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The Anglican Church of Canada and homosexuality

Blessing same-sex relationships New Westminster synod, BC: 1998 to now

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New Westminster Synod (1998-MAY-10)

This synod encompasses 80 churches in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the Lower Mainland of BC. The socialist provincial government in BC recently extended to committed gay and lesbian couples the same rights, privileges and responsibilities that heterosexual unmarried couples have enjoyed there for decades. Perhaps motivated by the government decision, the New Westminster Synod narrowly passed a motion (179 to 170) to ask that priests be allowed to bless homosexual relationships. 1 The motion did not ask that the church recognize this blessing as a marriage, as is often reported in the religious and secular media. These are merely blessings; no rings are exchanged. The bishop of the New Westminster Diocese, Michael Ingham, has supported greater rights for gays and lesbians in the church in the past. He has decided to withhold comment on this motion until he has had an opportunity to consult with the Canadian House of Bishops and Anglican bishops attending the Lambeth Conference in 1998-JUL/AUG.

Referring to those in the denomination that oppose same-sex unions, Ven. Neil Gray, the rector of St. Paul's Church in Vancouver said:

"We need to do whatever we can to offer those people an opportunity to move slowly, to feel that they are not being railroaded into a corner...There are increasing numbers of gay men and lesbian women who feel the church is not acknowledging the goodness and holiness they are feeling [in their relationships]...They are getting tired of sitting at the back of the bus...Two gay men or two lesbian women already have some legal protections. I think the church should lead that movement rather than lagging behind it."

Chris Ambidge, co-convener of Integrity's Toronto chapter, commented:

"What's happening in New Westminster is a sign that significant parts of the church are prepared to change, which is hopeful to me as a gay man in the Anglican church. If I could wave a magic wand and change the rules, that wouldn't help. There is a significant part of the church who are not prepared to do this. It may split the church...I know that God created in me a need to love, the ability to love. I cannot believe that God would be so spiteful to say 'Ha! you're gay, you can't do anything about it.'"

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Lambeth Conference (1998-JUL-19 to AUG-9):

This is a meeting of bishops from all of the national churches of the Anglican communion, representing about 80 million Anglicans. It is held in the UK every ten years. One of a series of resolutions on the topic of "Called to full humanity" dealt with human sexuality. It stated, in part:  "This Conference

bullet(b) in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;
bullet(e) cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions; 2 More details

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New Westminster Synod (2001 to the present)

bullet2001-JUN: In British Columbia, the New Westminster diocese's governing body -- the synod -- voted 56% in favor of asking Bishop Michael Ingham to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions within the diocese. The vote was 226 to 174 in favor. He refused again. To our knowledge, this is the first diocese in the entire Anglican Communion to take this step.
bullet2002-JUN: A motion to ask Bishop Michael Ingham to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions within the diocese passed for the third time. The vote was 63% in favor (215 to 129).  This time, Bishop Ingham assented.
bullet2002-JUL: During an address at Oxford University, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. George Carey, departed from his prepared speech to say that the diocese's decision was schismatic because it divides the Anglican Communion and "makes us a very embarrassing partner in ecumenical circles." The House of Bishops in Canada appears to be deeply divided on the subject. Thirteen Canadian bishops -- approximately one third of the total contingent of bishops -- have issued a public statement condemning the decision. They have asked the diocese to delay implementing the resolution.
bullet2002-OCT-21: At a meeting on  at the University of Toronto's Wycliffe College, Archbishop Carey said:

"I want to plead with the House of Bishops to go very carefully, to find a way that the decision in New Westminster can be overruled....If more and more dioceses take this approach, it's going to undermine the unity of the Anglican Communion and I don't know if the Canadian Church can afford to pay the deep price...Some may have no alternative but to look for spiritual help elsewhere."

