A motion to allow members of General Synod to abstain from voting, even if they do not have a conflict of interest, has raised questions among some Anglicans about why such a move was thought necessary and whether it will affect the outcome of the vote on same-sex marriage scheduled to take place July 11.
According to rule of order 18a in the General Synod Handbook, all members of synod are required to vote for or against the motion unless they have a material conflict of interest. But in the Friday morning session, the rule was suspended for the duration of synod by a vote of 159-54.
Given the projected closeness of the vote on marriage, several Anglicans took to social media following the passing of the motion to question the legality of the decision, and to speculate as to who will benefit when the vote takes place.
Concerns about the inability of members to abstain from voting for reasons other than conflict of interest were first raised at the March 2016 meeting of Council of General Synod (CoGS), in which Bishop Lydia Mamakwa, of the Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, and Bishop of Missinipi Adam Halkett refused to vote on a motion to send the resolution on the marriage canon from CoGS to General Synod.
Mamakwa and Halkett said that as Indigenous bishops, they had a responsibility to elders in their dioceses who had asked them not to get involved with the marriage canon resolution in any way.
However, when asked whether or not the motion to change the rules around abstention had come from the Indigenous bishops, National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald said he didn’t think it was, though he acknowledged that the events at CoGS had “sharpened people’s thoughts” on the matter of abstentions.
Instead, he thought it was a courtesy being offered to anyone in synod who didn’t want to be forced to vote yes or no.
“I think as a kind thing to everybody, to give people that opportunity so that people didn’t either have to fake being away or that sort of thing-I think it was an attempt to be generously kind to people,” he said, alluding to the most common avenue within the current rules to avoid participating in a vote.
General Synod chancellor Canon (lay) David Jones, who moved the motion to suspend the rule, gave a similar account.
“It was not an Indigenous motion…it was much broader,” said Jones, noting that other individuals had expressed concerns over resolutions not related to the marriage canon.
Jones noted that while Mamakwa and Halkett were the first to raise red flags about 18a, it became apparent that others shared the same concerns about other resolutions-hence the decision to suspend the rule for the whole meeting of synod.
Any abstentions will not be part of the vote count in cases where a two-thirds majority is required, said Jones in response to a question from the floor of synod.
According to the chancellor, rules disallowing abstentions are unusual in church organizations, and it is not clear why the ban on abstentions was originally introduced.
Indeed, it has raised questions in the past, with the caveat allowing abstentions for those with a conflict of interest having been introduced in the 1980s, and Jones said the issue of whether or not to permanently remove the ban from the rules of order of the General Synod will be referred to the governance working group in the next triennium.
With files from Tali Folkins