A draft resolution that will be presented to General Synod this summer changing the Anglican Church of Canada’s marriage canon to allow same-sex marriage is “not likely” to get the number of votes it needs from bishops, according to a statement sent by the House of Bishops to Council of General Synod (CoGS), and released publicly Monday, February 29.
In the course of their special meeting in Niagara Falls, Ont., last week, the bishops said, “it became clear to us that the draft resolution to change the Marriage Canon to accommodate the marriage of same-sex partners is not likely to pass in the Order of Bishops by the canonical requirement of a 2/3rds majority in each Order.”
The bishops said they felt obliged to share this information, given that CoGS, which meets March 10-13, expects to be considering the process for handling July’s vote.
“We have grappled with this issue for three meetings of the House, and we feel a responsibility to convey our inability to come to a common mind in discerning what the Spirit is saying to the Church,” the bishops said. “We share this out of respect for the considerable work that the Church has invested in preparing to debate this motion at General Synod.” They added, “We continue to wonder whether a legislative procedure is the most helpful way of dealing with these matters.”
Archdeacon Michael Thompson, general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada, said that it will be up to CoGS to decide how best to respond to the House of Bishops’ message when it meets this spring.
Regarding the uncertainty expressed by bishops about “whether a legislative procedure is the most helpful way of dealing with these matters,” Thompson said this should not be read as an attempt to undercut or circumvent General Synod’s established processes.
“The bishops understand that there is an obligation for the Council of General Synod to put a resolution before the General Synod,” he said in an interview. “I don’t imagine that they think that can be avoided.”
The bishops said discussion of the marriage canon had not been easy.
“Some of us talked of being mortified and devastated by this decision,” the statement said.
The bishops also said they recognized that the issue had brought “distress” to many people, and that their own statement would cause “deep pain…both within and beyond the Church.” They admitted to feeling “saddened that we do not seem capable of unity on this issue.”
But, they said, “We are committed to work toward the deeper unity for which Christ died, and we pray daily that God would mend our divisions,” adding they hoped to “witness the miracle of our healing.”
The bishops said they also continued to question whether the question of same-sex marriage is best handled by making changes to church laws.
“There is a desire among us to explore other options for honouring and fully embracing committed, faithful same-sex relationships,” the statement said.
“In our deliberations, we affirmed a commitment to continuing conversations and engagement with the Report of the Commission on the Marriage Canon, and to achieving the greatest pastoral generosity possible.”
The bishops said they will also “engage Indigenous and minority cultural perspectives in our Anglican family in our understanding of marriage.”
The bishops said they intended to continue “conversations and engagement” with “This Holy Estate,” the report of the Commission on the Marriage Canon released September 2015.
During last week’s meeting, the statement said, the bishops spent much time discussing the theology of marriage, as well as “our episcopal role and responsibilities as chief pastors, and as guardians of the Church’s faith, order and unity.”
One focus, the bishops said, was the relationship of bishops to the church “locally, nationally and with our Anglican Communion partners, and alongside and within synods.
“These conversations led into considerations about the nature of our relationships within the House in light of the deep differences we have on the matter of changing the Church’s teaching on marriage.”
Last week’s meeting began, according to the bishops’ statement, with a “moving and intimate” account by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, of his experience at the meeting of world Anglican primates in Canterbury, England, this January.
“In reliving these moments with him, we grew in our understanding of the complexity of relationships in the Communion, and were filled with gratitude and pride by the grace, humility and leadership provided by our Primate,” the statement said.
The bishops also said they regretted the lack of engagement across the church with the marriage canon commission’s report.
“We felt that we needed to recommit ourselves to promoting the document for study, and especially among our synod delegates,” the bishops said.
The bishops said they entered into the meeting aware that many in the church were praying for them. The meeting, they said, included daily Eucharist and Bible study using an Indigenous method.
The statement concluded with an affirmation by the bishops that they are intent on achieving a deeper unity for the church beyond the division created by debate around the marriage canon.
“Despite the pain and distress we feel at our own differences, yet we strongly affirm that we are united in striving for the highest degree of communion possible in the spirit of St Paul’s teaching of the nature of the body of Christ and our need for one another in Christ, where no one can say, ‘I have no need of you’ (1 Corinthians 12.21),” it said.
Meanwhile, a General Synod Communications story published shortly after the statement from the House of Bishops was released noted that Dean Peter Wall, planning and agenda team co-chair for General Synod, has asked members of the team to prepare a process by which CoGS will “engage” the House of Bishops’ message.
Wall also stressed that the House of Bishops’ statement does not put an end to the marriage canon process.
“I do not believe that the work of the General Synod can be pre-empted by a meeting of the House of Bishops alone,” Wall said in the statement. “It is when they meet as the Order of Bishops, in conversation with the Orders of Clergy and Laity, that bishops participate in the shared responsibility of all members of the General Synod to take a decision on this matter.”