Sue Careless
The Interim

During a meeting in Mississauga, Ont., the Primate’s Theological Commission has found same-sex blessings, or SSBs, to be a matter of doctrine. At past Anglican synods, those favouring SSBs argued that the controversial rite involved only pastoral care, not doctrine.

If the commission’s St. Michael Report is accepted by General Synod in 2007, the earliest that SSBs could pass definitively at the national governing body would be 2010 – five years from now. Motions dealing with doctrinal change have stiffer requirements for passage and General Synod only meets every three years.

(Motions involving doctrine need to pass by a two-thirds majority, in two successive General Synods. A doctrinal change must also pass in each of the three orders: bishops, clergy and laity. Should it fail in even one, it would not pass.)

But while the 12-member commission of theologians, chaired by Victoria Matthews, bishop of Edmonton, found SSBs to be a matter of doctrine, it also argued that it was not a “core” or “creedal” doctrine and so should not be a “communion-breaking issue.” It also found that SSBs “would be analogous to a marriage,” since in both a union is blessed. While the commission did not find SSBs a core doctrine, it did acknowledge that “several doctrines are integral to the theological consideration of the blessing of committed same-sex unions: salvation, incarnation, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, theological anthropology (the doctrine of the human being), sanctification and holy matrimony.” Most, if not all, of these would be considered core doctrines.

Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Anglican Canadian House of Bishops in Windsor, Ont., the bishops agreed “neither to encourage nor to initiate” the blessing of same-sex unions until General Synod decides in 2007. But the wording of their statement was so ambiguous that it was not clear if the moratorium was retroactive or applied only to new initiatives.

Bishop Ingham argued that the wording meant there should be no new initiatives. On April 27, the day the statement was issued, seven parishes in New Westminster blessed same-sex unions. “I made it explicitly clear to the Canadian House that, in view of the upcoming Synod in New Westminster, I could sign the statement only on the understanding that I would be governed very much by the advice of my own Synod,” said Ingham.

What is certain is that for any new parish or diocese to proceed to bless same-sex unions before General Synod meets in 2007 would mean that parish or diocese had flown in the face of the expressed will of the House of Bishops.

On May 7, one day after the Primate’s Theological Commission meeting, the Council of General Synod also met in Mississauga. After a tense debate, the national governing body of the Anglican Church of Canada, voted 20-12 that “duly elected members attend, but not participate” in the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in June in Nottingham, England.This decision by the council respects the request of the primates of the Anglican Communion last February to “voluntarily withdraw” from the international council. Many provinces in the worldwide communion had expressed dismay that the Diocese of New Westminster blessed same-sex unions and that General Synod last year resolved to, “Affirm the integrity and sanctity of committed same-sex relationships.”

In a statement issued on May 8, the governing body wrote, “We affirm our membership in the Anglican Consultative Council and our rightful place within the Anglican Communion.”

The St. Michael Report, released May 6, can be read on the internet at intro.htm.

Important 18 days for Canadian Anglicans

The 18 days between April 27 and May 14 were momentous for the Anglican Church of Canada:

April 27: The Canadian House of Bishops declares a moratorium on same-sex blessings (SSBs) and supports Primate Andrew Hutchison’s statement that he would do all in his power to persuade the Council of General Synod not to send delegates to the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC).

May 6: The Primate’s Theological Commission finds SSBs a matter of doctrine.

May 7: The Council of General Synod decides not to send delegates to ACC.