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The Anglican Church of Canada and homosexuality

The St. Michael Report, 2006

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Sponsored link.

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Background:

As of mid-2007, members of the Anglican Church are divided into three groups:

bulletFirst class members include heterosexuals who can marry in the church, and single homosexuals who cannot.
bulletSecond class members are homosexual couples in committed same-sex relationships who live in one of the approximately 8 parishes in the New Westminster diocese of the Church in the area near and in Vancouver, BC. They can have their union blessed at their local parish.
bulletThird class members are homosexual couples in committed same-sex relationships who live in one of the other parishes in the New Westminster diocese or in one of the other 29 dioceses in Canada. The Church currently refuses to formally recognize their relationship, no matter how loving and committed, as anything other than that of two roommates living together.

There has been considerable discussion within the Church to create a local option plan, in which each diocese would have the freedom to decide whether to bless same-sex relationships within their boundaries. This would greatly increase the number of second class members. No significant consideration is currently being given to whether the Church should allow such couples to actually marry in the church.

The mid-2004 General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada requested:

"that the Primate ask the Primate’s Theological Commission to review, consider, and report to the Council of General Synod, by its spring 2006 meeting, whether the blessing of committed same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine." 

This is an important matter to settle. Changes to church doctrine require a more complex and lengthy procedure: approval by a two-thirds majority at two triennial General Synods. This is a very difficult bar to reach.

The full name of the report is: "Report of the Primate’s Theological Commission of the Anglican Church of Canada on the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions." It was presented to the Council of General Synod in 2005-MAY. It is commonly referred to as the St. Michael Report in appreciation of the efforts by Anglican Sisters at St. Michael's House in Oakville, ON who housed the commission members.

The commissioners came from many of the church's 30 dioceses and held diverse theological positions. The Chairperson was the Rt. Rev. Victoria Matthews, the bishop of Edmonton, AB. 

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Points raised by the Commission:

The Commission's report defined "committed same-sex unions" as: "committed, adult, monogamous, intended lifelong, same-sex relationships which include sexual intimacy."

The Commission recognized that:

"... there is a range of interpretations given to the term ‘doctrine’, and that doctrines develop and change over time.  We agree that the blessing of committed same-sex unions is not a matter of what is often referred to as a ‘core’ doctrine, in the sense of being credal doctrine. ... any proposed blessing of a same-sex relationship would be analogous to a marriage to such a degree as to require the Church to understand it coherently in relation to the doctrine of marriage." 1

Their second of 42 points is that:

"The blessing of committed same-sex unions is tied to the question of how all sexuality, as a feature of our bodily existence, participates in our redemption – our entering into the life of holiness to which Christ, through his incarnation, his life, death, and resurrection, is always calling us.  Every discovery in human learning, scientific research, and socio-cultural development must be understood in the context of the fundamental reality that all we do and are, including our sexuality and sexual acts of intimacy, is a response in faith to the person of Jesus Christ.  Thus, insofar as a monogamous, intended lifelong, committed same-sex union will be a relationship that will either enable or impair our participation in the life of God through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is inextricably linked to the core mystery of the triune God, and how we experience God’s saving mercy.  More categorically, it seems to us that this issue is fundamentally related to the doctrines of salvation (soteriology), incarnation, the work of the Holy Spirit (pneumatology), our creation in the image of God (theological anthropology), sanctification, and holy matrimony." 2

Their eighth point is that:

"Doctrine is formed whenever the Church, as the Church, makes a statement about who God is and how God acts, and insofar as the blessing of a same-sex union constitutes such a statement about God and how God is active in relation to that union, it must be considered as a doctrinal matter. ..."

However, they differentiate between core doctrines and "what may be termed adiaphora doctrines." The latter has been defined as matters "upon which disagreement can be tolerated without endangering unity."

They noted instances in history where the Church has reversed its approval of certain established practices:

bulletThe enslavement of humans,
bulletRacial segregation and civil rights abuses in the U.S. and South Africa, and
bulletThe Anglican Church of Canada's policy of assimilation of aboriginals into white culture -- a practice sometimes referred to as cultural genocide.

Some within the church feel that the blessing of same-sex unions is another instance where the church should reverse its historical stance.

The Commission accepted as a fact that the Church's responsibility is to:

"discern the leading of the [Holy] Spirit in this matter in reasoned and faithful dialogue with Scripture and tradition, and then to respond in love and obedience. It is commonly assumed that doctrinal certainty is required before pastoral actions can be taken, but history also demonstrates that clarity emerges when thought and action occur simultaneously."

They also take the position that the teaching of Jesus Christ on the topic of same-sex relationships is knowable by theologians in the 21st century. The Commission writes:

"19 ... the challenge facing the church is to see our cultural norms through the eyes of Christ and then, out of allegiance to him, to promote those norms that honour him and renounce those that do not."

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Conclusions of the Commission:

They concluded that: "...the blessing of committed same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine. ...

They stressed that:

"The pastoral importance of this issue deserves a careful consideration of its doctrinal implications in a manner that is deeply respectful of the dignity and integrity of the gay and lesbian members of our church."

The Commission's final conclusion is:

"44. It is often lamented that the Church should become preoccupied in debates on sexual ethics when there are so many more urgent issues that could be ameliorated if only we would redirect our zeal. But the depth of feeling that exists in the Communion on this matter indicates how important it has become. It addresses our identity as sexual beings in community in an intimate and profound way. It also relates to the question of how the gospel of Jesus Christ is for all human beings, irrespective of our sexual identities. It is now for the church to decide whether or not the blessing of same-sex unions is a faithful, Spirit-led development of Christian doctrine."

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Action by the General Synod of 2007:

The Synod passed resolution # A184:

"That this General Synod accept the conclusion of the Primate’s Theological Commission’s St. Michael Report that the blessing of same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine, but is not core doctrine in the sense of being credal."

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References:

There are limits to the amount of text that this site can copy from a copyrighted document. We recommend that you read the report in full.

  1. Report of the Primate’s Theological Commission of the Anglican Church of Canada on the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions: The St. Michael Report," Anglican Church of Canada, at: http://www.anglican.ca/
  2. "The St., Michael Report," Anglican Church of Canada, at: http://www.anglican.ca/
  3. "Canadian Anglican Theological Commission clarifies provenance of same-sex blessings resolutions," Anglican Communion News Service, 2007-MAR-29, at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/

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Related items:

bulletA copy of the report can be ordered online from The Anglican Book Centre at: http://www.anglicanbookcentre.com/
bulletPresumably the discerning of the leading by the Holy Spirit is achieved largely through prayer. Staff of this web site conducted a pilot study to determine if Christians can learn the will of God on same-sex relationships through prayer.

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Site navigation:

Home>Conflict>Homosexuality>Faith groups>Denominations>Anglican Church of Canada>here

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Copyright © 2007, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2007-JUN-23
Latest update: 2007-JUN-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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