The meeting was held in Halifax, NS, during early 2010-JUN. The main topic at the General Synod involved the downsizing of the Church in response to its long-term decline in membership.
On the topic of human sexuality, there was some fear that a motion might be introduced to formally establish a "local option" within the Church. This would allow individual bishops and dioceses to decide whether to allow priests to bless the union of loving, committed same-sex couples. Such a motion at the 2007 General Synod failed by only a few votes in the House of Bishops.
Neale Adams, contributing editor to the Anglican Journal, wrote:
"Under [the primate, Archbishop Fred] Hiltz’s leadership, however, movers and shakers in the church decided that a new discussion process would take place in 2010, and a repeat of the heated, acrimonious debate of General Synod 2007 would be avoided.
Modeled after the “indaba” groups at the Lambeth Conference in 2008, dozens of sessions took place. Discussion went around the circle and every delegate got a chance to participate and be respectfully listened to...or to pass.
Fifteen groups met three times each. Comments were carefully summarized. A meticulously written document was produced. There was no consensus on the issue, or as the document put it, “no common mind.”
The primate took time to speak about all this to a group of about 50 delegates and others at a session organized by the Anglican Communion Alliance, until lately called the Essentials Federation. This group of conservative Anglicans is very much opposed to where they feel the church is headed on sexuality issues. Still, they want to stay.
They asked hard questions and Archbishop Hiltz gave straight answers. At the end of the meeting, most stood up and applauded–something unimaginable three years ago. ..."
"The sexuality discernment document was adopted after a respectful debate. It called for more theological and scriptural study, not legislative action. 'There can be no imposition of a decision or action for endorsement, but rather we are challenged to live together sharing in the mission of Christ entrusted to us, accepting that different local contexts call at times for different local discernment, decision and action'."
"In other words, in those dioceses where same-gendered couples are blessed, they will probably continue to be blessed; in those dioceses where the bishop and many of his priests and people object to blessing, they won’t be performed. And the Anglican Church of Canada will continue on as one big family. Maybe not all its members are happy, but the family unit remains intact."4
It would appear that a form of local option is already in place -- one that is not formally recognized by the ACC. Dioceses seem to be able to decide independently to bless same-sex unions without an fear of censure or retaliation from the leadership of the denomination. Dioceses that wish to continue to deny recognition of loving, committed same-sex couples can continue to do so. However, since same-sex couples in Canada have the option of being married in the United Church, in a Unitarian congregation, in a Reform Jewish synagogue, or before a Justice of the Peace, etc. they will probably reluctantly bypass the Anglican Church and get married elsewhere, thus obtaining hundreds of government benefits and protections for themselves and their children. They could travel a thousand miles to have their union blessed in a cooperating Anglican diocese, but that would give them no legal status and would provide them with no legal benefits and protections.
A missed opportunity to assess the will of God at the 2010 General Synod:
On two occasions during the human sexuality debate it appears that discussion became somewhat heated. Archbishop Hiltz asked that the delegates stop for a few minutes and pray in order to let the Holy Spirit communicate her/his will to themselves. The delegates seem to have sincerely sought the will of God through prayer; Neale Adams reported that "The plenary hall fell dead quiet for minutes ..."
Both of the matters being discussed had simple yes or no answers: whether the Anglican Church of Canada should:
bless same-sex unions, or continue to treat the couples as roommates.
marry loving, committed same-sex couples with marriage licenses, or continue to treat them as roommates.
The Synod was split fairly evenly between those seeking continued discrimination against same-sex couples and those seeking relationship and marital equality for loving, committed relationships of all gender compositions. Presumably, God had a very definite opinion on the future path for the ACC with regard to same-sex couples. Being omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, the Holy Spirit would have the ability to communicate God's will independently to each of the delegates, telling roughly half the them to change their position to match that of God's.
It would have been a fascinating experiment for Archbishop Hiltz to ask after the personal prayer time for a show of hands by those who believed that the Holy Spirit had told them to switch their position.
If, say 40% of the delegates responded by raising their hand, then this would be a significant indicator that the Holy Spirit was indeed present and active at the Synod. It would give Agnostics, Atheists and other non-believing critics what to them would be a really troubling indication that God exists.
If essentially nobody raised their hand, it would be a significant indicator that the Holy Spirit was either not present or lacked the ability or desire to communicate with the delegates. It would give Anglicans, other Christians, and other theists something to really think about.
Either way, the results would have been fascinating to observe. Unfortunately, the opportunity was missed. As noted in the next essay, it might reappear in 2016.
Some years ago, this web site conducted a pilot study: a poll of Christian visitors to ReligiousTolerance.org who had an active prayer life. Volunteers were asked to pray to God to assess his will on same-sex marriage (SSM). The vast majority concluded that they had made contact with God and were quite confident that they had assessed his will.
Results were quite conclusive:
100% of those who originally believed that God approved of SSM reported that God agreed with their position and communicated it to them.
100% of those who originally believed that God disapproved of SSM reported that God agreed with their position, and communicated it to them.
This was only a small scale study involving fewer than 100 volunteers. Results may have been a fluke. It is a pity that an opportunity at the General Synod to check out the effectiveness of prayer at assessing the will of God was missed. It would have involved a much larger group, and so the results would have been more significant.
2011-MAY-27: Same-sex blessings approved in Diocese of Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island:
The 143rd synod of the diocese of Nova Scotia and PEI approved a local option resolution. Priests and parishes can now bless same-sex marriages that have been solemnized elsewhere. However, they cannot solemnize same-sex marriages themselves. Further, priests and parishes can opt out of these blessings if they wish. The diocesan bishop, Sue Moxley, said that parishes will need "... to decide where they want to be with a pastoral response" on the issue.
This decision raised to eight the total dioceses within the Anglican Church of Canada that permit blessings of the relationships of loving, committed same-sex couples. The previous seven are New Westminster, Montreal, Niagara, Huron, Ottawa, British Columbia and Toronto. According to the Anglican Journal: "The Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior (APCI) has also passed a motion asking its bishop to allow clergy 'whose conscience permits' to bless same-sex unions."
Rev. Randy Townsend, rector of Saint John’s Anglican Church, said: "I was pleased to see it (pass)." He mentioned that the tone of the debate around the contentious issue was "excellent, it was very respectful."
There was no formal discussion to allow parishes and priests to opt into actually performing marriage services of same-sex couples, even though such marriages were legalized by the Canadian federal government six years previously in mid-2005. 5
Like many other denominations in North America, the Anglican Church of Canada is between a rock and a hard place. Much of their memberships are middle aged and elderly. Most of the Church's revenue comes from this age group. However, there is a major generational gap concerning beliefs about homosexuality in general and same-sex marriage in particular. Older teens and young adults are overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality, and consider the Church's current stance on sexual orientation to be based on animus against the LGBT community. Most do not interpret the seven anti-gay "clobber passages" as condemning same-gender sexual activity by lesbians, gays and bisexuals today. Many in this age group are reluctant to stay in any faith group that they regard as discriminatory. If the church moves in a liberal direction, it will suffer a major loss both in the number of older members and of revenue. If they move in a conservative direction or merely stay with their present policies, they will suffer a major loss in younger members, which represent the future of the denomination.