General Synod members discuss three questions at their tables, including what marriage means to them. Photo: Art Babych
Richmond Hill, Ont.
Discussion on a proposed resolution to change the marriage canon to allow for same-sex marriages began at an evening session of General Synod Friday, July 8.
After an introduction to the report of the commission on the marriage canon presented by some members of the commission, General Synod members, seated at roughly 30 tables, were asked to discuss three questions with the others at their tables: What is your overall impression of the report? What does marriage mean to you? Has your understanding of marriage changed in your lifetime?
They were asked to observe eight “norms” as they proceeded with their discussions, including granting the sincerity of each other's beliefs, including their reverence for the Bible; recognizing that people of diverse sexual orientation are present; valuing inclusion and aiming for increased mutual understanding; and asking “no questions that we are not prepared to ask ourselves.”
Members were also asked to jot down any questions or requests they had for clarification. At the end of the session, they passed these questions in to be answered by members of the marriage commission, or, if necessary, by the chancellor of General Synod.
The session began with a brief introductory statement from Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. Hiltz also read a greeting recently sent to General Synod from Francisco Moreno, presiding bishop of the Anglican Church of Mexico, which included an assurance that the Mexican church was praying for its Canadian counterpart.
Three members of the marriage commission—Linda Nicholls, coadjutor bishop of the diocese of Huron, Canon Paul Jennings and Stephen Martin—then each explained aspects of the report and the process by which it was written.
Nicholls told General Synod that some people had falsely accused the report of simply endorsing C003, the resolution to change the marriage canon.
“Some have said this is simply a rubber stamp of C003, but I can assure you that each of the commissioners arrived at this task with a deep concern to address this question seriously and theologically,” she said.
Jennings said the commissioners had assumed three "non-negotiables” in their writing of the report: the authority of Scripture; the church’s definition of marriage; and the fact of homosexuality.
Since General Synod 12 years ago already affirmed the sanctity of adult, committed, same-sex relationships, 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.”
The commission also examined what it understood to be central elements and purposes of a Christian understanding of marriage, to consider whether these could be applied to same-sex unions, Martin said. The elements, he said, are covenant, discipleship and sacrament; the purposes are companionship, procreation and sexuality. The commission concluded same-sex unions could also be said to contain these elements and fulfill these purposes, he said.
One option the commission found made the most “theological sense” of the C003, Martin said, was the idea of a “differentiated marriage” for same-sex couples that would include special liturgy, rather than an “undifferentiated” form of marriage for everyone.
Martin ended his presentation by specifying that the commission was not arguing in favour of changing the marriage canon to allow same-sex marriages, since this was General Synod’s decision to make.
“Our conclusion, to say that it is theologically possible...is not, of course, to say that it is theologically desirable. There may be reasons why General Synod would choose not to make this change,” he said. “It can be done. That doesn’t mean that it should be done.”
At the end of Friday’s session, Hiltz commended the commissioners for their work, a job for which, he said, they had set their own considerable differences aside for the larger goal.
“We knew as they were appointed they were not all of one mind on this matter, by any stretch,” he said. “I think what’s so incredible, and this is not the first time we’ve seen this sort of thing in the life of our church...[is that] irrespective of their own particular views on the matter of same-sex marriages in our church, they have worked together and served the church.”
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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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