(Staff) WHEN THE General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada meets July 7-12 in Richmond Hill, ON, it will be after months of mounting tension over a key issue on the agenda. The last General Synod in 2013 passed a resolution requiring the Council of General Synod (COGS) to prepare a motion to change the marriage canon of the ACC to include same-sex marriage. Such a motion would require a two-thirds majority in all three houses (bishops, clergy and laity) at two subsequent meetings of General Synod. So even if such a resolution were to pass this summer, the earliest it could be ratified would be 2019.
In January, 2014, Archbishop Fred Hiltz announced a special Marriage Commission to engage in broad consultation and to deal with concerns about the proposed Resolution, including whether or not it would contravene the Solemn Declaration of 1893; provision of legal immunity for those who would refuse to participate in same-sex marriages; proposing a theological rationale for the change; and addressing concerns such a change might raise for the ACC’s ecumenical relationships.
The Commission came under criticism for not including anyone with a clear theological opposition to same-sex marriage. However, this exclusion was defended on the grounds that the goal was to prepare the way for such a resolution, not to debate its merits.
The Commission received responses from Anglicans across the church and the theological spectrum, including an Aug. 7, 2014 letter from Indigenous Canadian bishops Mark MacDonald, Lydia Mamakwa and Adam Halkett, in which they expressed their communities’ traditions of “acceptance of homosexual members,” but said that nonetheless they “see little evidence that these practices were thought to be similar to marriage.” The bishops also suggested that many Indigenous Anglicans did feel they could live with a disagreement with the larger church on this issue as long as their communities “have the acknowledged and welcome freedom to act on their own.”
On Sept. 22, 2015, the Commission released its Report, entitled “This Holy Estate.” The Report declared that such a resolution would not contravene the Solemn Declaration, and recommended conscience protections for those clergy and parishes opposed to same-sex marriage. In terms of a theological rationale, the Report suggested that Anglicans might think of same-sex marriage being “grafted in” to our current understanding of marriage, using as a metaphor the grafting in of the Gentiles to the covenant with Israel.
Having received the Commission’s Report, and keenly aware of deep divisions on the subject, the House of Bishops held a special meeting this past February. Their ensuing Statement caused surprise and concern in many quarters: they said that such a motion would not likely get the required two-thirds majority in their House. They suggested that COGS might also consider some non-legislative options to complement the proposed resolution itself. While clear that they did not intend to preempt discussion or to prevent the Resolution being brought to General Synod, the bishops said, “We have grappled with this issue for three meetings of the House, and we feel a responsibility to convey our inability to come to a common mind in discerning what the Spirit is saying to the Church.”
In response to the bishops’ statement, COGS, at their March meeting, asked the bishops for clarification and some “concrete examples” of what those non-legislative options might look like. They also affirmed a shared desire “to achieving the greatest pastoral generosity possible” and asked whether the bishops would honour the choices of individual dioceses, should a “local option” route be taken.
Abp. Hiltz told the Anglican Journal that civil disobedience could arise if gay marriage was rejected. On April 12th his comments were posted online: “If it’s not approved, then...there could be some ‘civil disobedience’ on the part of clergy and parishes, and the bishops are going to have to handle that, because all of us that are ordained make a solemn promise to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Anglican Church of Canada.”
Following the House of Bishops’ February Statement, a Facebook group called “Advocates for Changing the Marriage Canon” was started; the page has now gained over 1400 followers.
COGS is also considering how best to structure the discussion at General Synod. In a March 13th Report to COGS, the marriage canon working group proposed that two morning sessions be set aside before the vote for substantive discussion.
In addition to the contentious marriage resolution, General Synod delegates will consider several motions related to the environment and divestment from fossil fuel industries. In advance of GS, several Anglican leaders from the Diocese of Athabasca have urged the Church to also consider the impact these decisions may have on those working in the oil fields, who have already been hard-hit by the downturn in oil prices.
Indigenous self-determination will be a returning theme, with significant time taken to explore changes that might enhance this move within the Church. Simultaneous translation will be provided for those whose first language is not English. And, in a technological innovation, each delegate will be provided with an iPad. TAP
–With files from www.anglican.ca