Members of General Synod pray together before the first reading of a vote on proposed amendments to the marriage canon. Photo by Art Babych

Daily Report from the 41st General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada: Monday, July 11, 2016

The fifth day of General Synod 2016 began after breakfast as members of General Synod filed into the Grand York Ballroom at the Sheraton Parkway North Toronto Hotel and Suites in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

Morning Plenary

Artist Elizabeth Adams led a Morning Prayer session, Praying the Cloth, in which table groups reflected on individuals in their lives who represented a sign of God’s emerging newness/dream.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, noted that it was the birthday of Bishop Larry Robertson of the Diocese of Yukon, and members celebrated by singing Happy Birthday. Melissa Green, chair of the Agenda Committee, then read out the Orders of the Day.

Nominating Committee Report

Dean Peter Elliott, chair of the Nominating Committee, offered background on Section VII of the Constitution of the General Synod before reporting on the results of the nominations. The committee had received 78 nominations for 28 positions.

The selected committee members included eight from the Ecclesiastical Province of Canada, eight from Ontario, six from Rupert’s Land, and six from B.C. and Yukon. They included:

Pension Committee: Bishop David Irving (bishop, Rupert’s Land), Bishop Mary Irwin-Gibson (bishop, Canada), Samuel Rose (clergy, Canada), Archdeacon David Selzer (clergy, Ontario), Robert Dickson (laity, B.C. and Yukon), Shara Golden (laity, Canada).

Financial Management Committee: Bishop Fraser Lawton (bishop, Rupert’s Land), Trevor Freeman (clergy, B.C. and Yukon), Leo Martin (clergy, Canada), Paul Rathbone (laity, Ontario).

Anglican Journal Committee: Bishop William Cliff (bishop, Rupert’s Land), David Harrison (clergy, Ontario), Cathy Wozlowski (laity, B.C. and Yukon).

Communications and Information Resources Committee: Ian Alexander (laity, B.C. and Yukon), Margaret Marschall (laity, Rupert’s Land), Dean James McShane (clergy, Ontario).

Faith, Worship, and Ministry Committee: Sandra Bender (laity, Canada), David Giffen (clergy, Ontario), Jay Koyle (clergy, Ontario).

Partners in Mission Committee: Robert Camara (clergy, Canada), Jennifer Pring (laity, B.C. and Yukon), Archdeacon Charlene Taylor (clergy, Canada).

Public Witness for Social and Ecological Justice Committee: Bishop Jane Alexander (bishop, Rupert’s Land), Canon David Burrows (clergy, Canada), Audrey Lawrence (laity, Ontario).

Resources for Mission: Archdeacon Jane Humphreys (clergy, Ontario), Glen Mitchell (laity, B.C. and Yukon), Archdeacon Geoffrey Woodcroft (clergy, Rupert’s Land).

The Nominating Committee highlighted the consideration of Primatial appointments, Coordinating Committee Networks, and task groups for Indigenous persons and individuals less than 30 years of age. Dean Elliott put forward a motion that was subsequently carried:

  • A011: Be it resolved the General Synod adopt the Report of the Nominating Committee for membership on Standing and Coordinating Committees 2016-2019.

Response to Questions—Commission on the Marriage Canon

The Primate introduced members of the Commission on the Marriage Canon to respond to questions for clarification that had been raised in the first round of conversation on Friday evening.

Commissioner Stephen Martin presented on the concepts of marriage and the need to separate cultural understandings of marriage from Christian understandings of marriage. He highlighted the need to understand how cultures in biblical times would have understood the idea of marriage.

Bishop Linda Nicholls responded to the question of whether the commission itself was biased, noting that members had no shared intention independent of the tasks assigned to them by Resolution C003 at General Synod 2013. Bishop Nicholls affirmed that commissioners, like all individuals, have inherent biases based on their socialization and personal perspectives.

The commissioners also placed a great deal of importance on the 2004 Windsor Report in reinforcing the importance of Scripture and tradition, and felt their conclusions in This Holy Estate were consistent with the Bible.

