Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh spoke against the motion.
(Photo: Sue Careless)
By Sue Careless
A motion to solemnize same-sex marriage that passed by one clergy vote at its General Synod has revealed just how deeply divided the Anglican Church of Canada is today.
Moreover, pastoral letters from its Primate and several bishops sent within days of synod closing on July 12 only confirm that the Church is not of one mind.
Several bishops who had voted in favour of the motion declared they would proceed with performing same-sex rites immediately in their dioceses, even though the motion has only passed first reading. (They had also said they would proceed even when, during synod, it originally appeared the motion had failed.)
In his pastoral letter of July 14, Primate Fred Hiltz urged members “not to walk apart but together” while seven bishops issued a statement the next day saying “We believe our General Synod has erred grievously” and that they “publicly dissent from this decision.”
Luccasie Nakoolak, Diocese of Arctic, with Inuktitut interpreter at the mic speaking against the motion.
(Photo: Sue Careless)
The 234 delegates of General Synod met July 7-12 in Richmond Hill, Ontario, just north of Toronto.
Even though the ACC was thought to have narrowly defeated the motion on July 11, a recount the next day confirmed that the motion had in fact passed. The error was discovered Tuesday after delegates requested a detailed hard copy of the electronic voting records.
The stunning reversal occurred in the last hours of General Synod. There were concerns that some of the electronic clickers delegates had been using to vote had not functioned. Three members stood up to say their votes had not been recorded during the Monday vote.
“That is an issue of concern,” said Archbishop Fred Hiltz. “We cannot leave this synod with this kind of confusion.”
Because the motion to change the marriage canon was considered a matter of doctrine, it required a two-thirds majority (66.67%) in all three orders — lay, clergy and bishops. It appeared that the clergy failed to reach that threshold by the narrowest of margins (0.44%)—by one vote that was later revealed to not have been counted.
Laity voted most strongly in favor of the motion: 78 to 30 or 72.22%.
In addition to the apparently unrecorded votes, it was also discovered that the vote of the Rev. Michael Thompson, General Secretary of General Synod, had been mistakenly coded. (Initially, it was thought his vote had been miscoded as a lay vote, but later it was clarified that he had been listed as “clergy, non-voting.”)
When the error was discovered Hiltz then declared that the resolution in favor of same-sex marriage had passed.
The approval of bishops is essential for any change in doctrine in churches of the Anglican Communion. In a statement earlier this year, the bishops had written that they did not expect such a measure to pass in their order. As it turned out, 26 bishops voted for the motion and 13 opposed it.
(The name of the National Indigenous Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, did not appear on the hard copy of the voting record but MacDonald confirmed that he had in fact voted to oppose the motion.)
Resolution A051 R2
The original motion included a conscience clause that permitted congregations, bishops and synods to ‘opt out’ if the motion passed. The amendment, which passed, leaves the matter solely in the hands of the diocesan bishop. (Clergy were told that they would still be able to exercise their prerogative in Canon Law with regards to whom they choose to marry, but many are concerned about how this will play out now that the original conscience clause has been removed.)
The motion declared “that Canon XXI (On Marriage in the Church) apply to all persons who are duly qualified by civil law to enter into marriage.” And “A minister may only solemnize a marriage between persons of the same sex if authorized by the diocesan bishop.”
Terms such as “man and woman” or “husband and wife” were either dropped or changed to “parties to the marriage.”
The change would come into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, if it passes on second reading at the next General Synod in 2019.
Despite this synodical need for a second reading, a number of bishops have stated they will authorize same-sex marriage rites in their dioceses within the next few months, following advice given publicly at synod by its Chancellor David Jones.
Leading up to Synod
General Synod passed a resolution in 2013 requiring the Council of General Synod (CoGS) to prepare a motion for adding same-sex marriage to the church’s canon.
Although same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada since 2005, no Anglican jurisdiction has approved such rites.
Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference still stands in Canada. That resolution says “homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture” and that the Anglican Communion’s bishops “cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same-sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same-gender unions.”
In August 2015, the three Indigenous Canadian bishops — the Rt. Rev. Adam Halkett, the Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, and the Rt. Rev. Lydia Mamakwa — wrote a public letter to the Commission on the Marriage Canon, which had been authorized to write the proposed canonical revision and offer a theological rationale. The three bishops expressed their communities’ traditions of “acceptance of homosexual members,” but said they “see little evidence that these practices were thought to be similar to marriage.
Halkett, MacDonald and Mamakwa also suggested that many Indigenous Anglicans believe 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.”
Members of the Commission on the Marriage Canon addressed General Synod July 8.
Because General Synod 2004 had already affirmed the “sanctity of adult, committed, same-sex relationships,” commission member Canon Paul Jennings said, “we did not see it as our job to reopen the debate as to whether homosexuality is fundamentally sinful or whatever — that is no longer the teaching of our church. I realize that for some of you this might seem unsatisfactory, but it was not the question before us.”