Talking later to reporters, he downplayed the importance of this issue. He said:

"This is not a life-or-death issue. This restless, angry, confused world has such major problems facing it...I'm not absolutist on the issue of homosexuality. I don't know how anyone can be, but there is so much we don't know...Maybe with new knowledge, we can wake up to new interpretations." 3

bullet2002-NOV-13: Rev. Timothy Cook announced that he had resigned as rector of St. Martin's Anglican Church in North Vancouver, effective 2003-JAN. He took this action as a protest against the decision by his diocese to approve the blessings of same-sex unions. 4 Eight of the 80 parishes in the Synod have also decided to break away. The Anglican bishop of the Yukon has offered to add them to his diocese. Some have agreed.
bullet2003-MAY-27: The Anglican primates who head the 38 Provinces of the Anglican Communion around the world met in Brazil for a closed-door meeting. They reached a decision that "there is no theological consensus about same-sex unions. Therefore, we as a body cannot support the authorization of such rites." The Associated Press reported that the primates committed to " 'respect the integrity' of the self-governing national churches and their local dioceses. They also acknowledged bishops' responsibility to meet 'the pastoral needs of minorities'." Rev. Michael Hopkins, a American supporter of church blessings for same-sex unions, said that he thinks that the U.S. Episcopal Church could approve same-sex rites at its convention later in 2003. He said that the primates are "preparing the world for it to happen, if it does." 5
bullet2003-MAY-29: The National Post newspaper reported that priests:

"... in six Anglican parishes in British Columbia have been cleared to use a special rite to bless same-sex unions, a landmark development in a dispute that has rocked the world Anglican church. Bishop Michael Ingham, head of the Diocese of New Westminster representing 25,000 worshippers across Vancouver and southwestern British Columbia, yesterday announced his approval for a rite and said details of the procedure would imminently be released."

The six parishes are: St. Margaret's, St. Mark's, St. Paul's and Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver; St. Agnes in North Vancouver and St. Laurence in Coquitlam, east of central Vancouver.

Bishop Ingham wrote a letter to the six parishes who have requested the rite. It said, in part:

''The Church recognizes that homosexual couples face the same challenges and share the same responsibilities as other people living out the costly demands of love. Our purpose is to encourage and strengthen fidelity and mutual supportiveness in family life on which the stability of our wider society depends.''

Noting that the ritual is not a marriage ceremony, he wrote that it is

"...a blessing of permanent and faithful commitments between persons of the same sex in order that they may have the support and encouragement of the Church in their lives together under God.''

Couples are required to receive ''preparation and instruction'' before the blessing can be given. Also, they must be sustained and supported by the parish.

The Anglican Communion in New Westminster issued a statement saying that:

"The love of Jesus extends to all people, regardless of sexual orientation, and there is no disagreement that the Christian Church needs a loving and gracious response to gays and lesbians in our midst. But the response of this diocese is a radical and unilateral departure from the teaching of Scripture and the mind of the Anglican Church. A diocese does not have the mandate to raise itself above the spiritual unity of the Anglican Communion and the authority of Scripture on which it is based.'' 6

bullet2003-MAY-30: The diocese's Synod started with two conservative motions on the agenda:
bulletOne would delay implementation of the rite until after the issue is discussed at the denomination's general synod in 2004.
bulletThe other would support gays and transgender people who are "living in turmoil" due to what the sponsors feel are a "lifestyle" contrary to biblical teaching, and who are trying to change their "lifestyle" through counseling. 6

Both motions were rejected. 7

bullet2003-JUN-2: The Anglican Church of Nigeria issued a statement expressing deep sadness that the Diocese of New Westminster had decided to officially sanction same-sex unions. The Primate of Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, said,

"Regrettably, the much desired reflection that will ease the strain on our Communion has been jettisoned. Furthermore, failure to ensure strict compliance with resolutions duly passed at our meetings clearly shows that Bishop Ingham and his diocese see no value in being accountable to anybody."

