Canadian Church defers blessing decision and affirms adult same-sex relationships

The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada meeting in St Catherines, Ontario, in early June deferred for three years a decision about whether blessing same-sex unions is doctrine. The motion to allow blessings will be discussed again at the next Synod in 2007. The move pleased conservatives in Canada and around the world, who believed that the Synod had pulled back from the brink.

The following day, however, the General Synod, voted to “affirm the integrity and sanctity of committed adult same-sex relationships”. The second vote stunned the traditionalists. In a statement afterwards, nine of the 37 Canadian bishops at the Synod expressed their “regret” and “sorrow”. The bishops said that “By summarily expressing the opinion that it affirms the ‘sanctity’ of committed adult same-sex relationships,” the Synod appeared to pre-empt the work of the diocesan and provincial synods over the next three years.

The Archdeacon of Quebec, Dennis Drainville, defended the late amendment as an attempt “to indicate our belief that when two people commit themselves in a relationship that in the midst of that relationship God will be found”. Youth delegate, Robin Hansen objected: “I am not prepared to say that after 2,000 years of Church teaching we in one generation can say ‘no, you guys are all wrong and we know the truth’.”

At the close of the session, Bishop Don Harvey of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador read a statement on behalf of nine bishops: “General Synod’s opinion is in error and contrary to the teaching of Scripture and the tradition of the undivided Church.”

Archbishop Drexel Gomez, a member of the Eames Commission said that the amendment went further than the original motion in affirming “the integrity and sanctity” of same-sex unions, language that he argued “is reserved for marriage alone”. He warned that their action would “reap devastating consequences”.

Canon Gregory Cameron, secretary to the Lambeth Commission, which is considering the implications for the Anglican Communion of recent developments on issues of sexuality, had warned the Synod of the serious consequences of its debate. Primates of the global South quickly issued a statement calling for the Canadian Church to be “expelled”. Speaking on behalf of 22 Primates, the Most Revd Gregory Venables, Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone, said: “This is going against Christian teaching, and they should repent.” Archbishop Venables said: “The use of the word ‘sanctify’ means that the whole issue has already been decided and that is devastating. It’s saying that God has agreed to bless same-sex unions as the word carries the implication that this isn’t just right, but that this is God’s will and he has set it apart for the human race. “It’s rewriting the Christian faith. There’s nothing in the Bible about the sanctity of same-sex relationships. This merely confirms the sad reality of the fragmentation of the Anglican family.”

But the retiring Archbishop of Toronto, the Most Revd Terence Finlay, said that Anglicans needed to “honour the context of different provinces and dioceses”. The newly elected Primate of Canada, the Most Revd Andrew Hutchison, said that the Synod’s vote to defer deciding who has jurisdiction over blessing same-sex unions leaves the door open for dioceses to go ahead with such blessings in the mean time.

The Rt Revd Michael Ingham, Bishop of New Westminster, whose Vancouver diocese has already approved such blessings, reinforced this interpretation. “They’ve not prevented any diocese from considering the matter as they wish to do at a local level,” he said. “There is already a decision in the Toronto diocese to hold a synod [on same-sex blessings] this fall.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, had welcomed the Canadian Synod’s deferral of a decision on same-sex blessings, which he said avoided “a structural shift that would have run counter to the pleas and wishes of the Primates’ meeting last autumn.”

On the Sunday after the Synod had ended, a lesbian couple had their relationship blessed in one of Toronto’s most liberal parishes.

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