Canadian Anglicans, meeting at their General Synod governing convention, voted by the slimmest of margins to defeat a proposal that would have permitted church blessing rites for gay couples.
However, on the same day, the synod – also by a narrow margin – agreed that such blessings are “not in conflict with the core doctrine” of the church. Much of the sixth day of the synod was taken up with debate on the two questions, with dozens of people approaching microphones in the plenary hall to voice emotional opinions.Proponents of the measure said Bible verses that seem to condemn homosexuality do not address faithful, loving relationships and that God and Christ’s love includes gay people and their relationships. They also called upon the Canadian church to show leadership and give hope to gay people in countries where they are oppressed and they noted that gay marriage is a legal reality in Canada. Clergy and bishops wanting blessings talked of widespread disobedience of a “no” vote.
Opponents said Scripture clearly says homosexuality is sinful and that a “yes” vote would cause the Canadian church to be at odds with Anglican churches in other parts of the world such as Africa and Asia. They said many Canadian Anglicans would leave the church and they needed more time to pray, consider and discuss the question.
Debate on the two questions took a total of nearly four hours and synod paused several times for silent prayer.
Concerning the blessing rites, clergy and laity voted yes, 63 to 53 and 78 to 59, respectively, but the move was rejected by the bishops, 21 to 19.
“There is disappointment – a lot of pain. Some people will be saying ‘How long, O Lord, how long?'” said Bishop Fred Hiltz of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, who is the incoming primate or national archbishop. When asked how he might maintain discipline among clergy and bishops who want to move forward, he said, “My sense is that, as painful as these realities are, we do have a responsibility to respect the decisions of General Synod. It’s not the last time this will come up.”
Bishop George Bruce of Ontario noted that in the one diocese that has gone ahead with same-sex blessings – New Westminster – Bishop Michael Ingham refused to approve the move until a 60 per cent approval was obtained at his governing synod.
Bishop Ingham, however, said the vote won’t make anyone happy. “A majority of people voted in favour. I think everyone’s a loser. 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. 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, he 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,” said Bishop John Privett of Kootenay.
However, observer Gordon Youngman, of the diocese of British Columbia, said the decision means “the Anglican Church of Canada is effectively paralyzed for the next three years.”
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. The 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.
The “core doctrine” resolution was approved by the bishops by the same margin – 21 for and 19 against. Clergy and laity voting together voted 152 for and 97 against.
Bishop Victoria Matthews of Edmonton, who chaired the theological commission, said “We heard time and again that for many people saying ‘no’ meant not at this time. We heard some people asking for theology … But we know that people on both sides of the issue, those who voted for, those who voted against leave tonight with a profound sense of sadness that the body of Christ is so broken.”
Bishop Jim Cowan of British Columbia, who voted against the motion, said he is in favour of blessings, but, “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 all on the table and bring along as many people as possible in this and I think in 2010 we can do that and we can also take it to (the Lambeth Conference of bishops) and see how many in the communion can bring it along as well.”