Same-sex questions still vex Synod

Published July 3, 2007

In decisions that will lead to varied interpretations over the next three years, General Synod 2007 agreed that blessing rites for gay couples are “not in conflict” with core church doctrine, but refused to affirm the authority of dioceses to offer them.

Delegates from across the Anglican Church of Canada also voted to study revising the marriage canon (church law) to allow priests to marry all legally qualified persons. In Canada, marriage for gay people has been legal since 2005.

The issues surrounding homosexuality were present at each of the four full business days of the seven-day synod, held June 19-25. The most controversial vote concerned diocesan authority – known as the “local option” – with clergy and lay delegates voting yes, 63 to 53 and 78 to 59, respectively, but with bishops voting no by a slim margin – 21 to 19.

“There is disappointment – a lot of pain. Some people will be saying ‘How long, O Lord, how long?’ I have my own personal position, as you know, but my responsibility is now to work with this decision. There needs to be a pastoral response. We have a very divided church,” said Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the newly-elected primate, who voted in favor of both motions. “I will try and reach out pastorally to those who are disappointed.”

Bishop John Privett of Kootenay said, “It was a vote to continue the (worldwide Anglican) Communion conversation and it was a vote of support for those bishops who said we will face difficulty in our dioceses. It puts us in a position of being asked to wait.”

[pullquote]It was the first time the question of blessing ceremonies had come to a vote before a triennial General Synod. In 2004, the question was deferred to a theological commission, which found that the matter touches upon church doctrine, but is not “core,” in the sense of concerning essential truths such as the divinity of Christ. Synod also voted to accept the commission’s findings.

“I am not upset. The tide is moving (toward approval). The first motion (concerning doctrine) makes a theological space for gay and lesbian people in the church,” said Ron Chaplin, a synod observer who is a member of the Ottawa branch of Integrity, a gay Anglican support group.

Bishops approved the “core doctrine” resolution by the same margin – 21 for and 19 against. Clergy and laity voting together voted 152 for and 97 against.

Bishop Jim Cowan of British Columbia, voted against the “local option” and was widely seen as one of the swing votes. He said, “I think there are people who know that I’m in favour of same-sex unions, but that I’ve been asking for the theological rationale. For it to be an issue of justice, justice is a theological issue, let’s name that and get that on the table and bring along as many people as possible in this.”

The conservative Essentials group said the “core doctrine” decision means that “nothing now stands in the way of these blessings continuing in the (Vancouver-based) diocese of New Westminster and being introduced into dioceses throughout Canada.” Since 2002, New Westminster has allowed its parishes to perform same-sex blessings.

“This General Synod has created confusion and ambiguity. By its action – and lack of action – the church has clearly signaled that it does not value walking with the global Anglican Communion,” Essentials said in a statement, adding that the primates (national bishops) of Anglican churches have asked for a moratorium on same-sex blessings.

Bishop Michael Ingham, of New Westminster, said the vote pleased no one. “Traditional Christians can’t take comfort in the vote and those who want to move on are held back by a small number of bishops,” he said. “I think we need to look at the composition of the house of bishops and whether it properly reflects the Anglican Church of Canada. There is a predominance of bishops from rural areas while the Canadian church is predominantly an urban church.”

Synod also voted – again by a narrow margin – to seek further study on the issue of “whether the blessing of same-sex unions is a faithful, Spirit-led development of Christian doctrine.”

An amendment proposed by Bishop Cowan expanded the area of study to include “Christian sexuality through the lens of Scripture, reason and tradition in the light of current scientific understanding.” The resolution called on the Primate’s Theological Commission to undertake the work, but supporters said the whole church must also engage the question.

The motion for further study and conversation was passed by clergy and laity, 129 to 99 and by the bishops, 19 to 17.

“This provides a way for this badly-divided church to dialogue about these important matters,” said Martin Taylor of the diocese of Montreal. George Power of British Columbia said, “What I heard (on the permission issue) was not a ‘no,’ but a ‘not yet but very soon.’ This will encourage people who are opposed and need to start a process of discussion.”

“We are asking to develop a process to engage the church,” said Bishop Cowan, who said the conversation must include human sexuality as a whole.

Opponents said the church has already produced many studies on the topic in the last 30 years. “We don’t need another study on human sexuality. There are libraries on this topic. We need people to read them,” said Bishop Ingham, who added that the theological commission was intended to “stimulate theological thinking,” not be a “theological watchdog.”

Among other motions touching on the issue, synod also defeated calls that the issue be decided by a greater margin than usual – 60 per cent or 66 per cent. The usual synod rule – a simple majority of 50 per cent plus one – applied, although a tie would have defeated a motion. The addition of a “conscience clause” that would have protected clergy and parishes who do not agree with same-sex blessings was also defeated.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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