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Friday
Dec122008

No unified voice in House of Bishops

The House of Bishops no longer speaks with a unified voice. It has produced several ambiguous statements in the past few years but at its latest gathering the statement it issued required twenty drafts. Finally, on Oct. 31st it stated that:
“a large majority of the House can affirm the following:
A continued commitment to the greatest extent possible to the three moratoria -- on the blessing of same-sex unions, on the ordination to the episcopate of people in same-sex relationships and on cross-border interventions -- until General Synod 2010. Members of this House, while recognizing the difficulty that this commitment represents for dioceses that in conscience have made decisions on these matters, commit themselves to continue walking together and to hold each other in prayer.”
The key phrase is “a large majority”--but not all.
Five dioceses and one assembly (the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior, the former Diocese of Cariboo) either allow same-sex blessings (New Westminster since 2002 in now 8 parishes) or plan to develop rites for them and allow their restricted usage (Huron, Niagara, Ottawa and Montreal).
Twenty-four dioceses would seem to be holding the line--for now. The synods of Edmonton and Saskatoon both formally rejected SSBs this year.
John Chapman, Bishop of Ottawa, said he wants to designate one parish in his diocese for SSBs. Huron voted to ask its bishop to allow SSBs. Bishop-elect Robert Bennett voted for SSBs at General Synod last year and is expected to give an affirmative answer after his consecration.
Bishop Michael Bird (Niagara) is following Chapman and Bishop Barry Clark (Montreal) in announcing his intention to proceed with developing a rite for the blessing of same-sex couples who have been civilly married. Diocese of Niagara Archdeacon Michael Patterson told the Hamilton Spectator that the blessings likely will begin in a “matter of months.”
Bishop Bird slammed the House of Bishop’s statement and meeting, expressing his “profound disappointment with the statement and the deliberations that took place.” The Niagara diocesan website reported that after Bishop Bird issued his statement the Primate, Fred Hiltz, phoned Bishop Bird and offered his “profound support.”
Hiltz told the Calgary Herald that the Anglican Church of Canada may have to agree to disagree.
“I don’t think we may ever be able to come to a consensus on this issue,” said Hiltz. “It may come down to allowing some space for local options. Then, we need to address the bigger issue of how do we live together with our differences, but do it with grace, not by condemning each other.”
Hiltz voted for the local option motion at General Synod last year. The national synod voted--albeit by narrow margins--against blessing same-sex unions as a “local option.” The vote in the order of bishops was 19 for, 21 against the local option resolution, which defeated it.
But the six are not going to hold the line—not even until the next General Synod in 2010, less than two years away--as the majority in the House had requested.
The bishops of these six jurisdictions all attended Lambeth this past summer yet are ignoring (some would say defying) the Statement of the Windsor Continuation Group that came at the beginning of the Conference. It called for a complete cessation of:
(a) the blessing of same-sex unions
(b) consecrations of those living in openly gay relationships and
(c) all cross-border interventions and inter-provincial claims of jurisdiction
The Group wrote clearly that “cessation of activity...applies to practices that may have already been authorised as well as proposed for authorisation in the future.”
But that will not stop the six.
In Anglican governance it would seem that each diocese is almost an autonomous authority. The national church elects a Primate who represents the Canadian dioceses internationally and who is a spokesperson of sorts and figurehead and hopefully holds some moral authority. But deacons and priests take vows to obey the bishops in their dioceses and bishops take vows to obey their archbishop–meaning their provincial archbishop of each of the four ecclesiastical provinces in Canada. No one takes a vow to obey the Primate.
Church laws are made at diocesan synods and General Synod. The House of Bishops can only use its power of moral suasion and collegiality to try to direct or hold a certain course. And since 2002, when the Diocese of New Westminster approved SSBs, individual dioceses seem free to run things the way their diocesan synods and bishop(s) desire, regardless of the wishes of General Synod, the House of Bishops or the global Anglican Communion (as expressed in the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates’ Meetings and by the Archbishop of Canterbury). These bodies and offices can all make recommendations but their advice seems to be ignored with impunity.
It could be argued that acts contrary to the third moratorium--against cross-border interventions--show no sign of letup. Yet most conservatives would counter that if the first two moratoria were truly honoured, the third would be totally unnecessary. The third is merely a response to the breaking of the first two and so is more a structural matter and not morally equivalent to them.
The week before the House of Bishops met, Bishop Barry Clarke told his Montreal flock: “For reasons, perhaps known only to God, I believe we, in the diocese of Montreal, are among those who have been called by God to speak with a prophetic voice....It is our voice that is called to affirm that all unions of faithful love and lifelong commitment are worthy of God’s blessing.”
In 2007 General Synod did pass a resolution that “the blessing of same-sex unions is not in conflict with core doctrine.” (The bishops voted 21 for, 19 against.) General Synod also asked the Primate’s Theological Commission to determine if the issue of SSBs “is a Spirit-led development of doctrine.”
Those bishops who favour SSBs speak of being “prophetic” and wanting to discern the moving of the Holy Spirit while those who oppose SSBs speak of being “faithful” especially to what they believe is the clear voice of God in Scripture on the issue.
All that seems to be agreed upon these days is that there are “irreconcilable differences” in both the Anglican Church of Canada and the global Anglican Communion.

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