The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada will meet in July 2016 in Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto. General Synod includes all active bishops in the church, the Primate and various officers of General Synod, and lay and clergy delegates from each of the 29 dioceses, one territory, religious orders, and the military ordinariate (i.e. chaplains serving with the Canadian Armed Forces). General Synod meets once every three years, and serves as the governing body of the very decentralized confederation known as the Anglican Church of Canada. I am one of the clergy delegates from the Diocese of British Columbia (i.e. Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands) elected at the last Diocesan Synod; we’ll be sending three clergy, three laity, a youth delegate and our Bishop to Richmond Hill.
The General Synod will be considering a motion to amend the marriage canon to explicitly allow for the marriage of same-sex couples. Because this is a matter of doctrine and worship, it is required to have a 2/3rds majority in each of the houses of laity, clergy, and bishops. If it gets this, this is considered “First Reading”; it is then sent off to the ecclesiastical provinces and dioceses for feedback, and it will be considered for Second Reading at the next General Synod in 2019. Only then will it take effect.
A Commission was asked to draft the motion after considering the theology of the change and also how it relates to certain historical documents, such as the Solemn Declaration of 1896. Several hundred submissions were made to the Commission. People who are interested in a full exposition on the issue should read the report (and not just because I am quoted in it!).
The House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada met in Niagara Falls recently. They issued a statement which 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.”
Several Bishops have responded to this statement:
- Bishop Logan McMenamie of the Diocese of BC
- Bishop Geoffrey Peddle of Easter Newfoundland & Labrador
- Bishop Michael Bird of Niagara
- Bishop John Chapman of Ottawa
- Archbishop Colin Johnson of Toronto and Moosonee
None of these further statements seem to suggest that the result would be other that what the sense was at the Niagara Falls meeting. But I’d like to take a contrarian view and say that it is still quite possible that the vote could still get the necessary 2/3rds in the House of Bishops. Here’s why.
- The Statement was the result not of a straw poll or a vote, but a sense after some discussion that the necessary 2/3 was not present. The Primate suggested that 1/3 was in favour. 1/3 was opposed, and the other 1/3 was in between. That 1/3 in between may just move to affirm by the time of the actual vote a General Synod. There are some indications that this is happening.
- Voting at General Synod will be electronic, with each delegate voting using a wireless device. These “clickers” are effectively anonymous in a way that voting in the old days was not – up until the last General Synod when votes needed to be counted members stood up or held a hand up to signify their votes. The anonymity of the voting process may encourage some wavering bishops to vote their conscience in favour.
- The meeting did not have the full complement of bishops. Some were absent. Those who were absent are thought to be in favour. So the sense of the meeting in Niagara Falls may have not represented the level of support.
- There will be at least three new bishops at General Synod, and this will change the dynamics somewhat.
- Informal efforts to lobby those bishops on the fence have begun. Lobbying does actually work, which is why so many people do it with politicians.
It is sometimes said that people have been discussing this issue for so long that everybody has made up their minds and have dug the trenches to defend their positions. In my experience this is not true. I know any number of laity and clergy who have shifted from being opposed or ambivalent about same-sex marriage to being in favour of it (I don’t know anyone who’s gone the other way). They say a week is an eternity in politics, and five months is likewise a long time in church.
For these reasons, I do not see it as a forgone conclusion that the motion will fail. The odds may still be against those of us who want to see it passed, but they are not insurmountable odds.
God takes risks with us. Creation was a great risk, but one with a beautiful result. That we humans turn against the will of God was part of that risk, but God considered that and found it acceptable. And so God took another risk when the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. And even though we turned against Jesus, God’s love was as strong as death and against any reasonable expectation we have a Christ whom we proclaim as risen from the dead. From a small group in Jerusalem the followers of Jesus who were “nothing” (to use Paul’s phrase) spread the gospel over the centuries to places unknown. So let us go forward, trusting that God’s purposes for us will be done.