Stephen Martin explained the commission’s rationale, which centered on a theology of marriage as a covenant, a form of discipleship, and sacramental. The purposes of marriage, he said, are companionship, procreation and sexuality. The commission concluded that all three purposes could be met in same-sex marriage, if Synod defined procreation as including adoption.
“To say such a change in the Marriage Canon would be theologically possible, is not to say it would be theologically desirable,” Martin said.
The commission’s report, ‘This Holy Estate,’ presented three models for incorporating covenanted, same-sex relationships. The commission endorsed “differentiated marriage” for same-sex couples that would include a special liturgy, rather than an “undifferentiated” form of the marriage rite for everyone.
Table discussions at General Synod
General Synod delegates seated at about 30 mixed tables discussed three questions: What is your overall impression of the report? What does marriage mean to you? Has your understanding of marriage changed in your lifetime?
The mixed table grouping meant strangers representing different ethnicities, geography and languages are thrown together. English is not the first language for many Indigenous delegates. Some wondered whether more cohesive diocesan groups with established friendships would promote more open discussion.
Delegates were asked to observe eight norms as they proceeded with their discussions, including granting the sincerity of each other’s beliefs; assuming all had a reverence for Scripture; recognizing that people of diverse sexual orientation could be present; valuing inclusion; aiming for increased mutual understanding; avoiding abusive language; and asking no questions that they were not prepared to answer themselves.
For two hours on Saturday morning and again on Monday morning, larger mixed “neighborhood groups” of 24 people discussed the same questions, plus some new ones:
What is your personal hope for this motion? What is your fear?
Does the proposed conscience clause create sufficient space for you? Does it adequately respect your conscience?
Some people will be leaving this Synod disappointed or upset. What will be the cost to you or your church community if this is you?
What do you feel we need to talk about or do to ensure we can walk together after the vote?
Notably absent were any questions about what the Bible says regarding Christian marriage and how the Church has understood it.
Nor did the questions address how the larger Anglican Communion, as well as other Canadian churches and ecumenical partners, might be affected by such a change to the marriage canon.
The Rev. Karen Egan, who helped write the questions, said they were intended to “minimize pain and distrust between delegates who have differing opinions on the issue.”
“Understandings are very subject to change, but what is to be understood, be it marriage, baptism, faith or death, would not thereby also be subject to change,” wrote Roseanne Kydd, chairwoman of the Anglican Communion Alliance, in a paper analyzing the discussion questions. “An underlying fallacy is at work if to say ‘My understanding of marriage has changed in my lifetime’ were to lead to ‘Marriage also should change in my lifetime.’”
Such a momentous decision, Kydd wrote, needs to address “Scripture, Reason and Tradition, with appeals to studies about marriage, statistics and experience where relevant. Perhaps one’s greatest fear is that Scripture not be accorded its proper place as the Church’s ultimate authority.” She said that dwelling on personal inclinations left little room for discussions of moral truth.
Other church leaders speak
The 41st General Synod was addressed by the national leaders of three church bodies all of which permit the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of openly gay or lesbian clergy: National Bishop Susan Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada; United Church of Canada Moderator Jordan Cantwell; and Bishop Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.
Johnson, Cantwell and Curry all avoided discussing the resolution itself, only suggesting that it was a “challenge” and emphasizing that they would stand with the ACC no matter what its decision. Yet their very presence at the podium gave silent encouragement to the change side.
Representatives of ecumenical partners, such as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which have specifically advised the ACC against changing the marriage canon, were present in the observers’ gallery, but none were granted the high profile of the podium before the full plenary as were Johnson, Cantwell and Curry.
Curry made no mention of the fact that in January The Episcopal Church had been disciplined at the Primates’ Meeting for its decision last summer to bless same-sex marriage. Nor did he or the Canadian primate mention that similar consequences could follow for other churches that acted unilaterally.
Primates of the Anglican Communion suspended the Episcopal Church from full participation in the life and work of the Anglican Communion for three years. TEC lost its “vote” in meetings of pan-Anglican institutions and assemblies, but preserved its “voice,” demoting the church to observer status.
Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary-General of the Anglican Consultative Council, spoke, strongly denouncing the criminalization of homosexuality that plagues many parts of the world. He also warned that concluding that same-sex marriage was theologically possible—“would be difficult to receive” for other parts of the Communion.
But he gave no warning of any suspension being meted out by the Primates if the vote carried, as had happened to TEC.
One Canadian bishop who is a new member of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Rt. Rev. Jane Alexander, bishop of Edmonton, did not seem overly concerned about a similar suspension falling on the ACC. Her diocese already blesses same-sex unions and she voted in favour of the marriage canon change.