Archbishop Akinola cut ties between his Province and the Diocese of New Westminster. He stated:

"it is this flagrant disregard for the Anglican Communion and what the vast majority of it stand for [and as a consequence] that has made it inevitable for the Province to severe communion with Bishop Ingham and the diocese of New Westminster." 8

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Sponsored link:

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"Gay marriage tears Anglican church asunder" (2003-OCT-30)

The internal stresses in the Anglican Church of Canada over equality for gays and lesbians is threatening to cause a schism. Concerns surfaced at a meeting of Canada's Anglican bishops :

bulletSeven dissenting conservative congregations in the diocese of New Westminster BC had announced that they want to leave and form their own diocese. Their bishop, Michael Ingham, estimates that only 5 to 10% of the diocesan membership has aligned themselves with the breakaway parishes. The dissenting congregations estimate 25%
bulletSeven priests in the New Westminster diocese face charges of disobeying the bishop and contemptuous conduct causing scandal.
bulletA Yukon bishop, Terrence Buckle, faces disciplinary action for allegedly interfering in the New Westminster diocese by offering to supervise the seven dissenting congregations.
bulletBishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster diocese stated at a meeting of Canada's Anglican bishop that he earlier changed his position and supported same-sex blessings "...when it became clear [that] all people needed to be cared for...It's the right thing to do...God does not condemn gay and lesbian people." He said that his strategy was to create room for everyone in his diocese. He said "I've clearly been unsuccessful despite my best efforts....This conflict has been most ruinous for the conservative wing of our diocese"
bulletAnn Tottenham, one of only two women among Canada's 35 bishops, recalls a past time when bishops threatened to leave the House of Bishops if women were considered for ordination. She said: "We should stick around no matter what foolishness the Anglican Church gets up to....I felt the church has been wrong on this [denying blessings to same sex couples], but I haven't gone lurching off in a huff. We need bigger reasons to stay together or to leave." 9

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Bishop Ingham's speech (2003-OCT-20):

Bishop Michael Ingham delivered a speech to a conference organized by the British Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. He stated that those who favor the full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in the Church are as "orthodox" as anyone.

He said:

"The hatred, contempt and vilification of Godís gay and lesbian children that claims the name of orthodoxy today is not condoned nor blessed by Jesus Christ. It has more to do with those forces of religious fearfulness that crucified Jesus than with the love for which he gave up his life....The problem faced by gay and lesbian Christians, and those who stand with you, is not that we are victims of tradition, but rather casualties of those who have not grasped tradition deeply enough." 10

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Global South Primates issue statement: (2004-MAY-18)

The Primates of the Global South of the Anglican Communion representing 18 Provinces with a membership of over 55 million, held a meeting in Nairobi on APR-15 & 16. It was chaired by the Most Rev'd Dr Peter Akinola, the Primate of all Nigeria. Their main concerns appear to be the consecration of Bishop Robinson, a gay man who is in a committed same-sex relationship. However, they also criticize "...the Bishop and Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster, Canada for their unilateral approval and implementation of rites for the blessing of same sex union." They made a number of recommendations to the Lambeth Commission which was created by the Archbishop of Canterbury to discuss homosexual issues in the Communion. They recommend that the Commission:

bulletCall upon the ECUSA to repent and to reverse the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop
bulletSuspend and ultimately expel the ECUSA from the Anglican Communion if they do not expel Bishop Robinson.
bulletTo give "full Episcopal and pastoral oversight" to those dioceses who want to split from the ECUSA.

They also recommend that "...similar measures should be applied...to the Bishop and Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster..." 11

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Windsor Report issued (2004-OCT-18):

Robin Eames, the Anglican Primate of All Ireland and Chairperson of the Lambeth Commission on Communion issued what has been called the Windsor Report. Its two main recommendations were:

bulletTo have each Province in the Anglican Communion ratify an "Anglican Covenant" that would, in part, commit them to consulting the Communion as a whole when making major decisions.
bulletTo urge those who had contributed to disunity within the Communion to express their regret. This would include the Episcopal Church, USA for having ratified the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, and the Anglican Church of Canada's New Westminster diocese for allowing the blessing same-sex unions in some of its parishes. 12

Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster agreed "neither to encourage nor to initiate" same-sex blessings in additional parishes. However, he did not order a cessation of blessings in those parishes already licensed to perform them.

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Same-sex marriage legalized by a court in British Columbia (2003-JUL-8):

The British Columbia Court of Appeal had ordered the province to marry same-sex couples, effective on 2004-JUL-12. Some homosexual rights groups in the province asked the court to remove the delay after same-sex marriages became available in Ontario. The court agreed. More info.

