TORONTO — An emotional debate on whether Anglicans should bless same-sex marriages has prompted complaints of bullying ahead of a vote on the issue among delegates to their triennial conference, the church’s primate acknowledged Monday.
In remarks to General Synod 2016, Archbishop Fred Hiltz urged respectful discussions on a topic that has proven bitterly divisive.
“Some members of our synod are deeply hurt. Some of them are deeply offended. Some are feeling unsafe to continue to speak lest they be reprimanded,” Hiltz told the gathering.
“This kind of behaviour is not appropriate. It’s unacceptable.”
Hundreds of delegates to the six-day synod just north of Toronto were expected to vote later Monday on a resolution to authorize same-sex marriages. The resolution includes an opt-out clause to ensure no one would be forced to participate in such marriages against their conscience.
Complaints about bullying emerged during weekend discussions on the resolution in smaller working groups.
Eliot Waddingham, 24, a transgender person from Ottawa, said tension over the vote was palpable.
“It is breaking my heart that there are people who see gay marriage as a separation from God and from love,” said Waddingham, a longtime Anglican attending the synod as an observer.
“I think ‘no’ would be a death sentence for our church. It would be driving off the edge of a cliff.”
To pass, the resolution to change the marriage cannon requires two-thirds of the delegates to vote yes in each of three orders — lay, clergy and bishops. The bishops’ group indicated in February that the threshold would likely not be met. Indigenous bishops have also said they would resist having “Western cultural approaches” imposed on them.
The decision, whichever way it goes, will have consequences for the country’s third-largest church, Hiltz told delegates Monday.
“There may be people who feel compelled to leave our church,” Hiltz said. “That’s the gravity and the weight of the situation that is before us.”
The pending vote 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.
Another delegate, Stephen Warner, said he wasn’t surprised to hear the complaints of intimidation that have surfaced given that every member was given a “bully pulpit” during the small group chats as the issue comes to a head.
“This is my seventh synod overall over five years,” said Warner, 20, of Toronto. “I’ve never seen a more tense and dour environment.”
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.