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Canada: Bishops’ statement ahead of Synod’s same-sex marriage vote

Posted on: March 1, 2016 11:20 AM
In 2013, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada passed a resolution directing that a motion be brought to this year’s meeting to change Canon XXI on Marriage to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples. Following discussions, the province’s bishops have issued a statement saying that the motion is unlikely to receive the required two thirds majority in the Order of Bishops.
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Related Categories: Bishops, Canada, marriage, sexuality, statement, Synod

Section 25b of the constitution of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada allows for the House of Bishops to communicate with the Council of the General Synod on any matter, the secretary of the House of Bishops shall transmit such communication in the name of the Primate.

On Monday, general secretary Michael Thompson, on behalf of the Right Reverend Donald Phillips, secretary of the House of Bishops, sent the following statement to the members of the Council in the name of the Primate.

The Canadian House of Bishops met in Niagara Falls 23-26 February 2016 in a special session dedicated to a discussion of matters relating to the upcoming gathering of the General Synod where proposed changes to the national Marriage Canon will be considered.

The meeting began with a moving and intimate account of our Primate’s experience of the Canterbury gathering of the Primates of the Anglican Communion in January. In reliving these moments with him, we grew in our understanding of the complexity of relationships in the Communion, and were filled with gratitude and pride by the grace, humility and leadership provided by our Primate.

While in our last meeting we considered in some detail ‘This Holy Estate’, the report of the Commission on the Marriage Canon, we regret that there has not been much engagement with this document across the Church since that time. We felt that we needed to recommit ourselves to promoting the document for study, and especially among our synod delegates.

We spent a considerable amount of time discussing the theology of marriage and our episcopal role and responsibilities as chief pastors, and as guardians of the Church’s faith, order and unity. We concentrated on the relationship of the bishop to the Church locally, nationally and with our Anglican Communion partners, and alongside and within synods. These conversations led into considerations about the nature of our relationships within the House in light of the deep differences we have on the matter of changing the Church’s teaching on marriage.

In our exploration of these differences it became clear to us that the draft resolution to change the Marriage Canon to accommodate the marriage of same-sex partners is not likely to pass in the Order of Bishops by the canonical requirement of a 2/3rds majority in each Order. Some of us talked of being mortified and devastated by this realisation. We feel obliged to share this with the Council of General Synod as they give consideration to the process for handling this resolution at General Synod. 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. We share this out of respect for the considerable work that the Church has invested in preparing to debate this motion at General Synod. We continue to wonder whether a legislative procedure is the most helpful way of dealing with these matters.

We have been conscious that the presence of this motion has brought distress to some, and we acknowledge the deep pain that our statement will cause both within and beyond the Church. And we are all saddened that we do not seem capable of unity on this issue. Nevertheless we are committed to work toward the deeper unity for which Christ died, and we pray daily that God would mend our divisions. Our hope is not in ourselves, but in Christ, and so we are committed to staying together that we might witness the miracle of our healing.

In our deliberations, we affirmed a commitment to continuing conversations and engagement with the Report of the Commission on the Marriage Canon, and to achieving the greatest pastoral generosity possible. There is a desire among us to explore other options for honouring and fully embracing committed, faithful same-sex relationships. We will also engage Indigenous and minority cultural perspectives in our Anglican family in our understanding of marriage.

The meeting was entered into in the grateful consciousness that a great many in the Church were praying for us and it was framed by daily Eucharist and Bible study using ‘Gospel Based Discipleship’, an Indigenous way of praying the Gospel. We have discovered a richness in our sharing and a timeliness in our readings that we believe is evidence of God’s Spirit at work in our midst.

Despite the pain and distress we feel at our own differences, yet we strongly affirm that we are united in striving for the highest degree of communion possible in the spirit of St Paul’s teaching of the nature of the body of Christ and our need for one another in Christ, where no one can say, ‘I have no need of you’ (1 Corinthians 12.21).

Response from General Synod officials

[Anglican Church of Canada] Earlier today [Monday], the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada sent a communication to members of the Council of General Synod (CoGS). . . The communication takes place within the context of a continued engagement of the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) in consideration of same-sex relationships going back at least 40 years.

More recently, the meeting of the General Synod 2004 adopted Resolution A134 affirming the sanctity and integrity of adult same-sex relationships. This resolution also affirms the crucial value of continued respectful dialogue and study and that all bishops, clergy and lay leaders be instrumental in that dialogue and study.

In 2010, the meeting of the General Synod adopted a statement acknowledging the diversity of practice across the Anglican Church of Canada regarding the blessing of committed same-sex relationships.

Then at the General Synod in 2013, the conversation moved from blessings to marriage. Resolution C003 mandated that General Synod “direct the Council of General Synod (CoGS) to prepare and present a motion at General Synod 2016 to change Canon XXI on Marriage to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples, and that this motion should include a conscience clause so that no member of the clergy, bishop, congregation or diocese should be constrained to participate in or authorize such marriages against the dictates of their conscience”. C003 also requires that the resolution include supporting documentation such as theological rationale and evidence of broad consultation.

Michael Thompson, General Secretary of the General Synod, spoke to any possible confusion about the responsibility of the CoGS to forward a resolution for the consideration of General Synod. “C003 was clear in requiring that a resolution proposing a change to the Marriage Canon to accommodate same-sex marriage be placed before General Synod in 2016. CoGS established a commission – chaired by the late Canon Robert Falby – to bring a report to the church. The Council of General Synod has received the report, This Holy Estate. It includes a draft resolution, the text of which will be reviewed by the Council of General Synod at its meeting that begins next Thursday, March 10.”

Dean Peter Wall of the Diocese of Niagara, co-chair of the Planning and Agenda Team for the Council, noted that he is asking members of the Planning and Agenda team to convene by teleconference to develop a process by which CoGS might engage the communication from the House of Bishops. In his additional role as Chair of the General Synod Planning Committee, Wall also affirmed that all the members of the General Synod, including the Order of Bishops, will be asked to listen to one another with care in preparing to address the resolution. “I do not believe that the work of the General Synod can be pre-empted by a meeting of the House of Bishops alone. It is when they meet as the Order of Bishops, in conversation with the Orders of Clergy and Laity, that bishops participate in the shared responsibility of all members of the General Synod to take a decision on this matter.”

In response to the House of Bishops’ call to increase engagement with the Report of the Commission on the Marriage Canon, the General Synod will be providing further opportunities and resources for members of the Church to consider the Report.