A desire to stay together as a church, despite a diverse range of understandings of what marriage is and should be.
That theme arose consistently during discussions across three sessions at the November meeting of Council of General Synod (CoGS) regarding the proposed amendment to the marriage canon.
But exactly how this “theme,” or aim, may be fulfilled is more complicated.
In a session titled “Marriage Canon: Way Forward, Next Steps” on November 25, CoGS members began to consider the potential for an acknowledgement of a variety of understandings of marriage within the Anglican Church of Canada.
At the meeting, CoGS members broke into table groups to discuss the questions, “Do you think it would be helpful if in considering the change to the canon, it would include an expression of acknowledgement of and respect for a continuing variety of understanding of marriage within the Anglican Church of Canada?” and “What might such an acknowledgement include?” All of the table groups reported back on their discussions to say that, yes, it would be helpful to name that there are different understandings and teachings of marriage.
Details of how this acknowledgement might look were more nuanced.
One group suggested that “accommodation should be made for our Indigenous brothers and sisters,” and that Indigenous communities should have the right to make their own decision on the matter.
Another group noted that as soon as accommodations are made for one point of view, questions arise about other viewpoints. “Each of us is perceived as being marginalized depending on where you stand in the story…[if] we’re saying we’re bracketing one particular group, what happens if the motion goes in a completely different direction…maybe we need to create a bracket for someone else. If we’re walking together, how are we really going to do that?” Another group said that whatever is proposed must be clearly laid out, to avoid legal challenges.
“We have to admit that we are different, we have different views…if we’re going to do this, both views have to be clear in saying this is part of the doctrine of our church… and we walk together in love.”
Another table pointed out that careful attention must be paid to language: “any acknowledgement should not include any explicit or implicit value judgment, namely that one form of marriage is somehow better or more virtuous than the other.”
This brings forward questions of how accommodations would be made, and for whom.
As another group asked, would certain communities or understandings of marriage be identified—if the Indigenous understanding was acknowledged, for instance, “which other understandings and teachings would be mentioned, and how many?”
As yet, these are questions without clear answers.
In an interview after the House of Bishops meeting in October, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said that the bishops had spent time discussing the possibility of an “amendment to the amendment” that would offer some protection to those whose views were not reflected in the outcome of the vote. Such an amendment would be worded, he said, to ensure that “people of a conservative view of marriage would feel absolutely free to continue to aspire to that view—teach it, uphold it and practice it…And then on the other side of the coin, that liberals would have the blessing of the church to proceed with same-gender marriages with an assurance that people of a conservative view understand that and respect it. And that neither is imposing their view on the other.”
In short, the amendment would “protect everybody.”
According to Canon (lay) David Jones, chancellor of General Synod, after being passed at General Synod 2016, the resolution (A051) to amend the marriage canon must go into its second reading with the same language. However, the constitution does provide that the resolution can be amended at its second reading.
“It is possible that CoGS might decide at the March meeting to send an amendment…If that were to occur, General Synod 2019 would consider that amendment in the course of giving Second Reading to A051,” Jones wrote in an email. He also wrote that one might expect the House of Bishops to consider this as well, at its meeting in early January.
National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald presented a detailed explanation of the views of many Indigenous Anglican communities on the topic of marriage to CoGS in November, adding yet another layer of nuance to the discussion. After this presentation, Hiltz suggested that there may be opportunities to hear more, both from those who hold a traditional view of marriage and from LGBTQ members of the church, before the 2019 vote.
Some in the church have lamented the need for a parliamentary system at all for the issue. Certainly, it is a tender subject. As much as it can be said that this is an issue of doctrine, it can equally be seen as an issue of humanity, and many hurts are still felt after the synod in 2016.
Yet others see the benefits of this system.
Jones, speaking at CoGS in response to MacDonald’s presentation, said that he is “not discouraged at all by our legislative process,” saying, “There is some wisdom in the declaration principle that requires two readings at two successive General Synods,” which gives the church the opportunity to “listen and hear” the concerns of different groups.
“We have to at some point make a decision, but how do we do it in a way that recognizes our differences and keeps us together?” he asked.
One can imagine an alternate version of the process, more formal and judicial. Informed by the primate’s emphasis on “good disagreement” and “holy manners”—on not only what is proposed but the way it is proposed—the path that instead has been followed is one that privileges the pastoral and the emotional, community and interpersonal relationships.
Obviously, what interested parties will be watching is whether prioritizing “walking together” as a church will yield a proposal that strengthens its unity by giving voice to the diversity of its body, or one that leaves no one feeling particularly satisfied.