Sunday, July 8, 2007

Rev. Canon Eric Beresford Offers A Useful Analysis of The Canadian General Synod Votes on Same Sex Blessings

Late last month, the Canadian Anglican Church General Synod did something strange--it voted that the issue of same sex union blessings was not "core doctrine", but then proceeded not to authorize dioceses to do such blessings. Rev. Canon Eric Beresford, the President of the Atlantic School of Theology in Canada has a very useful commentary on what occurred in the Globe and Mail:

To grasp the depth of the problem created, we need to understand what it means to say that something is a "matter indifferent."

Although much has been written and said about the implications of the Anglican Church's general synod debates on the blessing of homosexual unions, most commentators have told us more about their own hopes and fears than about the complexity of the situation created by last month's vote. Put simply, the vote leaves the church in a state of confusion.

The doctrinal grounds for allowing such blessings were passed, but the motion that would have allowed for an orderly approach to the change was defeated. While it is likely that the negative vote cast by the bishops (refusing to approve the rite) was motivated by a desire for the unity of the church, it is unclear whether this will now be the result.

Anglicanism has since its very beginnings sought to hold together a diversity of ways of being an Anglican. The Elizabethan settlement sought to hold together all but the most radical Protestants and all but the most committed Catholics into a single church. In order to do this, the range of commitments that were required of Anglicans was kept to a minimum.

Anglicans were to hold to the historic creeds shared by all Christians, the two sacraments believed to be established by Jesus (baptism and holy communion), the tradition of leadership by bishops, and those things that could be "plainly proved by scripture." This does not cover everything that individual Anglicans might believe is important, but the point is that no Anglican can have their view compelled on anything outside this core. Things outside this core came to be known as "matters indifferent." This means they are not essential to Anglican identity and Anglicans can and, as a matter of fact, do disagree about them. I am no better or worse an Anglican for any position that I take on a matter indifferent, and my view cannot be compelled one way or another.

So then, to say that the blessing of same-sex unions is a matter indifferent is to say that it is a matter about which Anglicans might reasonably disagree both in theory and in practice. It is to say that it is a matter which cannot be the basis of discipline, and here is the rub.

By endorsing the 2005 St. Michael Report, and by declaring that the blessing of same-sex unions is not contrary to the "core doctrine" of the Anglican Church of Canada, the general synod has, at the very least, undermined the grounds for discipline against any diocese, bishop or priest who performs such blessings.

. . .

I do not doubt that many of those bishops who, at the recent synod, rejected the motion that would have formally permitted dioceses to proceed did so out of a concern for the unity of the church. The difficulty is that, having embraced the conclusion of the report of the Primate's Theological Commission that this is a matter indifferent, the synod effectively undercut the need for permission. The effect of the enabling motion would have been to set limits and constraints to ensure that change unfolded in the church in an orderly way. It would also have protected the conscience of those who did not wish to proceed.



Read it all here.

My thought on this is that it becoming increasingly clear that the real issue in the Anglican Communion is not our different understanding of the morality of same sex relationships, but rather whether this issue is "core doctrine". I, for example, have a liberal or "reappraiser" view on these issues, but I understand the contrary arguments. In my view, this is an issue on which Anglicans will reach different conclusions, but it is not core doctrine.

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