failed to achieve the required two-thirds majority in the House of Clergy. I was in shock that, once again, the church had failed to honour the lives of so many people, created in God’s image and revealing Christ’s love in their loves. I was filled with sorrow that we, as a church, had been unable to follow the leading of the Spirit-because I do not believe that whatever happens on the floor of synod must necessarily be the will of God. God’s will and our own interact in ways far more complicated than that.

And then, less than 24 hours later, the story changed. It’s already an old story: one vote, miscounted, tipped the scales, and the just-barely “no” became a just-barely “yes.” It felt like a miracle as my weeping turned into rejoicing.

But, appealing though that story is, it’s too simple, too self-congratulatory. The truth of the matter is, almost one-third of the members of synod voted to withhold access to Christian marriage from people who love people of the same gender. That’s fewer people than it used to be, but it’s still a lot of people. And the people who feel this way use the Bible to justify their position, claiming that it is actually God doing the withholding. And the church, desiring to be inclusive and compassionate, creates space for these arguments to be heard. As a result, LGBTQ2S+ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Two-Spirited] persons and their friends and family members were subjected, yet again, to hearing people and their relationships called unacceptable; in need of disciplining; against the will of God; unnatural; abominations. They were, once again, required to put themselves on display and to make their pain and suffering available for discussion, and compete in the sad sport of comparing oppressions.

The fact that, this time, the results were happy ones (from one perspective) does not change the injustice of the process.

But what to do about the process? There is no holy-mannered and loving way to say some of the things that people felt they needed to say to this motion and, tempting though it is, I don’t think we can simply disallow debate. Avoiding the legislative process altogether risks unfairly favouring the status quo. Building a national consensus at the grassroots demands people wait too long and requires the problematic assumption that everyone will, eventually, see things my way. Allowing a diversity of practice at the local level (the actual outcome of the decision) is good and necessary but, without the weight of a national decision, can leave regional minorities in very vulnerable positions. I have no suggestions to offer-I fear that what we have is about as good as it can be.

And although I don’t believe that everything that happens on the floor of General Synod is necessarily the will of God, I do believe that the Spirit is always active there. Connections were made between people across theological differences. Questions were raised about the way in which our church is organized and the way in which we gather. Truth was revealed-the truth of people’s pain and fear; the truth of our differences and our deep need for healing. And all of that is true, regardless of whether the marriage canon was changed or not.

So I am rejoicing. But it is a careful, cautious, qualified sort of rejoicing. It is a rejoicing that knows a terrible price has been paid and that more will be exacted. There are many more painful conversations still to come about human sexuality and gender, about colonialism, about cultural difference, about the church’s role, past and present, in oppression. The challenge of living with deep, painful disagreement about how we live and how we discern the will of God and how we read our beloved Scriptures is far from over. But for today, I rejoice as I re-commit myself to the work of a priest in God’s holy, catholic and apostolic church: preaching the Good News, teaching the faithful how to read the Word of God, presiding over the sacraments as a means of God’s grace for all people and loving all those the Spirit places before me.



  • Rhonda Waters

    The Rev. Rhonda Waters is incumbent of the Church of the Ascension, diocese of Ottawa.

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