With a decision on same-sex marriage approaching at the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod this summer, a national social media-based group has formed to push for a “yes” vote.
Advocates for Changing the Marriage Canon, a Facebook group, was formed in the week following the release of a statement by the House of Bishops February 29, in which the bishops announced that they would not be able to muster the two-thirds majority vote required to approve a change to the church’s marriage canon to allow same-sex marriages.
The bishops’ statement triggered widespread reaction among pro-same sex marriage Anglicans that suggested the need for an online community, says the Rev. Mark Kinghan, parish priest and incumbent at St. George’s Anglican Church in Toronto, and one of the group’s founders.
“I just recognized in conversations-primarily online-with friends and colleagues that there was a lot of emotion around the communiqué that had come out, and around where the church was at the moment, and how we were moving forward,” Kinghan says. “I just recognized a desire to have a place where that could happen together.”
From its initial 25 members, the group has grown to more than 500, he says. It includes clergy and lay people, he says, from Newfoundland to British Columbia.
“It really grew organically,” Kinghan says. “It was people passing it along to other people that they knew would be interested, and has grown via that means.”
In their statement, the bishops say it became “clear” to them during their special meeting in February that a draft resolution to allow same-sex marriage is “not likely” to get the number of votes it needs from the Order of Bishops, which currently has 39 members.
But Kinghan says that changing the minds of enough bishops to allow a two-thirds majority is “certainly a possibility” as far as the group is concerned.
“Some members of the group have taken to writing personal letters to each of the bishops, telling their story and why they support this,” he says.
In an Anglican Journal article published days after the release of the bishops’ statement, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he believed roughly a third of the church’s bishops were in favour of changing the marriage canon, a third were opposed and another third were “really wrestling” with the issue. Many, he said, had given a great deal of thought to other alternatives, which are expected to be discussed at the spring meeting of the House of Bishops April 4-8.
Once the group had grown to more than 100 people, Kinghan says, he reached out to Anglicans across Canada to join him as administrators of the group. The group’s seven administrators include Dean Peter Elliott of the diocese of New Westminster, one of the Anglican Church of Canada’s most prominent openly gay clerics.
This week, the administrators sent a letter to the House of Bishops, to draw the bishops’ attention to the existence of the group and its desire that the marriage canon be changed.
“We understand that there are those whose conscience may well exclude them from participating in the solemnization of matrimony between Christians of the same gender, but there is confusion as to why this must prevent those [who] are called to offer sacramental marriage to same gender couples from moving forward,” the letter states.
Advocates for Changing the Marriage Canon is a closed Facebook group, which means that only members can visit it. To become a member, one must either be invited or approved by a group administrator.
The group’s closed status was intentional, partly so that members would feel able to speak freely without fear of judgment, Kinghan says, and partly because its objective is not to be a forum for pro- and anti- debate on the issue.
“It has a specific purpose, and those who are part of it are part of it because they believe in what the group is about,” he says.
One member of the group, the Rev. Kevin Robertson, rector of Christ Church Deer Park in Toronto, and a delegate to General Synod 2016, says the House of Bishops’ statement “reminded many of us that the clergy and lay people don’t have the same opportunity to meet in large numbers for discernment and dialogue” as the bishops do. But social media help overcome this disparity by providing laity and clergy a means of networking, he says.
“For me personally, the Facebook group reminds me of the huge number of advocates and allies in this movement,” he says. “As a gay cleric, it’s reassuring that this is not just ‘our’ struggle.”
Meanwhile, also following the release of the bishops’ statement, 98 parishioners at Christ’s Church Cathedral in Hamilton, Ont., signed a jointly- written letter to the House of Bishops reacting to the bishops’ statement.
“We are deeply disappointed in the quality of leadership of the House of Bishops in this issue,” states the letter, a copy of which was sent to the Journal. “Given the consensus of support among lay and clergy Anglicans, the communiqué raises troubling questions about the nature and legitimacy of authority in the church.”