The Anglican Church of Canada is the third-largest denomination in Canada, with 700,000 members. Only the Catholic Church and the United Church of Canada are larger. On issues such as abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia, the ACC is more liberal than the Catholic Church but more conservative than the UCC.
The United Church permits abortion on demand, the ordination of practising homosexuals, the blessing of same-sex unions and believes euthanasia should be only a pastoral, not a policy, issue. Why hasn’t the Anglican Church of Canada followed suit?
The final authority for the ACC is its governing body, the General Synod, which meets every three years. In between, there is an elected Council of the General Synod. The national House of Bishops also meets at least yearly and issues statements. The primate is the chief bishop and the head of the denomination in Canada.
Motions can only be passed at General Synod, although it can also recommend reports for further study. Until such reports are actually approved by General Synod, they do not carry the full weight of official Church teaching although they sometimes bear a quasi-official status. For instance, on its web site, the ACC lists Abortion in a New Perspective: Report of the Task Force on Abortion as the ACC’s “official position on the subject of abortion.” Yet it is no more official than the Care in Dying report which it also recommended for study.
A motion on doctrine and discipline has to pass in all three orders of General Synod: bishops, (lower) clergy and laity. In the past, Anglican bishops have often acted as a brake, holding the line on the issues of abortion and homosexuality when the laity and lower clergy were ready to swim with more secular positions. The UCC has no bishops and its General Council seems more vulnerable to secular influence.
The ACC is also part of a worldwide communion, whose bishops meet every 10 years at Lambeth. The ACC is legally independent but the worldwide communion and its head, the archbishop of Canterbury, still carry moral authority. Many Anglican sister churches, especially in Africa and Asia, are far more biblically faithful than the ACC or the extremely liberal Episcopal Church in the United States. Conservative groups like Essentials within the ACC are greatly encouraged by this more conservative, global Anglican communion.
In contrast, the UCC is not a member of a world-wide denomination, and lacks the familial influence of sister churches. The UCC is not answerable, even morally, to anyone. It lacks a broader global perspective, and in its more insular North American position, it does its own thing, which is, not surprisingly, very North American. There are renewal groups within the UCC, seeking to influence it, but theirs is an uphill battle.
While the ACC seems at times, liberal-driven, there are strong, biblically faithful groups within it; most notably, Essentials, a coalition of evangelical, charismatic and traditional groups. In 1994, the Essentials movement held its first national conference at which was signed the Montreal Declaration. The document, drafted by, among others, noted Anglican theologian J. I. Packer, took a very pro-life stance.
The Essentials movement continues as a strong force within the ACC, as was apparent at its second national conference in Vancouver, this year. However, Essentials still needs to increase its political clout at General Synod.
On the contentious issue of homosexuality, Essentials and Fidelity support the Church’s traditional teaching on sexuality while Integrity defies it.
During the ACC’s General Synod last year, Michael Ingham, a radical bishop from Vancouver (New Westminster) shocked many when he apologized on behalf of his diocese to “gay and lesbian members of our church for the slowness of the process of your full inclusion in the Body of Christ.” Ingham said, “Although they are not sick, homosexuals are offered healing” by the Church and when the Church offers such healing, it is being “spiritually abusive.” “Jesus Christ has accepted them as they are and there is no need to change them.” He urged the end of such “religiously based prejudice.”
The bishop of New Westminster then spoke of “a new minority in the diocese, those of a traditional conscience.” “What is the place of people with a traditional conscience and what is the appropriate pastoral care for them?” He spoke of “protection of conscience” for clergy holding a “historic” view in his diocese, but conservative clergy still fear they will be marginalized.
Conservative congregations worry that they will have trouble attracting new clergy if such clergy must sign an agreement to bless same-sex unions before the bishop grants them a licence.
In a divisive vote in June 2001, New Westminster Diocese approved the blessing of same-sex unions by a slim majority of 56 per cent. Ingham’s consent to same-sex blessings could cause schism, not only within his own diocese, but across the whole denomination. For many Anglican clergy and congregations, such blessings would violate their conscience.
