June 3, 2004
Anglicans decide not to decide
Anglicans we live in a diversity of relationships, differing theological pradigms,
unique challenges and controversies. At the same time, we are on the verge of
new directions: a new strategic plan, the new agape a new primate, and, we pray,
a renewed sense of the church's unity in its diversity"
The Anglican Church of Canada's General Synod decided not to make a decision regarding whether to offer blessing for same-sex relationship. In clinging to the status quo, the delegates abandoned the Synod's theme of "new directions" and "unity in its diversity".
Same-sex relationship have already been blessed by clergy in Canadian Anglican communities, and at least one same-sex marriage has been performed by an Anglican church since last year, but the national body of the denomination has not yet affirmed the blessing of same-sex unions.
The General Synod declined to "send the right message" as one delegate put it. Instead the Synod opted for further reflection and study by deferring consideration of blessing same-sex relationships until the next General Synod in 2007. In the meantime, the General Synod will ask that the Anglican Primate's Theological Commission "to review, consider and report to the Council of General Synod, by its spring 2006 meeting, whether the blessing of committed same sex unions is a matter of doctrine."
Doctrinal changes require the approval of two-thirds of the church while liturgical matters require 51% in order to be changed.
Among clergy and laity, the decision to defer was carried by 142 people, with 118 votes against the motion. Of the Bishops, 22 voted in favour and 12 voted against the motion to defer.
Attempts to establish any other kind of value statement for same-sex couples were deferred for approval until today [the Synod agreed to "affirm the integrity and sanctity" of same-sex couples - a statement that is meant to ease the sting of last night's resolution, which still stands].
Last night, the most that could be achieved was an agreement to "Affirm that even in the face of deeply held convictions about whether the blessing of committed same sex unions is contrary to the doctrine and teaching of the Anglican Church of Canada, we recognize that through our baptism we are members one of another in Christ Jesus and we commit ourselves to strive for that communion into which Christ continually calls us."
"We've waited patiently," said Terry Finlay, Archbishop of Toronto, "I think people want some resolution on this. This is not our major issue in our church and what we're about ... we heard about AIDS and HIV in Africa, these are the issues that are consuming the world and we ought to be there. It's time to take action."
Finlay described threats of a split in the church over the issue of gay unions as "scare tactics". He said that the General Synods refusal to take a position on same-sex relationships "perpetuates an inadequate vision" that keeps the Anglican Church in a "wilderness of secrecy and hypocrisy."
"Can we have a hierarchy of believers?" asked Joyce Sanchez, who identified herself as a member of an "affirming community" in Montreal. "Homosexuals have been accused of promiscuity while being denied recognition of their committed relationships ... we are all equal members in the Body of Christ."
A person from Newfoundland said that in his community, "where 90% or more have never met an openly gay or lesbian person and there are no openly gay or lesbians ... three years from now we will be in the same place, not having discussed it."
An attempt to include "ex-gays" in a list of stakeholders who will be involved in "dialogue and study" failed (as did a counter-measure to specifically include ex-heterosexuals).
Aboriginal attendees of the General Synod spoke of the challenges of bridging a cultural divide, with one person speaking at length in Cree, explaining in English that some of the words under discussion "are foreign to us." Another man said, "These kinds of things [gay marriage] existed in our community a long time ago. We had legends about gay and lesbian people and they were stopped by the church. We were not allowed to talk about gay and lesbian people ... we will open up a can of worms with our elders. How come gay and lesbian people were evil before and they are not now [again]?"
To the General Synod's great credit, the proceedings were broadcast live over the Internet. The evening ended with a worship service that included a reading from the Bible:
"Do you not know that you are God's temple and God's spirit dwells in you?"
It was a question that was left unanswered for same-sex couples by this General Synod.