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Eyes Wide Open 

(Photo: Sue Careless)

THERE ARE THREE concerns that conservative members of the Anglican Church of Canada should face soberly as they look ahead to General Synod 2019 and the Second Reading of the motion which amends the Marriage Canon to include ‘all persons who are duly qualified by civil law to enter into marriage’. First, this motion hands the church’s ability to define marriage lock, stock and barrel over to the civil authorities. Setting aside the egregious abdication of responsibility, the practical problem remains: should the civil law be further amended to include polyamory or close family marriage or other sorts of relationships that we can barely imagine at this point, that position would automatically become an acceptable form of marriage for the Anglican Church of Canada. I am reminded of one of the reasons C.S. Lewis offered for not becoming a Roman Catholic. What troubled him, he said, was that to become a Catholic meant to accept not only everything the Church has taught but whatever she might teach in the future.

Second, unlike the kind of piecemeal progression of same-sex blessings where ‘everyone did what was right in their own eyes,’ the change to the Marriage Canon will, if passed, become the official teaching of the Anglican Church of Canada. Whereas the proposed change only permits its practice with the permission of the diocesan bishop (more on this below), it still means that the teaching of the church has fundamentally altered for all members, whether they have their bishop’s permission to participate in same-sex marriage or not. While that may seem an abstraction for many clergy and laity alike, for all baptised members of the church there would be a fundamental complicity in this erroneous teaching.

Additionally, all clergy when being inducted into new posts or for various ordinations are required to pledge that they will ‘conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Anglican Church of Canada.’ If passed, this will include the new teaching on marriage. While it may be possible to deny the implications of this while remaining in a current post , I would think clergy of conscience will find it increasingly difficult to be inducted into a new parish or face other circumstances where they will have to take that oath again.
Lastly, conservative clergy continuing in the Anglican Church of Canada should take note of the lack of meaningful protection afforded in this motion, and be realistic about how quickly concern for conscience in these matters tends to dissipate.

It must be acknowledged that the motion itself contains no protection for clergy whatsoever. It would only prohibit a cleric from performing a same-sex marriage without the permission of their bishop. Now of course within the Marriage Canon there is already an acknowledgment that a minister has the discretion (not the right) to decline to solemnize any particular marriage. As any priest who has served more than a few years knows, this sort of discretion can be very difficult to exercise without some sort of canonical backstop.

Nor is this an absolute or unassailable right. As the sad events surrounding Jacob Worley have demonstrated, in Canada a bishop can simply dismiss a good priest without giving any explanation whatsoever. It does not seem beyond the bounds of the imagination that should a priest consistently refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages, the bishop may in a kind and pastoral manner remove a priest without cause, ‘for the best interests of all involved’. Additionally, it should be noted that no protection is given to the local priest should the request be made for them to step aside and allow a visiting priest to solemnize a same-sex marriage in their parish.

Moreover, it is worth noting that the toleration of persons whose conscience puts them in the minority fades very quickly. Ask priests in the ACC who object to the ordination of women. If you can find one, you will soon discover that in most dioceses they are treated as pariahs and are consistently refused posts or roles within the church to which they would be most suited on the basis that their theological commitments disqualify them from greater responsibility.

Or look at how quickly the autonomy of the diocesan bishop is being challenged in The Episcopal Church. Same-sex marriage there was only adopted in 2015, and like Canada, the diocesan bishop was to be the gatekeeper. Yet at their upcoming General Convention the task force on marriage is “proposing that convention require bishops in authority to ‘make provision for all couples asking to be married in this church to have reasonable and convenient access to these trial rites’.” What we must recognise is that for progressives this is not a matter of theological difference, it is an issue of social justice--and warriors of that camp in and outside the church will not be satisfied so long as perceived injustice remains.

I am not telling any lay or ordained member of the Anglican Church of Canada how they ought to respond should the Marriage Canon be changed at General Synod 2019, but I would urge you to have a realistic appraisal of the implications and consequences of such a change as that vote approaches.   TAP



Reader Comments (1)

It's the standard year book 'Probable Fate" category. I am reminded of an old article (2009)from First Things: "The Unhappy Fate of Optional Orthodoxy," by Richard John Neuhaus. Neuhaus prophetically asserts that, "Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed." Well worth the read -
Thanks for the warning. Lord have mercy

June 14, 2018 | Registered CommenterBrian Candow
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