When the Council of General Synod’s (CoGS) received the Commission on the Marriage Canon’s final report, ‘This Holy Estate,‘ during a special session in Toronto on September 22, delegates were quick to express questions and concerns over how the information in the 65-page report would be disseminated.
The Rev. Norm Wesley, Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) representative to CoGS, explained that there are those in his community who do not read English. Was there a possibility for a translation?
For others, such as Jennifer Warren of Ecclesiastical Province of Canada, the concern was about how much freedom CoGS members had to express their own views on the matter in conversation and on social media-a concern echoed by Lieutenant Colonel the Rev. Mark Torchinsky of the Anglican Military Ordinariate of Canada.
Bishop Linda Nicholls, a member of the commission, said she hoped “that COGS members would say to people…please read the report, and please remember that the decision lies with General Synod in 2016.” As for translations, she said this conversation is already underway with the secretary of General Synod, Archdeacon Michael Thompson.
These were not, however, the only concerns. The question of the conscience clause-which would allow bishops and priests who did not support changes to the marriage canon to opt out-was also one the generated a lot of dialogue. Some expressed concern that there would be a “time limit” on it, and that, in time, conservative clergy would be coerced into performing same-sex marriages, while others were critical of the fact that no such exceptions would be made for liberal clergy in a conservative diocese.
Speaking to the Anglican Journal after the presentation, Nicholls said it was imperative for Anglicans across the country to digest the report and understand the arguments it is making and why it is making them.
“If we don’t have a good theological foundation for what we do, then we just skate across the surface and we don’t understand it, and we don’t ground it in a place where it will take root and live,” she said. “It’s well that people understand that marriage is a serious thing; if you’re going to be married in a church, whether you’re a same-sex couple or not, that calls for some deep thinking about what your marriage is intended to show to the world.”
Nicholls also stressed that the report does not suggest ways of changing the definition of marriage as it is currently laid out in church law. Rather, it is looking at changing those parts of the marriage canon that restrict marriage to male-female relationships.
“We’re talking about the same vows, the same purpose, and the same definition of marriage. None of that has changed,” said Nicholls.
She went on to explain that in the view of the commission there are five main points which define Anglican marriage: permanence, monogamy, faithfulness, covenant (as opposed to contract), and the three-fold purpose of help and companionship, the procreation and raising up of children if it may be, and sexuality.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has also commended the report “for wider study” across the church. ““The report is very comprehensive and reflects the commitment of the members to address General Synod 2013’s Resolution C003 in its fullness,” he said in a message posted on the church’s website, anglican.ca. “The Commissioners take us into a deep exploration of the theology of marriage and present several models for understanding same sex marriage.”
Given that the Canadian church already affirmed the “integrity and sanctity” of homosexual relationships at its General Synod in 2004, the commission said its report accepted that the current definition of marriage could be expanded to include same-sex couples.
The full report is available at the Canadian church’s website, and there will also be a summary of the report in question and answer format available for study.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story identified Marc Torchinsky as a Major rather than a Lieutenant Colonel.