In his Synod speech, Ingham raised the possibility of “alternative episcopal oversight.” Orthodox Anglicans themselves had first floated the notion wherein an orthodox bishop be appointed to give them pastoral care when they are under the authority of a bishop whom they believe no longer upholds biblical doctrine and practice.
If neither the Canadian primate, Michael Peers, nor the House of Bishops disciplines Ingham, it is probably only a matter of months before he gives his consent to the blessing of same-sex unions. If other dioceses follow suit, fault lines could crack across the country and the Church may have to rethink its structure.
Some conservatives were also alarmed at the passage of A Call to Human Dignity, a statement that attempted to address how “all persons seeking spiritual care and nurture as well as those pursuing employment and those people employed by our church shall be treated … without discrimination on the basis of age, sex, sexual orientation, family or marital status, race, colour, ethnicity (or place of origin), ancestry, disability, creed or social-economic status.”
Concerns were raised only as the document applied to employment practices. Would a church be obliged to hire or be unable to fire a youth worker who was a Satanist or a Sunday school superintendent living common-law or a priest who was a practising homosexual?
After four amendments were defeated, Ron Ferris, bishop of Algoma, spoke bluntly: “This document is not about human rights. It’s about sexual orientation and promiscuity and gay and bisexual love in the Anglican Church of Canada. Your next rector could be a practising bisexual and the person teaching your Sunday School could be in an open marriage. You will have little recourse. So don’t be fooled that this is about human rights. This is an ideological war, that is happening in the Church under the guise of human rights.” Despite Ferris’s plea, the motion was passed by 24 of 30 dioceses.
While evangelical, charismatic and other biblically conservative Anglicans felt powerless at Synod, it is their congregations that are actually experiencing the greatest growth across Canada and certainly globally, especially in Africa and Asia.
The Anglican Church has historically maintained a wide spectrum of theological views, but if the bishop of New Westminster consents to bless same-sex unions, that elasticity could finally snap. These tensions were felt at the last Lambeth Conference held in 1998 where the official report admitted that, “We must confess that we are not of one mind about homosexuality.” After stating four positions along the spectrum the report concluded that, “It appears that a majority of bishops is not prepared to bless same-sex unions or to ordain active homosexuals. Furthermore, many believe there should be a moratorium on such practices.”
The General Synod of the Anglican Church of 1998 recommended that a report opposing euthanasia and assisted suicide, be studied throughout the denomination. The original report is now in book form, Care in Dying. The book includes the excellent “Statement on Convergence on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide” (1996) which was issued by the Canadian Council of Churches. It is the most recent statement from the interchurch body. Interestingly, the Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church in Canada are two of 11 Canadian denominations endorsing the statement, while the Anglican Church is “in a process of study” and affirms its direction, while the United Church pulled back and would “urge their individual congregations to see euthanasia not as a policy but a pastoral issue” only.
Care in Dying says the Church cannot support euthanasia or assisted suicide. Such practices represent a “serious failure of human community.” Bishop Victoria Matthews, who proposed the motion, said, “Christians view life as a gift that is not ours to discard and that every life must be considered in relation to the wider society.
“The Christian response is always one of hope,” the book says. “From this hope there arises the commitment to give all members of society, especially the most vulnerable, the assurance that they will be supported in all circumstances of their lives, that they will not have dehumanizing medical interventions forced upon them, and that they will not be abandoned in their suffering.”
Care in Dying states that euthanasia is likely to have different impacts on different parts of society. “We are concerned about the impact that making euthanasia available would have on the elderly and the disabled. We are also concerned that women may be more severely impacted than men.”
“We would further urge that the attempt to change the law and practice at a time when health services are being cut back and costs downloaded onto patients and their families is inappropriate.”
The report recognizes, “Good medical practice sustains the commitment to care even when it is no longer possible to cure. Such care may involve the removal of therapies that are ineffective and/or intolerably burdensome, in favor of palliative measures. We do not support the idea that care can include an act or omission whose primary intention is to end a person’s life.” It thus concluded, “Our underlying commitment is that health care delivery as a whole should reflect the desire of Canadians to be a community that sustains the dignity and worth of all its members.”