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Same-sex marriage legalized by the federal government (2005-JUL-20):

Bill C-38, a bill to legalize same-sex civil marriage throughout Canada, passed its final vote in the House of Commons during the evening of 2005-JUN-28. The bill passed its final vote in the Senate on 2005-JUL-19 and was signed into law on 2005-JUL-20 by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. The Governor General, who usually proclaims legislation, was incapacitated for medical reasons.

Alone among Canadian jurisdictions Prince Edward Island refused to follow the new law. Under threat of a lawsuit that they would certainly have lost, on 2005-AUG-19, PEI capitulated, and same-sex civil marriage became legal across Canada. However, faith groups are not required to marry same-sex couples if their beliefs or regulations require them to discriminate against such couples. More info.

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Anglican Church of Canada's General Synod begins (2007-JUN-22):

For almost two years, same-sex couples have been able to obtain a civil marriage at any location in Canada. They have also been able to have a religious marriage at some liberal religious denominations, like the United Church of Canada and Unitarian congregations. But the best they are offered in the Anglican Church is to have their relationship blessed at one of seven parishes in one of the church's 30 dioceses. No Anglican parish will marry them.

A number of resolutions concerning the blessing of same-sex relationships are before the General Synod. More details. One is B001: "Blessing couples in covenanted same-sex unions." It states:

"Be it resolved: Notwithstanding any decisions taken by this its 2007 Synod, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada affirms that the present practice of the Synod and Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster in authorizing the blessings of covenanted same-sex unions in eight (8) Parishes of that Diocese shall continue in the Diocese of New Westminster pending further resolution by General Synod." 13

The authors of the resolution noted:

"The provision of this rite has enabled gay and lesbian people to feel safe, respected, and included in the full life of the church and that the sudden withdrawal of this rite would seriously undermine the progress that has been made."

"In view of the deliberative process leading to a rite of blessing couples in covenanted same-sex unions in the Diocese of New Westminster, and the potentially damaging effects if this rite is abruptly withdrawn, and given affirmation ∂12 of the St. Michael Report that 'history Ö demonstrates that clarity emerges when thought and action occur simultaneously,' the Diocese of New Westminster needs to provide ongoing pastoral care and continuity for its people and parishes within its existing practice." 13

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Detailed information:

bulletThe Anglican Diocese of New Westminster has a web site at: http://www.vancouver.anglican.ca/
bulletFor a conservative Anglican viewpoint, see the web site of the Anglican Communion in New Westminster, at: http://www.acinw.org/

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References:

  1. Lila Sarick, "B.C. Anglicans to go slow on blessing gay relationships," The Globe and Mail, Toronto ON, 1998-MAY-12, Page A5
  2. "Resolution I.10: Human Sexuality," at: http://www.lambethconference.org/
  3. Leslie Schrivener, "Bishops urged to overrule B.C. diocese on gay unions," The Toronto Star, 2002-OCT-22, Page A23
  4. "Anglican priest quits over same-sex unions," The Toronto Star, Quick Hits section, 2002-NOV-14, Page A21.
  5. Richard Ostling, "Anglican Bishops Reject Gay Unions," Associated Press, 2003-MAY-27, at: http://www.philly.com/mld/
  6. Ian Bailey, "Anglicans to bless same-sex unions in B.C.," National Post, 2003-MAY-29, at: http://www.nationalpost.com/
  7. "ACiNW Responds to the Issuing of the Blessing Rite," 2003-MAY-30, at: http://www.acinw.org/
  8. "Church of Nigeria cuts ties with the Diocese of New Westminster," Anglican Communion News Service, 2003-JUN-2, at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/
  9. Leslie Schrivener, "Gay marriage tears Anglican church asunder," The Toronto Star, 2003-OCT-31, Pages A1 and A18.
  10. "Bishop addresses British Lesbian and Gay Christians in Manchester, England," New Westminster diocese, 2003-OCT-30, at: http://www.vancouver.anglican.ca/
  11. Peter J. Akinola, "April 16 Statement by the Global South Primates," 2004-MAY-18, at: http://www.americananglican.org/
  12. "The Windsor Report 2004," The Anglican Communion, at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org
  13. Resolution B001, General Synod 2007, at: http://www.anglican.ca/

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Copyright © 1999 to 2007, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-JUN-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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