Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Reflecting on General Synod 2016

UPDATE - It turns out that one clerical vote had been misallocated as a lay vote. As a result, the amendment to the marriage canon has PASSED first reading. If passed again at General Synod 2019, equal marriage will be affirmed within the Anglican Cburch of Canada effective January 2020. That said, I leave the post below intact, reflecting reality as we then thought it to be. I note that some of the Bishops who intended to push ahead with equal marriage immediately in the face of the defeat at indicating they will not change their decision in light of the corrected result. More on that in due course.

After too long a silence, I have concluded that Simple Massing Priest is the appropriate place for me to offer some reflections on yesterday's vote at General Synod. In case anyone missed it, a proposed amendment to the Canons of the Anglican Church of Canada to allow for the marriage of same sex couples narrowly failed - by a single vote in the House of the Clergy.

Appropriately, there is a high bar for changes to doctrine. In this particular case, the motion required a two thirds majority in each of the three Houses - the Bishops, the Clergy and the Laity. The Laity passed the motion with more than 72% voting in favour. Despite earlier concerns that the motion would fail in the House of Bishops, it actually had in excess of 68% - though pending numbers that may also be a one vote margin. Although well over two thirds of the members of General Synod approved of the motion, it failed because it only garnered 66.23% among the Clergy.

In some respects, it might be easier to handle the results had the rejection been more substantial, or had it been the Bishops as had been feared. With clear majorities across the board, and even though the rules were scrupulously followed, the result feels illegitimate.

I felt gutted as I read the result. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain of my LGBTQTS sisters and brothers. While much of the debate, from both sides, was measured and heartfelt, there were also many disturbing and overtly homophobic comments - to the point that the Bishop of Edmonton felt it necessary to explicitly challenge and reject the language of "abomination." I gather that some of those on the conservative side were themselves distressed by the intemperate language, and the realization that some of the opposition to the resolution was rooted, not in thoughtful reservation but in rampant homophobia.

Complicating all this is the advice from the Chancellor of General Synod that the canon as it stands - unamended - does not actually prohibit the solemnization of marriage between two persons of the same sex. And so, ironically, by defeating the motion to amend the Marriage Canon, the opponents of equal marriage may actually have defeated themselves.

Had the motion passed, I expect most Dioceses, most Bishops and most Clergy would have shown restraint for the next three years, awaiting final approval of the canonical change. Instead, several Bishops have already announced that they will authorize Clergy in their Dioceses to solemnize same sex marriages, and several more have indicated they will initiate processes within their Dioceses to the same end. It is likely that, by the end of 2016, a majority of Anglican Dioceses in Canada representing 75 - 80 percent of the Anglicans in Canada will be offering the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony to couples, regardless of sexuality, who otherwise meet the legal and canonical requirements.

Our own Bishop is, for now, keeping his own counsel. He has indicated via a Facebook post that he will issue a pastoral letter later this week to be read in Churches this coming Sunday. I do not know what course he will chart, but I know that his first concern will be to acknowledge the hurt of those who feel rejected for who they are or for what they believe. I do not envy him as he begins to navigate a sea of canonical and pastoral chaos.

There will be time in due course to consider what might have been done differently. There will be time in due course to address the apparent split between two historically oppressed groups - Indigenous folk and Queer folk - who could as easily be allies as adversaries. There will be time in due course to determine next steps.

But today it is time to stand with those who have been wounded by an imperfect process, who feel rejected by their faith community, who have spent much of the last few days being talked about rather than talked with. With Paul (2 Corinthians 4: 8-10),
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.