Responses to the book’s recommendations were to be gathered and reported to the Council of General Synod in 1999. Unfortunately no responses were gathered. Instead, the most recent General Synod (June 2001) approved the re-establishment of the Human Life Task Force with a mandate to look at several issues including euthanasia. It would reflect theologically on the ethical issues surrounding biotechnologies, euthanasia and assisted suicide, reproductive technologies, and human cloning and would monitor ongoing developments in these areas. Membership would include ethicists, theologians, scientists and clinicians.
The Official Report of the Lambeth Conference (1998) of Anglican bishops from around the world took a particularly pro-life line, with the exception of the last sentence dealing with hydration.
Resolution 1:14 states:
a) affirms that life is God-given and has intrinsic sanctity, significance and worth;
b) defines euthanasia as the act by which one person intentionally causes or assists in causing the death of another who is terminally or seriously ill in order to end the other’s pain and suffering;
c) resolves that euthanasia, as precisely defined, is neither compatible with Christian faith nor should be permitted in civil legislation;
d) distinguishes between euthanasia and withholding, withdrawing, declining or terminating excessive treatment and intervention, all of which may be consonant with the Christian faith in enabling a person to die with dignity. When a person is in a permanent vegetative state, to sustain him or her with artificial nutrition and hydration may be seen as constituting medical intervention. Care in Dying (1999) edited by Eric Beresford is available at the Anglican Book Centre (1-800-268-1168) for $14.95.
Until 1988 under the Canadian Criminal Code, an attempt to induce an abortion by any means was a crime. However, in 1969, abortions were legal if performed by a doctor in an accredited or approved hospital after a therapeutic abortion committee certified that “the continuation of the pregnancy of such female person would or would be likely to endanger her life or health.”
In 1980, the United Church of Canada voted at their General Counsel to support a woman’s right to abortion. In the same year, however, the Anglican Church of Canada rejected abortion on demand. A motion was passed at General Synod:
“That this General Synod, in proclaiming a Gospel of life and hope and compassion for all of God’s people, rejects the principle of ‘abortion on demand’ or for the reasons of convenience or economic or social hardship, and commits itself to strong support of:
a) such educational programs in the church and compatible secular agencies which exist or may exist in the future for family life, birth control and social responsibility;
b) effective action to provide skilled counseling for families and individuals facing unwanted pregnancy;
c) community responsibility to ensure adequate practical help in the care and nurture of children. Carried. Act 42
A long range planning committee report also stated, “That this Synod reaffirms the responsibility of the Church to minister to those women and men and their extended families who have reached a decision to obtain an abortion.” The amended motion was carried as Act 90.
In the same report, “That this General Synod is of the opinion that the criminal law is not a good or appropriate instrument or agency for the restriction or control of abortion and that the proper means of attaining the goals in the resolution previously passed is through education and social measures, having in mind that laws relating to health and the discipline of the medical and nursing professions are made by provincial legislatures.” This motion was referred to the national executive council for consideration.
Then-Primate Ted Scott favoured a pro-abortion position and pro-abortion advocates raised the rare cases (rape and incest) argument. It was the late Vickars Short, bishop of Saskatchewan, who led the opposition to abortion for social reasons.
In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law that made inducing an abortion illegal, and furthermore ruled that the therapeutic abortion committees were unnecessary. Canadian law has no limit on the gestation period after which an abortion is illegal.
In the same year as abortion was made legal, the ACC issued “Abortion in a New Perspective: Report of the Task Force on Abortion.” This 26-page booklet is available from the Anglican Book Centre for $3.99. (See sidebar for a summary.)
To some the ACC, seems quiet on abortion today. The battle was so intense at the 1980 General Synod, that all the participants exhausted themselves. When one side appeared to have won, the other collapsed into silence. One Anglican has observed that unfortunately, in the ACC, it doesn’t matter whose motion wins, Anglicans tend to do their own thing anyway. Certainly both sides seem wary of opening the public debate up again.
