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In July, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada passed, on first reading, a resolution that if approved on second reading at the next General Synod in 2019 will make changes to Canon XXI [church law] on marriage, allowing religious weddings for same-sex couples.
The question now is: what happens in the next three years? Some bishops have indicated that they will begin allowing same-sex marriages. Others have dissented from the action of General Synod. This situation raises many questions. However, just one is being asked here: what principal attitude should the church have in preparation for General Synod 2019?
All institutions, the church included, have rules, both official and conventional, to help govern their interactions, internally and with others. The rules of order in a debate are meant to prevent the boisterous and bully from taking control and winning, if for no other reason than through sheer noise and bravado. Rules of order allow for calm, rational and widespread sharing of thoughts and arguments. At least, that’s the theory.
The church, like any gathering of people, needs rules to regulate fair decision-making. Sometimes, a decision is so important, or involves a significant change in doctrine or canonical law, that extra and overwhelming criteria are imposed to ensure that it is a product of true commitment, rather than a whim. In the Anglican Church of Canada, a resolution to change the canons needs to be carried by a two-thirds majority in each of the three orders-bishop, clergy and laity-at two consecutive General Synods.
The motion to change the marriage canon achieved this. It was not a close vote-69.5% of the members of General Synod voted in favour of the resolution. That’s 19.5% higher than the 50% plus 1 that is normally expected in a democratic institution.
There are those who would argue that the church is not a democracy, but the Body of Christ in the world, with Jesus Christ as head. True; however, neither is our church a dictatorship. We have put into place reasonable and fair rules to help us collectively discern the will of God in the life of our church. There is no one person ruling the church. It is our collective responsibility to use Scripture, tradition and reason to help discern the will of God in our lives today. We have no option but to take seriously the idea that God’s Holy Spirit might be calling the church to a new thing-a new thing that is reflected in the overwhelming majority of prayerful, careful members who voted yes on the resolution to change the marriage canon.
It is inappropriate, at this point, for people to oppose the action of General Synod regarding same-sex marriages. The responsibility now lies with those who voted “no” to honestly consider if, in fact, the Holy Spirit is leading our church in a new direction.
The imperative to maintain the unity of our church now rests with the 30.5% to move away from their positional stance. It is destructive and discouraging to the whole church if this continues to be a debate about the merits of full inclusion of every person regardless of their sexuality. That issue is settled.
Is the Anglican Church of Canada ready to allow same-sex marriages in the church? The mechanisms we have, and that we’ve agreed to, for deciding the will of God in these matters has said “yes.” The dissenting bishops, and every delegate to General Synod 2019 who might be leaning toward voting “no,” ought to assume an attitude that acknowledges that same-sex marriages might in fact be God’s will. Genuinely accepting this possibility is the way forward for the whole church. All members of General Synod 2019, regardless of which way they lean on this issue, should hold the same attitude prayerfully in their hearts and minds.
This is not the time for any one group to shore up delegates or badger them into voting one way or the other. Such disrespect for due process is not appropriate. This is a time for all of us to open our hearts and minds to the working of the Holy Spirit. The principal attitude that our church needs for the next three years is one of respectfulness for the affirmative and overwhelming decision of General Synod 2016.
John Clarke is archdeacon of Prince Edward Island region, diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.