She told The Anglican Planet that while the Anglican Consultative Council “received” the Primates’ Meeting’s report on TEC’s suspension, the Council did not “endorse” it.
Monday’s debate and evening vote
The vote came after a five-hour legislative session July 11, during which more than 60 delegates spoke passionately but respectfully for and against the motion. Thirty-eight spoke for the motion, twenty-three spoke against, one sought a clarification.
Several of those in favour of the motion self-identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender Anglicans. The Rev. Allison Courey of the diocese of Rupert’s Land said that after being rejected as a lesbian by her own family she found acceptance in her new family in the Anglican Church of Canada and looked forward to participating in all its sacraments.
Youth delegate Jordan Sandrock of the diocese of Ottawa identified as a transgender person who was “neither male nor female. I am your sibling in Christ.” He continued, “God created gender and sexuality as a spectrum.”
Almost all of the 19 Indigenous delegates at synod spoke against the motion.
The Rev. Luccasie Nakoolak of the Arctic, who had been raised in the Anglican faith, told the synod, “I fear many of my own people will be leaving the Anglican Church if this motion passes. There is nothing in Scripture that allows this [same-sex marriage] to be sacred.”
Bishop David Parsons, of the diocese of the Arctic, summarized in a pastoral letter July 15 that Inuit delegates had asked synod, “Why, after three hundred years of sharing the Bible with us, are you wanting us to turn from the Bible’s teaching on marriage? We will not turn!”
Two mothers, one whose son was gay and the other whose daughter was a lesbian, said they loved their children “unconditionally” but would still vote against the motion.
More youth delegates than in recent synods spoke supporting a traditional view of marriage.
In fact, if there had been a separate order for youth (there was not; they were grouped as laity) the motion would have failed to reach a two-thirds majority. Of the 25 youth delegates, 15 voted in favour while 8 opposed, so the motion would have been defeated by a single vote.
When it was announced (mistakenly) Monday evening that the motion had been defeated, the Primate called for two minutes of silence and then announced he would stay afterwards to console any who wished to stay behind. As originally planned, evensong followed.
Then to almost everyone’s surprise and before the session was formally closed, the Rt. Rev. John Chapman, bishop of Ottawa, moved a motion calling for a “reconsideration” of the vote because of its closeness. This would not be a recount but a new vote.
His motion, which also required a two-thirds majority by the synod voting as a whole, was narrowly defeated, with 64.3 percent in favor of a new vote.
Finally, at nearly 11 p.m., the session was closed and delegates, some weeping, left the hall. As he had promised, Hiltz remained for some time to comfort some of the delegates.
Overnight: Two dioceses proceed
During Monday night two bishops issued statements saying they would in fact allow same-sex marriages in their dioceses, in line with the legal advice of David Jones, General Synod’s chancellor. Jones said earlier that defeating the motion did not prohibit same-sex marriage.
The Rt. Rev. Michael Bird, Bishop of Niagara, quoted the chancellor’s judgment that the marriage canon “does not contain either a definition of marriage or a specific prohibition against solemnizing same-sex marriage.” Moreover, “Anglican conventions allow bishops to authorize ‘liturgies to respond to pastoral needs within their dioceses, in the absence of any actions by this General Synod to address these realities.’
“Accordingly, and in concert with several other bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada, it is my intention to immediately exercise this authority to respond to the sacramental needs of the LGBTQ2 community in the Diocese of Niagara,” Bird said.
He would authorize two liturgies approved by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention (The Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage and The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 2) for use in his diocese.
The Rt. Rev. John Chapman, Bishop of Ottawa, made a similar promise: “It is my intention, in consultation with and in partnership with a number of other diocesan bishops, to proceed with same-sex marriages immediately within the Diocese of Ottawa.
“While no clergy will be required to officiate at a same-sex marriage, those willing may do so with my permission. This is a pastoral decision that is necessary at this time in our history as a diocese and as a church.”
In a videotaped statement, The Most Rev. Colin Johnson, Archbishop of Toronto, was inclined in the same direction.
While most of the synod delegates returned to their hotel rooms believing same-sex marriage would not be allowed in the Anglican Church of Canada, they awoke to learn of these new diocesan developments.
This follows a similar pattern regarding same-sex blessings. Since 2002 the blessing of same-sex civil unions has occurred incrementally in more than a third of Canadian Anglican dioceses, although General Synod has never formally authorized such blessings.
Today, 11 of 30 dioceses, plus the Territory of the People (formerly A.P.C.I. and before that the Diocese of Cariboo) and the Anglican Military Ordinariate, permit such rites.
“Our work is not yet done,” a somber Hiltz said Tuesday morning. He said Bird, Chapman and Johnson had the “prerogative” to authorize same-sex marriage in their dioceses.
The Primate then called for the delegates to hold diocesan table discussions to address the question: What now: pastorally, prophetically and structurally?