The Anglican Church of Canada Official Position on the Subject of Abortion
The most recent statement of the Anglican Church of Canada was made on Nov. 3, 1989 when General Synod issued the following press release. The press release from the Anglican News Service refers to the official report, Abortion In a New Perspective Report of the Task Force on Abortion. The full text of the press release is as follows:
ANGLICAN CHURCH AFFIRMS ITS POSITION ON ABORTION
In the light of the government’s announcement of a new abortion bill, the Anglican Church reaffirms its position that both the rights and needs of women, and the rights and needs of the unborn, require protection.
The Church welcomes a non-gestational approach. This accords with the Church’s opposition to any arbitrary division which would make early abortion available on demand. The Church’s fundamental position is that “abortion is always the taking of a human life and, in our view, should never be done except for serious therapeutic reasons.” However, the Church’s Abortion Report affirms that:
• an upper limit should be established at which there is no reasonable prospect of viability;
• there should be a waiting period during which time counselling to women should be made available;
• other alternatives to abortion explored, including “social and financial supports to meet the needs of the woman, in housing accommodation, child care, employment, retraining, welfare benefits, and income support, as well as consideration of adoption of the baby expected.”
The Church further affirms that there should be a conscience clause, so that “the conscientious right of health care personnel to refrain from participating in abortion procedures be guaranteed.”
The Church also is “opposed in principle” to “anticipate genetic defect in the fetus as automatic grounds for abortion,” because as Christians we are “called to be the voice of the voiceless and powerless (and) must speak out when those different from or less able than the norm are to be denied the full rights accorded their fellow humans.”
The Church’s Abortion Report also recommends legislation to “ban commercial transactions in human genetic material” or any possibility of deliberate abortion for purposes of “fetal cell farming” for human transplants, and welcomes the recent announcement of a Royal Commission on reproductive techniques “as a vehicle to examine these concerns and develop legislative measures.”
The Anglican Church sees abortion as a public justice issue, challenging Canadians to build a society that affirms human life, which values children and welcomes a new generation, and which provides legal and social protection for women caught in the trauma of problem pregnancies. Such extensive social legislation, to reduce conditions which make the choice of abortion more likely, would include:
• programs and education to combat violence against women
• more affordable housing
• pay equity for women
• a guaranteed annual income, and other financial measures
• universally accessible, publicly funded day care
• an intensified national program to collect child support payments from delinquent fathers
• better educational programs about sexuality and contraception in schools.
The Church does not see abortion as simply a “women’s issue” but rather a community issue, which takes place on the battleground of women’s bodies. Concerned that women are frequently forced to choose between marginalization and poverty or abortion, the Church believes that in many circumstances women are not “free” to choose to bear their children and so, because society fails to provide supportive structures, “abortion has become a means of ‘restructuring the woman’ by emptying the womb.” Many Canadian women who choose not to bear their child make their decision out of alienation and hopelessness. “True choice must involve alternatives to despair” the report concludes.
‘Family is a divinely ordained focus of love’: Essentials
Excerpts from the Montreal Declaration of Anglican Essentials, 1994
14. The Standards of Sexual Conduct
God designed human sexuality not only for procreation but also for the joyful expression of love, honour, and fidelity between wife and husband. These are the only sexual relations that biblical theology deems good and holy.Adultery, fornication, and homosexual unions are intimacies contrary to God’s design. The Church must seek to minister healing and wholeness to those who are sexually scarred, or who struggle with ongoing sexual temptations, as most people do. Homophobia and all forms of sexual hypocrisy and abuse, are evils against which Christians must ever be on their guard. The Church may not lower God’s standards of sexual morality for any of its members, but must honour God by upholding these standards tenaciously in face of society’s departures from them.
Congregations must seek to meet the particular needs for friendship and community that single persons have.
15. The Family and the Call to Singleness.
The family is a divinely ordained focus of love, intimacy, personal growth, and stability for women, men and children. Divorce, child abuse, domestic violence, rape, pornography, parental absenteeism, sexual domination, abortion, common-law relationships, and homosexual partnerships, all reflect weakening of the family ideal. Christians must strengthen family life through teaching, training, and active support, and work for socio-political conditions that support the family. Single-parent families and victims of family breakdown have special needs to which congregations must respond with sensitivity and support.