Friday, June 18, 2010

Moving On - at least in Canada

Here in Canada, it is perfectly legal for a man to marry another man - or for a woman to marry another woman. Some people don't like that, but there it is.

The Anglican Church of Canada has been wrestling with issues of human sexuality for at least 40 years.

Three years ago our General Synod concluded that the issues are a matter of doctrine, but not core (credal) doctrine. Later in the week, Synod debated and voted on a resolution which would have granted a "local option" to those dioceses which wished to proceed with the blessing of same sex unions. The resolution passed by large majorities among both the clergy and laity, but was defeated by a narrow margin in the House of Bishops. Everyone, it seemed, walked away angry.

Last week, General Synod met again. This time, legislative action on the issue was deliberately avoided. Efforts were made to provide safe and honest engagement among people of different views using techniques modeled on the indaba groups from the last Lambeth Conference. I am told by both "reasserter" and "reappraiser" inclined participants that the process was valuable. At the end of the process, Synod passed a Discernment on Sexuality which attempted to describe the mind of the Synod without imposing any sort of legislative solution. The most important part of the statement may well have been this piece:

Our dialogue has been a positive and helpful step in our discernment. At this time, however, we are not prepared to make a legislative decision. Above, in and through all of this, and despite all our differences we are passionately committed to walking together, protecting our common life.
"Walking together." What a concept. It's almost as if they should know we are Christians by our love.

It was actually a "reappraiser" who mentioned to me the significance of having a motion which could pass by a margin of about 345 - 10. (I can't find an official tally of the result - though all reports indicate it passed by a wide margin. I'm taking this reappraising friend's word for it.) The statement speaks honestly about where we are as a Church. Everyone affirms that their concerns were respectfully heard (apart from those determined to be offended).

Some of the progressive Anglican blogosphere found the statement a cop-out. But it was the moderately "reasserter" Canadian blogger Tim Chesterton who pointed out that the effect of the statement is to accept the reality of the so-called local option without actually authorizing it in a "formal" way. This bit of synodical leger de main or Anglican fudge serves two purposes. While creating an effective "win" for the progressives, it does so without rubbing the conservatives' noses in it. It also leaves the new Anglican curia no "formal" action to use as an excuse to proscribe our full participation in the life of the Communion.

I'm glad of this last piece, though it makes me even more conscious of the hollowness of the Communion as it stands, where the Americans are punished for doing openly and honestly what the Church of England does secretly and dishonestly, and where a now discredited progressive is using the Americans as a scapegoat in the creation of the new Lambeth papacy.

All that said, though, what really happened in Halifax last week is that the Canadian General Synod decided to move on to things that actually matter instead of rending ourselves into shreds over someone else's patholgical obsessions.

Or, as Tim Chesterton more charitably puts it:

What do I think is happening? I think that we are moving, very slowly, away from the question 'What should we do as a national Church?' (because we recognise that there is no answer to that question that doesn't leave some people out) and toward the question 'Is a diversity of practice around same-sex blessings and/or marriages an acceptable compromise that will allow us to keep walking in partnership with people we love in this Church of ours? And if it is, what might it look like in practice?' At the moment we don't have an answer to that question, but I think we need to start looking for one.


Alan said...

WOW! I see a lesson for the Lutheran church here (one that we might be learning as well). While this is certainly not a 100% solution, it IS a step forward. It's probably the first time that people on both sides of this issue have spoken more words of love than words of hate. Perhaps people are getting fatigued by the whole matter and are, as a whole, realizing that there is more to being a Christian than what we do in our bedrooms.


Lisa Fox said...

I appreciate your take on this, Malcolm. I was one of those Statesonians who view(ed?) Synod's action as a cop-out. But maybe it's just classical Anglicanism.

Thanks for all the fine writing you do here!

Amie said...

When the statement was first read out at GS a number of us were upset seeing it as just keeping the status quo. We had hoped for so much more.

I went to bed disheartened and angry. When I got up in the morning I re-read the statement in the light of some clarification and discussions (one of them some-what heated) the night before as well as going back over our group discussions. I realized that whether the statement did what I really wished for or not, it did relatively accurately put forward where we stood as a synod - and my discussion group was one of the most supportive regarding full inclusion.

We had realized that to try to legislate local option was chancy and that it would certainly spark some heated words and actions. The statement opens the door to further discernment, which can and will include local option. I believe that had we tried the legislative route we would have closed these doors rather than open them.

After the statement was accepted two motions were withdrawn. One would have seen the moratorium continue. I think that speaks loudly about the overall positiveness of the statement for keeping open our ability to continue to walk together.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie

Tim Chesterton said...

I do wish that in the Anglican Communion we could stop arguing over whether glbt folk can be bishops or priests and start telling stories about how we can hold congregations together where there is disagreement over this issue and where some of the folks present do not agree with the policy of the parish (i.e. either will, or will not, do same-sex 'blessings').

To me our Anglican obsession with high officialdom is obscuring the sharing of experience and resources around the more crucial matter of unity and diversity in the local congregation. That's what I want to hear about; I'm so sick of hearing about the Presiding Bishop's mitre.

Anonymous said...

I'm on the side of those who think the statement is a cop-out. It lacks transparency. It has very serious implications for the devolution of an already precarious form of synodical government in Canada. Kum by ya is not the only hymn in the hymn book.