Some members of General Synod, including the bishops of the diocese of the Arctic Darren McCartney (middle) and David Parsons (right), walk out of the plenary hall after it was declared that the same-sex marriage motion had passed first reading. Photo: Art Babych
General Synod “erred grievously” in its approval, earlier this week, of a resolution allowing same-sex marriages, a group of seven bishops say.
In a statement released Friday, July 15, the bishops said they “publicly dissent” from the decision, which, they add, “imperils our full communion within the Anglican Church of Canada and with Anglicans throughout the world.”
The statement, a copy of which was sent to the Anglican Journal, also called on the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby “to seek ways to guarantee our place within the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican Communion.”
Hiltz was not available for comment when contacted by the Journal.
The statement was signed by Bishop Stephen Andrews, of the diocese of Algoma; Bishop David Parsons, of the diocese of the Arctic, and Suffragan Bishop Darren McCartney, also of the diocese of the Arctic; Bishop Fraser Lawton, of the diocese of Athabasca; Bishop William Anderson, of the diocese of Caledonia; Bishop Michael Hawkins, of the diocese of Saskatchewan; and Bishop Larry Robertson, of the diocese of Yukon.
Twenty-six bishops, or 68.4%, voted in favour of the motion to change the church’s marriage canon to allow for same-sex marriages, and 12 voted against.
In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Lawton said the bishops were concerned that “there may be a relearning of how we relate to one another, and that some things that were always givens may not be so now.”
Asked to specify what he meant by this, Lawton replied, “I don’t think at this point we can say much more than that. I think there will be a time of thinking deeply what the relationships are between perhaps Anglicans within Canada—bishops, dioceses, individuals—and it’s an unknown at this point what that will look like.”
In their statement, the bishops reaffirm their commitment to the Anglican Church of Canada, as well as to the Church Catholic and the Anglican Communion. They also reaffirm their commitment to “the scriptural, traditional and catholic definition of marriage as the lifelong union of one man and one woman as set out in both the Book of Common Prayer and the Book of Alternative Services.”
The bishops declare that they “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.”
The statement begins with a declaration that “the entire process, beginning with the hasty vote in 2013 and concluding with the vote and miscount this week, has been flawed and inflicted terrible hurt and damage on all involved.”
The bishops also say that the declared intentions on the part of some bishops to immediately proceed with same-sex marriages, before the required second vote on the resolution in 2019, is “contrary to the explicit doctrine and discipline set out in our constitution, canons and liturgies.”
“That raises the question…why did we bother voting at all, if the decision was already made?” said Lawton. “There are a whole pile of pieces that cause some concern. We truly hope there’s a way to address some of these as we look forward to 2019.”
In passing the resolution, the dissenting bishops said, General Synod “has taken a further step in ordaining something contrary to God’s Word written,” in addition to endangering its relationship with the worldwide Anglican Communion.
In the aftermath of General Synod’s vote, Lawton said, “It’s clear there are some very different understandings around doctrine, around Scripture, around what it means to consult, around what it means to be a catholic church, what it means to engage with the process, what is the place of apostolic tradition...It puts on the table in quite a visible way that what we have always understood those relationships to be might now in fact be changing, and we don’t know what that looks like. And that’s true within Canada, but it also has that same impact on other members of the Communion, [and] with other members of the whole church.”
The bishops say they do not believe the resolution in its current form provides enough protection for “the consciences of dioceses, clergy and congregations.”
In particular, Lawton said, the bishops are concerned about congregations and clergy who don’t agree with the decision, but may find themselves in dioceses that strongly support it.
“Do they have a place? What will be there for them?” Lawton asked.
Lawton said that they are asking the primate and the Archbishop of Canterbury for “concrete and real ways” that a good relationship could be forged between Anglicans who felt “marginalized and sidelined” and the rest of the church.
“Is there a sense that those who disagreed with the decision that was made are even welcome in the church anymore?” he asked. “It’s one thing to make some statements, but the question is the action. So it’s often been said, ‘We want everyone at the table,’ but for some time the responding question is ‘Why?’
“If there’s not going to be a true engagement and a true welcome, then it makes it pointless to pretend to participate in process.”
Lawton also said, the entire House of Bishops noted in February that the legislative approach—a vote on an actual change to the marriage canon—by its nature “set us up essentially for an antagonistic environment.”
Many people opposed to changing the canon, he said, felt sidelined by the lead-up to the vote. And the vote itself left questions unanswered for many people, he said.
“I don’t think it went well, and I think it reflects badly on us,” Lawton said. “There are just a whole pile of things that, in retrospect, don’t make a whole lot of sense, and sadly, it leaves us in the place where I think a lot of people left thinking, ‘What the heck happened?’ ”
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Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.
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