Bishop Alexander, of the diocese of Edmonton, brought a motion to the floor Tuesday morning to “reaffirm the 2004 General Synod statement on the integrity and sanctity of [committed, adult] same-sex relationships.”
“The church is hurting, and this might be a way of sending a message of support,” she said.
However, Bishop David Parsons, of the diocese of the Arctic, said he was frustrated that affirming the integrity and sanctity of same-sex relationships was equated with being pastoral. “I will not approve this,” he said. “[But] I will be pastoral to everyone.”
The reaffirmation passed 157-45 in favour.
Bishop Larry Robertson, of the diocese of Yukon, announced at the end of the morning session that he found the legislative system so divisive that he would cease voting.
“I cannot participate in a decision-making that pits soul against soul, brother against brother,” he said. “I will neither vote yea or nay, and I will not be abstaining. I will not participate in the decision-making; I will participate in this House as a bishop of this church, I will continue to proclaim the gospel.”
Tuesday afternoon’s recount
Just after 3pm on Tuesday afternoon the Primate announced that, after a recount, the motion to permit same-sex marriage had passed.
It was then that Bishop William Anderson of the diocese of Caledonia and Bishops David Parsons and Darren McCartney of the diocese of the Arctic walked out, accompanied by some of their diocesan delegates.
In the explanations from head table that followed, there was no reference to the pain many were feeling. There was even laughter at one point. And then, immediately after Michael Thompson’s apology for the voting error, the Primate proceeded with some routine synod business.
This was in contrast to the silence that followed the motion’s initial defeat, and the Primate’s insistence that the planned morning agenda be suspended so that the synod could ask the ‘What Next?’ question. It is telling that ‘What Next?’ was never asked again.
The Primate was taken to task by Bishop Robert Hardwick, of the diocese of Qu’Appelle, who had voted in favour of the motion:
“Last night, as a diocese, we sat in this room until just about everyone left. As a diocese, we prayed for everyone who stayed in this room. I don’t see that same concern being shown to those who might be feeling pained, disappointed, shocked,” he said.
Hiltz did apologize before the closing Eucharist and invited those assembled to join in a couple of minutes of silence.
“I neglected to invite us into a time of silence before God and one another, and to remember those whose lives are in turmoil now, because of a different outcome,” he said. “I need to say to synod, and particularly to those who feel that I was insensitive this afternoon, that I apologize, and I hope you will forgive me.”
A number of Indigenous members of synod were not on hand to hear his apology, as they were downstairs in prayerful grief.
Monday evening there had been tears among many of the gay and lesbian delegates and their supporters when the resolution was thought to have failed. Tuesday afternoon the tears flowed among many in the Indigenous community and beyond who had opposed the motion.
On Thursday July 14, the Primate issued a pastoral letter entitled “Forbearing one another in love” in which he made no mention of the bishops who were moving ahead with same-sex marriage rites. He said he wants “to encourage much more engagement with people who identify as LGBTQ2S” but makes no mention of engaging further with the many Indigenous people and others who opposed the change to the marriage canon.
Instead he requested more translations (one assumes into Oji-Cree and Inuktitut) of at least the executive summary of ‘This Holy Estate,’ which critics felt lacked a sound theological base.
Hiltz continued: “More than ever we must make efforts not to turn away from one another but rather to one another, not to ignore but to recognize one another, not to walk apart but together.”
Statement from seven bishops
The next day, seven of the 13 bishops who had opposed the motion issued their own statement “To all the faithful in the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican Communion.” They stated unambiguously:
“We absolutely condemn homophobic prejudice and violence wherever it occurs, offer pastoral care and loving service to all irrespective of sexual orientation, and reject criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.”
And then they continued:
“In passing resolution A051 R2 the General Synod has taken a further step in ordaining something contrary to God’s Word written and imperils our full communion within the Anglican Church of Canada and with Anglicans throughout the world. We believe that our General Synod has erred grievously and we publicly dissent from this decision. Resolution A051 R2 represents a change to the sacrament of marriage inconsistent with the Scriptures and Apostolic Tradition of the Church Catholic and the Book of Common Prayer. This would be a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of the Anglican Communion on the doctrine of marriage. Sadly, this complicates relationships within the Anglican Church of Canada and as a Province with the Anglican Communion.”
They noted that several fellow bishops have vowed to proceed with same-sex marriages immediately, even before the second reading in 2019. They were also concerned that there is inadequate protection for the consciences of dioceses, clergy and congregations, writing, “We are concerned for all those of a traditional conscience on marriage within the Anglican Church of Canada.”
They concluded: “We call on our Primate and the Archbishop of Canterbury to seek ways to guarantee our place within the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican Communion.
Now it remains to be seen how the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council, as well as thousands of Anglican Church of Canada members across the country, will respond.