Chancellor David Jones responded to technical and legal questions raised by previous discussion groups, noting that the conscience clause already existed in Canon XXI. As such no minister was obliged to marry someone if they had objections to that particular union. He pointed to the legal advice given to the Commission on the Marriage Canon from respected firm Hicks Morley suggesting that no would be required to perform a same-sex marriage if doing so was contrary to their conscience, based on the protection of freedom of religion in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the precedent set through repeated rulings of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Archbishop Hiltz proceeded to answer concerns about the diversity of the commission and the representation of Indigenous people. The Primate acknowledged that this CoGS commission was selected with a mandate, and that this questions was central to seeking membership. However, the commission was charged with broad consultation, including with indigenous peoples. He reminded Synod that Indigenous people were not of one mind on the issue of same-sex marriage. He also indicated that Indigenous bishops were consulted, both in meeting and through their submission. They had pledged to continue conversations on walking with with the wider church, irrespective of the decision of General Synod on the blessing of same-sex marriage.

Moving to the altar, the Primate restated the norms of discussion for General Synod and addressed the undeniable disagreements among members over the solemnization of same-sex marriages. He called for “good disagreement” characterized by mutual respect and holy manners.

Archbishop Hiltz also acknowledged that some members of General Synod had confided to him they felt bullied by expressing their opinions in discussion groups. Such behaviour, he said, was unacceptable. Recalling the words of St. Paul on the patient nature of love, the Primate added, “This is the body of Christ. Bullying behaviour is not becoming of the way we treat one another as members within that body. Surely we can model a better way of grappling with deep disagreement … Honest and direct communication helps us strengthen each other.”

The Primate then led members in singing Ubi Caratas, concluding with a prayer as members hummed the melody.

Neighbourhood Discussion Groups

Members of General Synod broke into neighbourhood discussion groups to speak together about the proposed changes to the marriage canon and their understandings of marriage.

Presentation—Bishop Francisco de Assis da Silva, Primate, Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil 

After lunch, General Synod Global Relations Director Andrea Mann introduced Bishop Francisco de Assis da Silva, Primate of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil (Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil, or IEAB), who began his presentation with a short video about the diversity of the Brazilian church—both theologically in its range of Protestant and Anglo-Catholic tradition as well as in its inclusive nature, particularly with respect to LGBTQ individuals.

Now in its 126th year, the IEAB emerged with the aid of missionaries from Britain and the United States and became an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion in 1965. Bishop da Silva described the Brazilian church as proactive and progressive in terms of its politics and gender policies, having begun the ordination of women 31 years ago, and having a high level of visibility despite remaining a relatively small church in the national context.

He also discussed some of the political challenges facing Brazil. Following a period of military dictatorship, the country began experiencing more affirmative social policies that are now under threat, as conservative elites attempt a coup d’état with impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff.

Bishop de Silva said that the IEAB and the Anglican Church of Canada maintain a strong companionship based on three core principles: telling the truth, trusting each other (“truth generates trust”) and continuing conversations at the table together. He fondly recalled the November 2015 visit by Archbishop Hiltz, who in turn praised the hospitality of the IEAB and the witness of the church in Brazilian society.

Practices and Principles of Investment

General Secretary Michael Thompson introduced the next three speakers who offered presentations on sustainable investment practices and principles for the church.

Natan Obed, president of the Inuit national organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, described the vital impact of climate change on the future of a traditional Inuit way of life. Obed urged General Synod to take the fight against climate change into consideration as they pondered how to respond to the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and adopt a more sustainable approach to fiscal policy.

Dean Ken Gray, co-chair of the Creation Matters Working Group and secretary of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, made a forceful case for the incorporation of stewardship for creation in the church’s investment practices. Recalling efforts by the Church of England to divest from its investment in fossil fuels, he asked members of General Synod to take a minute of silence to reflect on what they had done in the past 12 months to contribute towards a lower carbon economy, informed by a Christian spirituality of witness.

Kevin Thomas, director of shareholder engagement at the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE), rounded out the discussion. Acknowledging the challenges of shifting to a low-carbon economy, he highlighted the importance of making the transition respectful to workers employed in high-carbon industries, as well as making common cause with Indigenous communities. Thomas put forward the case for a comprehensive approach that included collaboration with members of the business community that share the church’s approach to sustainable investment.

Resolution on the Marriage Canon—Debate and Vote 

After a prayer from the Primate, discussion moved into Resolution A051, the amendment to Canon XXI to allow the blessing of same-sex marriages. At the outset, Chancellor Jones explained in detail the legal and procedural aspects of amendments to the resolution and voting for the resolution itself. He noted that any canonical amendment required a 2/3 majority affirmative vote by the Order of Bishops, Order of Clergy, and Order of Laity for the first reading. If successful, the resolution would then return to provincial and diocesan synods for consideration and comment—not consent—over the next triennium, before being presented at General Synod 2019 for a second reading.

