The church held its week-long 2004 General Synod in St. Catherines, Ontario
starting on 2004-MAY-28. About 300 delegates and 200 observers
"The issue:" equal rights for persons of all sexual orientations:
The Synod was held two years after the Diocese of New Westminster broke
with the tradition of the worldwide Anglican Communion and authorized the
blessing of local same-sex unions in their area. It came seven months after Gene Robinson, a divorced father of two who is in a committed relationship with
another man, was consecrated as bishop of New Hampshire. Both of these events shocked many in the
Communion -- in Canada, the U.S., and the rest of the world. They raised the possibility of a schism.
The debate over equal rights for persons of all sexual orientations is hardly the first ethical
dispute to challenge Christian
denominations in North America. There have been four main conflicts in recent
centuries, relating to racism, theology, gender, and sexual orientation. So far,
the Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church, USA, and the
worldwide Anglican Communion itself have survived without schism:
In the 19th century, churches were seriously divided over the morality
of human slavery. Many national Protestant churches divided on north-south
lines. The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, was carved out of
the national Baptist denomination because of a desire to preserve human
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, the crisis involved
higher criticism of the Bible: are the Scriptures the
inerrant Word of God, or can they legitimately be analyzed as historical
In 1976, female ordination
put a tremendous strain on the North American provinces and the rest of the
Now, it is the turn for sexual orientation issues to create tension
Anglican Church of Canada and the rest of the Anglican Communion:
If a candidate for the priesthood is either married or involved in a
committed relationship with a same-sex spouse, should he or she be
eligible for ordination?
Should a same-sex committed couple be eligible to have their union
blessed in a church ritual?
Currently, the official stance of the Anglican Church of Canada is a "no"
to all three questions.
Options for the future:
There are two obvious paths forward for the
Church concerning the blessing of same-sex unions. Neither will be easy, partly because of the absolute certainty that many
delegates have of the moral correctness of their own position. Both
conservatives and liberals in the church
regard this as a profoundly important ethical question. Conservatives view
homosexual behavior as abnormal, unnatural, intrinsically sinful, and incompatible with the
Christian faith. Liberals regard equal treatment of gays and lesbians as a matter of
elementary justice and human rights. They view homosexual orientation as
morally neutral, as is heterosexuality.
Conservatives seek a continuation of the prohibition into the future.
However, as Canon Gregory Cameron of
Britain told the delegates and observers, this would fail the thousands of
gay and lesbians in the church family. It
would also be unacceptable to the liberal wing of the church in Canada which
seeks an end to discrimination against gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
Liberals want the church to move towards equality for persons of all sexual orientations. This would also be painful
to the church. Leslie Scrivener, faith and ethics
reporter for the Toronto Star commented: "Anglicans in Africa, Asia and
South America -- where the...[Anglican Communion] is growing rapidly --
would feel abandoned and unheard." Twenty-two of the 38 provinces
of the Anglican Communion -- representing about 44 million Anglicans
-- condemned the developments in New Hampshire and New Westminster. Canon
Cameron commented: "The
eyes of all the other [Anglican] provinces turn to you to watch how you
decide." In addition, the conservative wing of
the Church in Canada would be outraged; significant numbers of members may
If the Church were to move towards equality, it would
first have to recognize that an honest division exists within the denomination
about the same-sex issue. This disagreement is a logical development arising
from very different interpretations of key Bible verses.
The split exists at the family, congregational, diocesan, regional and national levels. The second step
might be to adopt a type of local
option plan where each congregation or diocese would decide on its own whether
to retain or terminate the historical prohibitions against sexual minorities.
This compromise would probably be difficult for both sides to accept:
A local option plan
would be unsatisfactory to many in the conservative wing, because they would have to
accept that -- at least in some Canadian churches -- individuals in same-sex unions
and marriages were being ordained and having their marriages or unions blessed.
It would be unsatisfactory to many in the liberal wing because there
would remain absolute bars to
ordination and marriage in much of Canada.
A unique situation exists among Canada's First Nations -- its Aboriginal
groups. In some of their cultures, homosexuality is not openly discussed. It
will probably take decades for such groups to reach the same level of
comfort about equal rights for gays and lesbians as exists in the rest of
the denomination. If the church agrees on a local option in the foreseeable
future to allow dioceses to bless same-sex unions, then Anglicans in some
Aboriginal groups will feel strongly alienated.
This essay continues below
Opening events and agenda of the General Synod:
In his opening address to the synod on MAY-28, acting primate the Most Rev.
David Crawley described his sadness at the "harsh vituperative and
language that has been used by both sides of the debate over the blessing of
same-sex unions. He said: "We all feel deeply about this issue, but that
is no excuse to descend into the depths. The judgmentalism and the
profoundly personal nature of some comments, both private and public, could
never reflect the nature of the Realm of God, not matter what you understand
it to be. 1 Later, he
said: "A letter that says, 'I
hope I never have to stand next to you because when God strikes you dead, I 'd
not want to be covered with bits of burnt, cowardly Episcopal guts,' or our
12-year old [daughter] being called a lesbian....seems a bit beyond the pale."
