The Anglican Journal sat down for an interview with Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, after the Council of General Synod (CoGS) concluded its special session on September 22-23 to receive the report of the Commission on the Marriage Canon. Excerpts:
What are your initial thoughts about the report?
This commission really did honour the mandate that was given to it by CoGS. The context for that mandate was clearly the resolution, the direction given by General Synod 2013 for this CoGS [to draft a motion changing Canon 21, the church’s law on marriage, “to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples.”]
One thing I so appreciated about the report was [that the commissioners] really gave full attention to the pieces of the resolution of General Synod 2013, that were by way of amendment to the resolution as it was initially presented. The amendment was around whether this [changing the marriage canon to allow same-sex marriage] is congruent with the Solemn Declaration and [to have] a biblical and theological rationale and broad consultation.
The biggest piece of the report was around the Biblical, theological rationale [for allowing same-sex marriage.] I think they’ve given us both a challenge and an invitation to go more deeply into our conversations about same-gendered relationships. I think that’s actually a gift to the church, no matter how we feel about the issue. They’ve taken us to a depth that is both needed and I think, welcomed in a number of quarters in the life of the church.
Are you referring to the three models for understanding same-sex marriage?
The three models arise out of [the commissioners’] reflection of a possible Biblical, theological rationale. I think it’s helpful that they say that to go the “undifferentiated view” [of same-sex marriage] is simply to look at it from the point of view of the law, drop “man and woman” and put whatever you want [in the rites and vows]. If we did that, we would just be in accord with the law of the land…But they’ve introduced the whole idea around marriage not just as a legal agreement… but rather as a covenant with God in the midst of it. And from that perspective they move into the model…assuming something new, which doesn’t detract from what already has been a solid understanding of marriage. Does this expand the possibilities of how we view marriage? That will be a challenge for some people, there’s no question about that. Even gays, lesbians and transgendered people who will be made to feel like the Gentiles. Although they speak to that in the footnote of the report.
You said the report takes people to a deeper level of conversation around same-sex relationships. What, in particular, are you referring to?
I think what they did with the creation passages, which are often quoted when we talk about marriage. There are stories of creation and coming out of that -ways of viewing marriage and the purposes of marriage. I think that was helpful.
I’ve always believed this – that marriage is a covenant -but the way in which they talked about marriage as covenant with God in the midst…reminds us of the sacredness of the vows that are made.
They raise the question that was also raised in the St. Michael’s Report [of the Primate’s Theological Commission] and that is, “Can we see, in same-gendered relationships, a similar working of God’s grace in the love between two people of the same gender, as we see in two people who are heterosexual?” That does push the church to really stop and think about that.
And, if one of the purposes of marriage is procreation – I think the report was incredibly honest in saying the reality is that in some marriages, for a variety of reasons, that never happens – either by choice, by reason of health or age – and people go into the marriage knowing that. The reality is that in those marriages it’s the companionship, the mutual support that one ought to have for the other… faithfulness until death – that’s what’s fulfilled…
What should Anglicans focus on when reading this exhaustive report?
The report is barely 24 hours out in the world and as I said to the Council, we’ve just seen it and we, ourselves, who have the greatest responsibility for this report have got to take some time to read it, digest it and allow it to inform our own thinking.
One of the challenges coming out of CoGS must be an invitation to the whole church for every delegate to General Synod to have been required to read the report and participate in conversations. If we have people coming to General Synod who have not read the report or have their opinion pre-formed, not having read the report, then be engaged by it, that’s not going to be helpful.
Does this report reflect the broad consultation that the General Synod 2013 resolution asked for?
There is still a broad range of opinion out there of same-gendered marriage. What’s different now is that we actually have, in front of us, a biblical theological rationale, which in a sense people can say, “we actually didn’t have that.” We had a conversation from the point of view of human rights, justice, pastoral care. But we didn’t have deep biblical theological rationale and that’s what General Synod, among other things, asked for. I think the commission delivered.
Not everyone will agree, I know that. But I do think the models present an opportunity for some good and well-informed conversation. I hope people wouldn’t just dismiss it, but that they be engaged by it. Even within that commission there’s a variety of views on same-gendered marriages. They’re not of one mind, but they took on the task that was given to them. I have no doubt that there were times during their meeting that they struggled through it. But they honoured the mandate that was given to them and that, to my mind, is the sign of a real servants of the church.
Do you have some anxiety about how this motion will be dealt with at General Synod 2016?
From the point of view of Council, as [its] chair, I’m not anxious. I think the officers wisely advised that there be a working group.
This CoGS recognizes the challenge that they have ahead of them and are quite prepared to be guided by the working group. They seem quite determined that we have as good an experience as we can at General Synod in 2016. This means we have to be really attentive to the process in a variety of ways. People have talked about this before – that we will have sufficient conversation about the resolution itself… that we’ll be engaged in the debate in a less heated kind of way, a more patient kind of way. I’m comfortable and confident that CoGS will put a good process in place for that.
What happens out there in church land and what happens in the Communion in response to this report, I have no control over that. In some ways I would be anxious about it…. I will go to the primates’ meeting in January and there will be some primates [who] will be all over me about this. I know that. But I try to, as I did today, remind people that in the polity of our church and in the decision-making of our church, here are the parameters within which we work.
In reality, as I will have to say publicly, if General Synod approves this draft resolution or a resolution to change the marriage canon, it cannot take effect until January 2020 and who knows what will happen in the meantime?
This motion, if approved, has the potential to divide the church. Is this something that keeps you up at night?
Of course, that’s always on my mind, because part of my ministry as primate is to be a focus of unity for our church. I carry that all the time. I carry that in this Council, I carry that in the House of Bishops and I carry it at General Synod.
Does it keep me awake at night? Yes, it sure does. I do not want to see the church divide over this. The St. Michael Report used the helpful language of “core doctrine” and other kinds of doctrine. Core doctrine meaning the kind that’s reflected in the creeds of the church. They [Primate’s Theological Commission members] said, in the St.Michael Report, that they didn’t believe the blessing of same-sex unions was a communion-dividing issue. I kind of think about that language still, at the back of my mind. I would hope that the church would not come apart over this.
I think there’s enough will and resolve within our church to have a good, focused, patient conversation about this. I really do feel that. I know it’s not universal, but, generally speaking, [there’s a] kind of a movement in that direction.
I worry, too, of course, about our place in the Communion and our place in ecumenical relationships. We’ve been advised by the Communion not to pursue it but to continue with local option. In other words, don’t take it a step nationally, but live as much as you can within the parameters of what you have around local option. I’m mindful of that.