Canadian Anglican revisit same-sex issue
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Wed May 2 00:22:04 EDT 2001
Canadian Anglicans revisit same-sex issue
By Peter T. Chattaway
BC Christian News
ANGLICANS IN the Lower Mainland are one step closer to revisiting the
question of whether or not to bless same-sex relationships, following a
legal report that was released to Anglican churches April 22.
The report was prepared by three lawyers appointed by Bishop Michael
Ingham, who leads the Diocese of New Westminster. It says the bishop
may authorize the blessing of same-sex unions within his diocese,
though it recommends that he consult with the other Canadian bishops
before doing so.
The 20-page document clears the way for delegates to vote on the
controversial issue again at the next diocesan synod, which meets at
Capilano College, in North Vancouver, in June.
In the past, Ingham has said he would approve the blessing of same-sex
unions on two conditions: one, if the legal commission said it was
within his power to do so; and two, if a clear majority of the
delegates at June's synod voted in favour of it.
Delegates to the diocesan synod in 1998 voted 179-170 in favour of
blessing same-sex unions; but Ingham withheld his approval at the time,
citing the narrowness of the vote. Instead, he appointed several
commissions to explore the issue from various perspectives, and he
paired churches together in a complex dialogue process that culminates
in the upcoming synod.
George Cadman, chancellor for the local diocese and chair of the legal
commission, says he and the two other lawyers who worked on the report
were concerned only with the scope of the bishop's authority, and
deliberately avoided commenting on theology.
"We weren't dealing with theological issues," he says.
But conservative Anglicans say the legal commission has waded into
theological issues just the same. The report makes a distinction
between "sacraments," which are a matter of doctrine, and "rites,"
which are not, and concludes that a blessing for same-sex unions could
be a rite, and could thus be approved by the bishop at his own
discretion -- so long as it did not closely resemble a marriage
ceremony, which is a sacrament.
To conservatives, this is a superficial distinction at best. "I would
say positioning this issue as a rite does not in any way detract from
it being a theological issue," says Rev. David Short, rector at St.
John's (Shaughnessy) Church in Vancouver. "In the Anglican Church, we
practice theology through our rites. It's not that rites are one thing
and theology is a separate thing." Short says the legal distinctions
don't change the fundamentally theological question at the heart of
this debate -- which is whether God blesses or sanctions sexual
intercourse outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage.
"I think, in the end, the person on the street and the person in the
pew will understand this to be a different way of viewing marriage," he
But Rev. Paul Borthistle, who chairs the liturgical commission for the
diocese -- which published a possible rite for blessing same-sex unions
just a few months ago -- says those who advocate the blessing of same-
sex unions are not trying to redefine marriage.
"Both the state and church law are clear that marriage is
heterosexual," he says. Instead, he stresses, advocates want to bless
those who are in relationships that are already recognized by secular
law. "The church has always had rites for the blessing of households,"
he says. "That's been done throughout history, without regard for
people's relationships with one another." Ironically, the legal
commission said in its report that the proposed rite for blessing same-
sex unions was too similar to a marriage ceremony, and should not be
used by local churches.
Bishop Ingham, who declined to be interviewed by BC Christian News,
said in a press release that he accepted the legal commission's
opinion, and would not approve the rite in question. The bishop added
that he would not consider proposals for another rite, unless the
diocese agrees to bless same-sex unions in principle first.
Borthistle says the decision to scrap the proposed rite moves the
discussion in a more conservative direction, as any blessing for same-
sex unions that may be created further down the road would "move away
from a marriage-like rite to a friendship-like rite."
Others say the vote should be put off until a rite of some sort is back
on the table. "How do you proceed with an essentially blank cheque?"
asks Rev. Ed Hird, rector at St. Simon's Anglican Church in North
Vancouver and a member of the charismatic group Anglican Renewal
Ministries. "At the synod, we'll be voting on something for which the
rite has been rejected, so we don't really know what we'll be
Some conservatives have expressed concern that the dialogue may have
done more harm than good in the long run, both within the diocese and
in the church at large.
"The process of dialogue that we have participated in has demonstrated
to many the divisive nature of this issue," says David Short. Asked if
the dialogue has accentuated divisions in the church, he says, "I think
it has." Hird says churches in Port Alberni and Calgary have already
split up "in large part because of the controversy in our diocese."
The legal commission's report recommends that the bishop consult with
the House of Bishops, which meets this weekend, and with the General
Synod that meets in Waterloo, Ontario in July. Both institutions have
so far refused to condone same-sex relationships.
Ingham has said he intends to consult with his fellow bishops; and in a
news item on the diocese's web site, he also says he will not approve
the blessing of same-sex unions unless "a clear and substantial
majority" of the diocese asks for a same-sex rite.
Asked how large the majority would have to be, the bishop says he does
not want to get bogged down in numbers, since that would distract
parishioners from "focusing on the people whose lives we're talking
about." Instead, he says the required majority would be as obvious as
"a beautiful sunset": "It's hard to define, but you know it when you
This, the bishop admits, means that there will probably be no drastic
changes to the status quo at next month's synod, and conservatives are
optimistic that traditional values will prevail -- for now.
"I think there is wisdom in what Michael says," says Short. "I think
our bishop has his eye on both the national and international
communion, and will act with integrity when the time comes."
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