Sexuality issues, including whether dioceses may decide for themselves whether to allow the blessing of same-sex unions, will be decided by General Synod through resolutions requiring the approval of a 60 per cent majority of the members of the order of bishops, laity and clergy or 60 per cent of dioceses if a vote by diocese is requested, the Council of General Synod (CoGS) has decided.
A committee examining the issue told CoGS that if General Synod accepts the conclusion of the Primate’s Theological Commission that the blessing of same-sex unions “is a matter of doctrine, but is not core doctrine in the sense of being creedal,” any move to allow same-sex blessings would require the adoption or amendment of a canon (church law). A canonical change requires a two-thirds majority vote of each order at two successive synods.
But after agonizing hours of discussions at their meeting March 8 to 11, a majority of CoGS members decided that a canonical change “set the bar too high,” and would create an impasse in a church already exhausted with the divisive issue that has dragged on for decades. They opted for the “resolution route” rather than the “canonical route.” There were only two dissenting votes.
This means that a resolution deferred in 2004 that “this General Synod affirm the authority and jurisdiction of any diocesan synod, with the concurrence of its bishop, to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions” would only require the approval of 60 per cent of the voting members of bishops, laity and clergy.
But while CoGS has chosen to settle the issue of same-sex blessings through resolutions, any member of General Synod can still propose that it be dealt with “canonically,” said Ronald Stevenson, chancellor or legal advisor to General Synod. The only requirement is that a delegate must give 30 days’ notice about his or her intent to the national church’s general secretary before General Synod begins June 19 in Winnipeg. In the absence of such a notice, a canonical change is still possible if rules are suspended during session.
Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, expressed support for the resolution route saying, “I want this present synod to make a clear decision rather than a course that will put it off for another three years. Going the canonical route will do that.” He added: “Another three years doesn’t do us any good. In the eyes of the Communion we will have crossed the Rubicon and what damage has been done will have been done.” He said he was not convinced that “we are dealing with a matter of doctrine except that all we do as Anglicans is related to doctrine; this is a matter of pastoral discipline.”
Archbishop Hutchison had suggested the 60 per cent majority vote, instead of a simple majority of 51 per cent, which some CoGS members said could give the impression that the sexuality issue was not being dealt with seriously. Canon James Robinson, of the diocese of Calgary, voted against the resolution route saying it would be viewed as “inadequate or rushed and will only compound divisions” in the church. “It’s important that we treat this canonically. To set the bar less would be unjust to the church and the communion,” he said, noting that the issue of remarriage of divorced persons had required a canonical change.
Another resolution approved for presentation to General Synod requests the next CoGS to consider revision of Canon 21 (on marriage) including theological rationale to allow marriage of all legally qualified persons and to report to the next General Synod (2010).