Sunday, June 24, 2007

Canadian Anglicans Narrowly Defeat Same-Sex Blessings

It was a momentous week in Canada, with the General Synod of the Canadian Anglican Church first narrowly accepting a resolution that affirmed that the blessing of same sex unions is not in conflict with core doctrine, and then narrowly rejecting a resolution that would have permitted dioceses within the Canadian Church to authorize same sex blessings. In each case, the clergy and laity approved the resolutions by large margins, and in both cases the vote by the Bishops was as narrow as can be.

My colleague Andrew Gerns at The Lead has an excellent summary of today's events:

The decision shocked many same-sex supporters who thought the motion would pass since earlier in the day Anglicans voted same-sex blessings were not in conflict with the church’s doctrine.

Much of the sixth day of the synod was taken up with debate on the two questions, with dozens of people approaching microphones in the plenary hall to voice emotional opinions.

Both supporters and opponents agree that the two contradictory votes pose a problem for the Canadian Church.

Chris Ambidge, national spokesman for an Anglican group that supports same-sex unions, said, “What is wrong with having rights of blessing when you’ve already said it’s OK? I just don’t understand that.” He said the national meeting sent mixed messages to Anglicans across Canada and was confusing to everyone who voted.

Opponents to same-sex blessings agree. Cheryl Chang, a spokesperson for Anglican Essentials, a group which opposes blessing same-sex unions, called Sunday’s vote a “divisive tragedy” for the entire church.

Bishop Fred Hiltz the new Primate for the Anglican Church of Canada voted for the resolution. Afterwards he commented that ''There is no question that there was a lot of disappointment on the part of some people and a lot of pain, and some people will be saying, 'How long, oh Lord, how long will this conversation continue?' And it will continue.''

While those in favor of the measure said that the overall progess towards blessings was positive, the practical effect will be limited. ''We now have theological agreement that same-sex unions are not in opposition to doctrine and that's a big deal,'' said Chris Ambidge, president of the Toronto chapter of gay advocacy group Integrity. ''However, it's just a 75 percent win because there's no pastoral benefit to gay and lesbians with what has happened today. The church approved things in principle, but said we're not going to do anything about it.''

Chang predicted that people on both sides of the issue were going to start looking for new churches to attend "tomorrow."

Bishop Michael Ingham, of the Diocese of New Westminster, which has allowed for same-sex blessings since 2002, said the vote won’t make anyone happy. “A majority of people voted in favor. I think everyone’s a loser. Traditional Christians can’t take comfort in the vote and those who want to move on are held back by a small number of bishops. I think we need to look at the composition of the house of bishops and whether it properly reflects the Anglican Church of Canada.” There is a predominance of bishops from rural areas while the Canadian church is predominantly an urban church, he said.

Some churches have already said that they intend to pursue and carry out same-sex blessings no matter how the synod vote.

Read it all.

I have just a few observations. First, it seems to me that the key resolution here was the one that passed--it recognized that same sex blessings are not prohibited by the core doctrines of the Church. This puts the Canadian Church in essentially the same position as the Episcopal Church--there has been no formal recognition of same sex blessings, but there has been a large step in that direction.

Second, while I am a supporter of the recognition of same sex blessings, I am quite surprised that the Canadian Church was willing to take such a critical theological step simply on the basis of a slim majority in a single Synod. It seems to me that it is not unreasonable to demand a somewhat greater consensus on such an important issue before taking action. It may well be that it was the narrowness of the success on the first resolution that lead some Bishops to reconsider the step of authorizing same sex blessings by a mere majority.

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