By Sue Careless
The InterimA motion to bless same-sex unions has been deferred for a year by the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, although Archbishop Terry Finlay has announced from the pulpit that he favours same-sex blessings. Finlay made his remarks during an opening night charge to delegates at the 150th annual diocesan synod, which met Nov. 20-22 in Toronto.

From the pulpit of St. James’ Cathedral, the archbishop declared, “It is no secret that after prayer, discussion and Bible study, I am in favour of the ‘local option.’ That is, I would like our diocese to set out some principles whereby parishes that agreed to do so could have the option to bless committed, monogamous relationships of Christian couples who want to love and care for each other throughout their lives.”

Finlay continued, “Parishes and clergy that did not agree with this would not be required to do so. This would not be a required test of postulants for ordination, nor of clergy coming into the diocese.”

Synod, which is the diocese’s governing body, deferred until next fall a motion from Rev. Sally Boyles of Holy Trinity, Toronto, which sought to have some parishes designated as places where same-sex blessings could be performed. Boyles had several slips of the tongue when discussing her motion, calling same-sex unions “marriages.”

Both conservatives, who oppose such blessings, and liberals, who favour them, thought it prudent to wait until after the national body, General Synod, ruled on the issue in May 2004, before making their own, local diocesan decisions.

Technically, it would require two General Synods (or six years, since General Synod only meets every three years) to change any canonical law such as the marriage law.

The Toronto Synod did pass a motion to discuss the issue of same-sex blessings. The process will include information sessions for clergy and laity on March 6, April 3, April 24 and May 1, 2004.

Synod also deferred a motion by Rev. Andy Leroux of St. Ninian’s, Scarborough, Ont., to petition the federal government of Canada “to use its constitutional ‘notwithstanding’ power to annul” recent decisions favouring same-sex marriages in the supreme courts of Ontario and British Columbia.

Leroux argued that the same-sex judicial decision had established a constitutional and judicial precedent in the area of marriage law. Since it was decided on the basis that a law banning same-sex marriages was “discriminatory and inequitable,” Leroux’s motion argued that by the same logic, “the laws banning polygamy, group marriage, incest and child marriages are all at risk of similarly being deemed to be discriminatory and inequitable. Therefore, the sanctity of marriage is very much being threatened.”

Leroux said he was encouraged that a recount had to be called by a show of hands. At least one-third of the delegates supported his motion.

Rev. Murray Henderson, incumbent at Church of the Ascension, Toronto, and chair of the Orthodox Response Network, told The Interim in a phone interview that Archbishop Finlay’s charge approving same-sex blessings “was like crossing the Rubicon. Now, there’s no turning back. We’ve really got to firm things up. We’ve got to go from just being an ad hoc committee to a network that can sustain one another in joy and honesty and truth for the next 10 to 20 years. If we can’t turn the tide, then we need a stronger network. We need to find ways to not just stay alive, but thrive. We need to not only prepare for Alternative Episcopal Oversight, but also have a presence that encourages evangelism, youth ministry and camps.”

“We don’t know what the details of realignment would look like. We hope we could keep our buildings, but we must prepare for any eventuality,” he added. “There will be a shakedown in the next four years and we must build strong friendships and mutual ministries that will sustain one another through the tough times.”

Henderson was skeptical about some liberals’ logic. “Would someone in the liberal camp tell us what the difference is between blessing same-sex marriage and blessing same-sex unions? I think they are unwilling to make it clear. They want marriage, but it is easier to sell same-sex unions.”

Synod proposed that four consultations take place throughout the diocese during Lent and early spring next year to address blessing same-sex unions. Finlay said “there would be presenters on both sides of the debate to provide an opportunity to hear a balanced discussion of the issues involved.”

Conservatives hope that former gays and lesbians will be able to give their testimonies to God’s transforming love in their lives during such a dialogue. While some critics fear the process will be hijacked by liberal bureaucrats, Leroux quoted Richard John Neuhaus as saying, “Never say ‘no’ to an invitation to say what the church teaches.” Leroux said, “I’m not an optimist, but I am full of hope.”

With the retirement of Bishop Douglas Blackwell, there is no longer any strong conservative leadership among the diocese’s four bishops.