The synod was scheduled to decide on JUN-02 whether each of the 30 dioceses in Canada is
to be given the authority
to decide independently whether to bless same-sex unions and marriages in their
area. A simple
majority will approve or reject the motion. Differences exist about the nature
of the motion:
Rev. Canon Eric Beresford, a
co-author of the motion, said that the Church is not being asked to make a
decision for or against the blessing of same-sex unions and marriages. He said:
"What the motion would do is basically leave us where we are now: that
dioceses are exercising jurisdiction and that is consistent with our church
Chris Hawley, spokesperson for Anglican Essentials, a
coalition of conservative Anglican groups says that this motion, if passed,
would change what the church believes. He said: "How can you say we allow
bishops to bless same-sex unions but we are not going to change the teachings of
the church? You are going to have a hard time convincing people of that."
If passed, it would take the pressure off of
the Anglican Synod. But all 30 dioceses would inherit the conflict.
Election of the new primate:
Archbishop Michael Peers retired in 2004-FEB after holding the post as
Anglican primate for 18 years. Retirement is mandatory at age 70.
One candidate for his replacement was Victoria Matthews, Bishop of
Edmonton. If she had been elected, she would have been the first female
primate in the worldwide Anglican Communion. However, she was forced to
withdraw her candidacy because of urgent medical reasons.
After Bishop Matthews' withdrawal, there were three candidates left:
Ronald Ferris, 58, is the bishop of Algoma. He had told the
Anglican Journal that he is "very conservative on moral issues."
This includes opposition to the blessing of same-sex marriage. But he
does not regard himself as right-wing.
Andrew Hutchison, 65, is Archbishop of Montreal. He has an interest
in ecumenism and is the recipient of the Jerusalem Prize by the
Canadian Zionist Federation and a human rights award from the
Canadian Jewish Congress. In a statement released to the
delegates, he had written: "The treatment of gays and lesbians has
been among the concerns in which I have been involved." He supports
the blessing of same-sex unions, but cannot endorse same-sex marriage.
Caleb Lawrence, 62, is the bishop of Moosonee. He told the Anglican
Journal that the new primate should "model an open, welcoming
community in which no one needs to feel an outsider. He or she will have
to find a way to include those on the extreme edges, conservatives or
liberal, and make them feel that they are welcome and part of a church
that includes people who are very different." 4
In an unusual move, the delegates expressed dissatisfaction with the
three candidates that the bishops had chosen. They asked that the bishops
provide more names. The latter suggested a fourth name: Bishop Ralph Spence
of Niagara. On the third ballot, the field had narrowed to two: Ferris and
Hutchison. After the fourth ballot, Andrew Hutchison, often referred to as
the liberal candidate, was elected as the 12th primate of the Anglican
Church of Canada. He will be installed as primate on JUN-4, at
Christ's Church in Hamilton, ON.
There was disagreement over the assessment of Bishop Hutchison's support
from within the denomination:
Chris Hawley, who represents the conservative group Anglican
Essentials said: "The orthodox [members] of the church are more
significant in the pews, but less significant in the leadership."
However, Leslie Scrivener wrote in the Toronto Star that: "Early
on, the voting showed that [the liberal candidate] Hutchison had more
support among laypeople and less from clergy."
The vote among the clergy was 58% for Hutchison (68 to 44 with five
blank ballots). The vote among the laity was 67% for Hutchison (97 to 41
with five blank and one spoiled ballot). 5 It would seem that it is the liberal members of
the church who "are more significant in the pews but less significant
in the leadership."
Hawley said that that most conservatives will be disappointed at the
choice of Bishop Hutchison. "This suggests we are looking at a divided
church, even a divided leadership. There's a great deal of anxiety. What
matters more is how the primate will represent and protect both sides of the
church...[The primate's] voice in the church, we feel, has sometimes
been hostile to the orthodox voice."
Bishop Hutchison, in a brief address, stated that unity is the great
challenge before the denomination. He said that: "More of our energy
needs to be directed to...what is our purpose; what is our church for?"
In an interview, he said that he was not prepared to support same-sex
marriage in the church at this time: "I can't take that on board yet.
It's mainly cultural; there are not strong theological underpinnings."
But he supports same-sex unions: "When two human beings are attracted to
one another, in a relationship of love, active in the life of the church,
...are clearly Christian, and want their union blessed, I have no difficulty
with that." 6
"Archbishop appeals for ‘civil’ debate as Anglicans prepare to
consider same-sex blessings," The General Synod of the Anglican Church
of Canada," 2004-MAY-28, at:
Leslie Schrivener, "Anglican schism feared over same-sex blessings,"
The Toronto Star, 2004-MAY-30, Page A3.
Michael McAteer, "Anglicans to face same-sex debate; Contentious
issue of blessing unions on agenda at meeting," The Toronto Star,
2004-MAY-28, Page A21.
Leslie Scrivener, "Anglicans clear way for vote on leader. Three
candidates vying for post," The Toronto Star, 2004-MAY-31, Page A4.