Council of General Synod members spent considerable time in table groups and in plenary to discuss whether or not to ask General Synod, which meets in Halifax in 2010, to change the marriage canon.
Council of General Synod (CoGS) wrestled with the blessing of same-sex unions and marriage when it met here May 8 to 10 and in the end decided not to ask General Synod 2010 to amend the marriage canon to allow for the marriage of same-sex couples.
The discussions focused on responding to two new documents produced by the Primate’s Theological Commission and the faith, worship and ministry committee. There was also a report about an international dialogue about sexuality that was initiated between Canadian dioceses that have taken steps toward the blessing of same-sex unions and some dioceses in Africa. CoGS responded in a written statement, “A Word to the Church on Questions of Human Sexuality from the Council of General Synod Meeting, May 2009.”
Bishop Linda Nicholls, chair of the Primate’s Theological Commission, explained that the Galilee Report was written in response to a request from General Synod 2007 to consult with dioceses and parishes and report prior to General Synod 2010 on two points:
Bishop Nicholls said that the commission was able to reach a consensus on the second point and its conclusions are summarized in one page. However, the commission could not reach consensus on the first question. Members of the commission “come from a diversity of positions on the questions we are facing,” said Bishop Nicholls, and they felt that the commission’s struggle reflected the broader struggle in the church.
“So, as the commission looked at the work it had done in writing papers to address its own internal conversation, we began to realize that maybe the best thing we could do was summarize that work and present those papers to the broader public,” she said, noting that the papers are only the opinion of the person who wrote the paper, but the Galilee Report “is a consensus document of the process.”
The commission has posted the report on the Anglican Church of Canada’s Web site and will post the papers by the end of June. Commission members are inviting individuals and groups to respond by Dec. 1, 2009. They will be incorporated into a report to General Synod.
Rev. Isaac Kawuki-Mukasa, co-ordinator for dialogue: ethics, inter-faith relations, and congregational development for faith, worship and ministry, reported on a new program of conversations initiated between Canadian dioceses and dioceses in Africa.
General Synod 2007 asked the faith, worship and ministry committee to “engage the church in conversation on the broad issue of human sexuality in all of its complexity, using the lenses of scripture, reason, tradition and science,” Mr. Kawuki-Mukasa said.
Within Canada, focus groups gathered information about the kinds of problems that people are interested in having a conversation about in their local communities, and an online resource is being created.
Another project involves Canadian dioceses that have taken steps towards the blessing of same-sex unions writing letters that explain how they arrived at the conclusions they did and then the dioceses in Africa receiving those letters, studying them and responding about their own views of the situation. Mr. Kawuki-Mukasa says the hope is that direct conversations will help to counteract the “demonization of the other” that tends to happen on both sides.
So far, these international conversations include Toronto and Mauritius; Niagara and Central Tanganyika, Dar es Salaam; Ottawa and Rift Valley, and there is interest from more dioceses.
CoGS devoted more time and debate to the Rothesay Report, which is the response from the faith, worship and ministry committee to a request from CoGS in March 2008 to prepare “a theological rationale to allow for the marriage of all legally qualified persons,” (later clarified as referring specifically to the marriage of same-sex couples). General Synod 2007 requested that CoGS “consider a revision of Canon 21 (on marriage) including theological rationale to allow marriage of all legally qualified persons and report back to General Synod 2010.
The report was introduced by Janet Marshall, chair of the committee, who said that, although the committee has a “long history of being dedicated to, and invested in, preparing materials on behalf of General Synod to resource the church’s controversial discussions and discernments regarding issues of marriage and sexuality,” its members found this request problematic. Some committee members found themselves preparing an argument for a change they would profoundly disagree with personally, she said. Some were uncomfortable creating a rationale for only one side of the argument, she added.
But Ms. Marshall noted that “one of my own convictions is that, in order to truly begin to understand each other, we need to be able to clearly, carefully and fairly articulate the position of those people with whom we most profoundly disagree.” This happened on the committee, she said. “Rothesay is an answer to General Synod’s and CoGS’s request for a theological rationale for the change to the marriage canon to allow for the marriage of same–sex couples. It is not a recommendation. It is not the opinion of members of FWM. It is now for CoGS to discern what is to be done.”
CoGS members discussed the report in small groups, and in a plenary session on Saturday. Opinions were diverse and many possibilities for responses and alternatives were discussed. Some of the concerns of CoGS members echoed concerns of the committee – the Rothesay report was not complete and more resources would be needed for General Synod to make an informed decision; it represents only one side of the argument; or could be perceived as an agenda from CoGS.
CoGS agreed on the text of a written response, “Word to the Church of Questions of Human Sexuality from the Council of General Synod, May 2009,” posted on the church’s Web site, www.anglican.ca.
The first point, which states that the CoGS “reached a consensus that this is not the time to ask General Synod to amend the marriage canon” was discussed at length, with some members suggesting that it should include an expression of “regret” that this is not the time. Archbishop Fred Hiltz remarked that while some members might feel regret, others would not, and decided that the language must remain neutral.
CoGS commended the Galilee Report to the church for study but noted that more work is required to clarify distinctions between blessing and a nuptial blessing, as well as among marriage, the blessing of a civil marriage and the blessing of a union. CoGS also asked for more information on the “theological significance of blessing the civil marriage of a same-sex couple.”
CoGS asked that the Rothesay Report be expanded to “include a broader spectrum of theological thought on the question of the marriage of same-sex couples.”