Conservative Theologians Respond to Canadian Angligan Church's move toward Same Sex Blessings
We are disturbed by the proposed motions coming out of the Council of General Synod’s March meeting. We believe that these motions do not reflect the implications of the St Michael Report, and that even to treat them as legitimate options is to neglect the kind of discussion the Report encourages and our Church deserves. In particular, we affirm the following:
1. Sexual ethics is a doctrinally serious matter. Bishop Ingham has recently said, ‘Christianity as a religion stands in need of a better theology of sexuality, a better understanding of the complex role sexuality plays in our human nature, and of the purposes of God in creating us as sexual beings, [. . .]’ (address delivered in Ottawa on 7 March 2007). The St Michael Report could have been cited in support of this statement, and the question of ‘the purposes of God in creating us as sexual beings’ is the subject of over half of the Report. Indeed, the Report identifies six central doctrines that must be engaged in any discussion of sexual ethics, and it classifies the matter of the blessing of same-sex unions as doctrinally ‘important’ (§ 3). We submit that a matter of this gravity should not be dealt with in the manner of a simple resolution.
2. That the way this matter is treated is ecclesiologically significant. Here we are thinking beyond the certain political and legal ramifications nationally and internationally if the Canadian Church is perceived to be ‘walking apart’ from the Anglican Communion. Our concern to maintain our communion with the historic see of Canterbury is not rooted in our fidelity to the Church’s constitution or in nostalgia, but in the awareness that the path of divergence is the path to North American Protestant sectarianism. Episcopacy is a sign of the Church’s catholicity. We believe that it is therefore incumbent upon bishops who bear a particular responsibility for guarding the unity of the Church to ensure that this issue and the way it is handled in our councils does not subvert koinonia or the peaceable intentions of the Windsor Report.
3. That there has been no sustained debate on this matter in the Church. Twelve years ago a group of British academics published ‘The St Andrew’s Day Statement’, a non-polemical document identifying some of the important theological matters raised by the Church’s response to those living in same-sex relationships. As recently as this past January, one of the document’s authors, The Rev. Professor Oliver O’Donovan, maintained that the Statement has been largely ignored. Bishop Ingham’s assertion that the Church ‘stands in need’ of a better theology of sexuality is itself an affirmation that the doctrinal character of this matter is something that has yet to be worked out. For him, this would involve ‘of necessity an entire re-appraisal of Christian tradition, going right back to the Bible itself’. It is true that consultations have been held on the St Michael Report across the country. But, with the exception of the ‘Faith Seeking Understanding Conference’ held at Huron University College this past January, most of these consultations have been given over to hearing points of view and not to a critical exchange of ideas. Quite simply, what is lacking is a biblical and theological justification for changing the Church’s teaching.
4. ‘Core doctrine’ is problematic. The term ‘core doctrine’ is not drawn from the Principles and Canons of our Church, and is therefore confusing to those who appeal to the Church’s incorporating documents for direction in how to deal with this matter. In truth, the standard to which we are called in these documents is not ‘core doctrine’, but doctrine as understood by the Solemn Declaration: ‘we are determined by the help of God to hold and maintain the Doctrine, Sacraments and Discipline of Christ as the Lord hath commanded in His Holy Word, and as the Church of England hath received and set forth the same in “The Book of Common Prayer [. . .];” and in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion; [. . .].’ The jurisdiction of General Synod includes the ability to define doctrines of the Church ‘in harmony with the Solemn Declaration’, but these definitions must be resolved in a constitutional fashion, rather than through simple resolution. Moreover, we worry that not to treat this matter in a constitutional fashion could be to invite a petition to the Supreme Court of Appeal.
The letter then proceeds to address contrary arguments. Read it all. I am sure that this is only the first of several salvos that we will see on both sides of this issue. Since the Episcopal Church's current debate seems focused on polity, rather than the theology of the central issue of same sex relationships, the debate within the Canadian Church could prove very illuminating.