Resolution will surely change face of church

Published April 1, 2004

When it finally came, it seemed anti-climactic.

There, in typically bureaucratic, church-style vernacular, was the resolution that could change the face of the Anglican Church of Canada.

To be sure, the language of the resolution masks the storm that preceded it and gives little sense of the dramatic changes the church will face if it passes at General Synod in just a few months:

“Be it resolved that this General Synod … affirms the authority and jurisdiction of any diocesan synod, with the concurrence of its bishop, to authorize the blessing of committed same-sex unions.”

The resolution would give dioceses the so-called “local option” to decide for themselves if they wish to offer blessing rites to couples of the same gender.

The words are harbingers of a very uncertain future, yet they sound and feel so innocuous. (But then, this is generally a polite church where bishops, albeit furious at interference from foreigners in matters of jurisdiction, use civil, understated words like “regrettable,” “unfortunate” and “saddened.”)

It is doubtless that the church faces upheaval, regardless of the decision reached by General Synod. A vote in favour of the local option will quite possibly see individuals, parishes, and perhaps dioceses realign themselves with like-minded Anglican networks; some will leave the denomination entirely. A vote against the motion does not guarantee that the matter is dead; it may simply mean that the church would face yet another three years of dialogue and parishes and dioceses would find themselves paralyzed by indecision about how to carry on with the work of the church.

Now, it should come as no surprise that General Synod will decide on the matter of same-gender blessings. As stated in our coverage of the recent meeting of the Council of General Synod, conservatives and liberals alike were united in the view that it is time to “seek the mind of the church on this matter.”

The decision, however, goes against the recommendations of the consultants at Linda Graff and Associates, who had been hired by the national church to perform a country-wide survey of Anglican opinion on the issue.

They suggested another three years of study and dialogue, with a vote at General Synod 2007.

The consultants noted they had heard “compelling arguments in support of the critical need for resolution of this issue and the associated perils of putting off a decision (any decision),” as well as equally compelling cautions against a decision now.

While they concluded that the matter of the treatment of same-sex blessings must “go beyond the boundaries of discussion and dialogue” – in other words, the church has to decide something – they heeded the call from Anglicans at the parish level for more information and dialogue.

For many, the call for more dialogue will bring utter exasperation. Indeed, it has been remarked that Anglicans seem to be utterly obsessed with sex. Some think we talk of nothing else, since sex is the only subject putting an Anglican blip on the secular media radar screen these days.

Church newspapers, this one included, carry so much news about matters of sexuality and same-sex blessings that one wag suggested the Anglican Journal would soon have to be mailed out in a plain, brown wrapper.

As unbelievable as it may seem to Anglicans who feel as though they have been talking about sexuality for decades, Ms. Graff and her consultants found that Hearing Diverse Voices, Seeking Common Ground, the national church’s 1995 study guide on homosexuality, had not been made use of in many parishes “for varied reasons.”

Some people and parishes that had opportunity for discussion intentionally ignored the resource material and the discussion entirely, the consultants noted. More time for dialogue will mean little to these Anglican groups. As the Graff report acknowledges, “providing opportunity for understanding and dialogue will not guarantee participation and involvement. Many of those who have avoided or bypassed previous opportunities for dialogue will do the same again.”

It will, however, be increasingly difficult for parishes in the coming months and years to ignore the matter of same-sex blessings. If the local option resolution passes, a second motion calls for the faith, worship and ministry commission to prepare resources for the church to use in addressing issues relating human sexuality, including the blessing of same-sex unions and the changing definition of marriage in society.

The ground beneath us is shifting.

Now is not the time to duck and cover.


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