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The 2004 General Synod:
The issues; election of the primate

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See also coverage of the developments in the New Westminster diocese.

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General Synod (2004):

The church held its week-long 2004 General Synod in St. Catherines, Ontario starting on 2004-MAY-28. About 300 delegates and 200 observers attended.

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"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 Anglican 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:

bullet 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 slavery.
bullet 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higher criticism of the Bible: are the Scriptures the inerrant Word of God, or can they legitimately be analyzed as historical documents?
bullet In 1976, female ordination put a tremendous strain on the North American provinces and the rest of the Anglican Communion.
bullet Now, it is the turn for sexual orientation issues to create tension within the Anglican Church of Canada and the rest of the Anglican Communion:
bullet 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?
bullet Should a same-sex couple with a valid marriage license be eligible to be married in the church? (At the time of the 2004 General Synod, same-sex couples are able to marry in British Columbia, Ontario and Québec).
bullet 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.

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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.

bullet 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.
bullet 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 leave.

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:

bullet 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.
bullet 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

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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 unacceptable" 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:

bullet 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 structures."
bullet 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." 2,3

If passed, it would take the pressure off of the Anglican Synod. But all 30 dioceses would inherit the conflict.

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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:

bullet 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.
bullet 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.
bullet 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:

bullet 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."
bullet 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."
bullet 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

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  1. "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:
  2. Leslie Schrivener, "Anglican schism feared over same-sex blessings," The Toronto Star, 2004-MAY-30, Page A3.
  3. 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.
  4. Leslie Scrivener, "Anglicans clear way for vote on leader. Three candidates vying for post," The Toronto Star, 2004-MAY-31, Page A4.
  5. "Primatial Election Results," The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada," 2004-MAY-31, at:
  6. Leslie Scrivener, "Anglicans pick liberal as leader. Archbishop from Montreal a compromise," The Toronto Star, 2004-JUN-1, Page A3.

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Copyright © 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Created 2004-JUN-01
Latest update: 2004-JUN-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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