TORONTO — The Anglican Church, the third-largest in Canada, is set to grapple with whether to allow same-sex couples to marry in a divisive debate that has already stirred strong emotion and seems destined to come down on the status quo ban.
The issue, in the form of a resolution that recommends giving formal church blessing to same-sex marriage, is to be voted on at the church’s six-day triennial General Synod that opens Thursday north of Toronto.
To pass, the resolution requires two-thirds of the hundreds of delegates to vote yes in each of three orders — lay, clergy and bishops. However, the latter group has already indicated the threshold likely won’t be met, saying in February that “some of us talked of being mortified and devastated by this realization.”
In response, Ottawa Bishop John Chapman apologized to members of the gay community and to those feeling “discouraged, angry, betrayed and hurt.”
Indigenous bishops have also said they would resist having “Western cultural approaches” imposed on them, arguing aboriginal voices had been lost in the “very strained” debate.
Integrity Canada, which speaks for gay, lesbian and bisexual Anglicans, has called on the church to “repent of all activity” that diminishes or hurts their community.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the head of the Canadian church, would not comment Wednesday. However, he has previously acknowledged the divisive nature of the discussion, fretting that some clergy could opt for “civil disobedience” if the resolution fails, while some members would desert the church whatever the outcome.
Defections were also on the mind of Logan McMenamie, bishop of British Columbia.
“It saddens me,” McMenamie said in an interview Wednesday. “I don’t think walking away from one another would solve anything.”
At the same time, he said, some bishops formerly opposed to the resolution may have changed their minds amid the feedback that followed their February statement.
The pending vote — likely Monday — is the culmination of three years of work that began when the last General Synod, the church’s legislative body, asked a panel to come up with the draft motion. The gathering directed a marriage commission to consult widely within the church and among partners, and include a “conscience clause” spelling out that no one would be compelled to take part in a same-sex marriage against their beliefs.
The commission was also required to show how same-gender marriage would jibe with the church’s 1893 founding statement — the Solemn Declaration — and be defensible on both biblical and theological grounds.
“The experience of same-sex committed partnerships in our midst, clearly manifesting God’s blessing and the fruit of the Spirit, are a powerful indication that God’s view of marriage may be more inclusive than ours,” the resolution’s authors state in their report called the “Holy Estate”.
“However, it is finally a decision that the church will have to reach, not by arguments alone, but by prayerful discernment of the movement of the Spirit in our midst.”
The report, which included input from 223 church members, also offers insight into some of the passion the topic arouses.
“It shouldn’t be up to me or any other layperson to decide what is and what isn’t God’s revealed truth,” a person identified as J. Brown, of New Westminster, B.C., told the commission. “The fact that I have to write this letter to defend one of the most fundamental doctrines of the church as made clear by scripture, tradition and reason is disheartening to say the least.”
However, the report notes the church has made controversial changes in the past, including allowing marriage after divorce and women into the priesthood.
Anglican clergy already have the ability to refuse to officiate a wedding, and the report notes the church would likely have a strong defence against any civil or human rights litigation against officials who refuse to authorize same-sex marriages.
About 1.6 million Canadians identify themselves as Anglican, according to Statistics Canada, and church figures indicate more than 500,000 of them are part of about 2,800 congregations across the country.