Members spoke in plenary. Two amendments were moved to Resolution A0151. The first read:

  • Be it resolved that Paragraph 3 of Motion A051 be deleted and replaced with the following clause:
    3. The following be added to section 11 of the Regulations
    e) A minister may only solemnize a marriage between persons of the same sex if authorized by the   diocesan bishop.

The mover of the amendment, Bishop Colin Johnson, explained that the amendment served as an “opt-in” clause—unlike the “opt-out” nature of the conscience clause in the original resolution—that would honour the different contexts of churches across the country and allow greater choice and input by bishops. Dean Peter Elliott seconded the amendment, noting that particularly in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting, many ordained members of General Synod wished to return to their home dioceses and perform same-sex marriages, while recognizing that not all bishops shared their sentiments.

After a debate with numerous speakers arguing in favour or against, a vote carried the amendment, with 59.9 per cent voting in favour.

A second amendment, moved by Peter Elliott, focused on consistency in the language of both clauses for Resolution A051:

  • Be it resolved that: In Paragraph 2 b) and d) of Motion A051, the word “partners” be changed to “parties of the marriage”

Members voted in favour of the latter amendment, with 83.6 per cent in support.

Following the votes for the two amendments, the Primate turned the conversation back to Resolution A051 itself. Over the course of the next few hours, approximately 60 members of General Synod spoke at the microphones.

Those arguing in favour of the resolution offered a range of arguments. Many were LGBTQ individuals who related personal experiences that often included rejection by their families, communities, and other churches before finding a new home in the Anglican Church of Canada. They drew attention to the marginalization and thoughts of suicide that often plague LGBTQ people, particularly youth. Speakers highlighted the equal worth of all human beings as children of God and the need for greater inclusion in light of God’s love and the message of Jesus, drawing comparisons to previous debates in the history of the Anglican Church of Canada such as the changing role of women in society and the subsequent decision to permit the ordination of women, and warning that the church should not be on the wrong side of history.

Some drew attention to the long period that the church had debated the role of LGBTQ individuals. Discussions about the place of gays and lesbians in the church began in 1976 and continued for decades thereafter, from the decision of the church to bless committed same-sex relationships to the present debate about marriage. Those in favour of the resolution pointed to their close relationships with LGBTQ people of faith who only wished to have equal access to all the sacraments of the church. Many questioned how the church could ordain gay and lesbian priests while not permitting gay and lesbian couples to marry. They suggested that by not passing the amendment to Canon XXI, the Anglican Church of Canada would be imposing a certain cultural view of love and marriage and identifying it with the will of God.

Conversely, members of General Synod who argued against the motion pointed to the authority of the Bible, interpretation of scripture and that God had ordained marriage as strictly between a man and a woman, beginning with Adam and Eve. Many expressed their love for LGBTQ people themselves, while affirming that love, support, and acceptance of individual human beings as equal children of God did not entail agreeing with what they described as the choices or behaviour of those individuals. One member recalled a gay man who had been a faithful member of his congregation and who had inspired those around him by choosing a life of celibacy, citing his case as a potential model for LGBTQ people of faith.

Many lamented the division that the debate over same-sex marriage had created within the church. A common concern was that by blessing same-sex marriages, the church would be accepting changes in secular society that conflicted with the Word of God enshrined in the Bible. Some Indigenous members of General Synod put forward their ability to maintain a traditional interpretation of marriage as an example of their right to self-determination, as outlined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Affirming that marriage in their spiritual context required a male and female, they did not recognize the right of anyone from the outside to change their practice, reserving the right of free, prior, and informed consent in matters pertaining to their cultural integrity and vitality. Other Indigenous members reminded Synod that Indigenous Anglicans do not speak with one voice on this issue.

After hours of debate, the Primate led a prayer before putting the amendment to Canon XXI to a vote.

The final results showed the Order of Clergy voting 66.23 per cent in favour of the amendment (51 votes), the Order of Laity voting 77.22 per cent in favour (78 votes), and the Order of Bishops voting 68.42 per cent in favour (26 votes). With the amendment required a two-thirds majority in each of the three houses to pass, the vote in the Order of Clergy came just under that benchmark by one vote. As a result, the amendment did not pass.

Night Prayer and Reconsideration Vote

With emotions still running strong after the vote over the amendment, members of General Synod moved into night prayers.

Before breaking for the evening, Bishop John Chapman put forward a motion to reconsider the vote against the amendment to the marriage canon, based on the closeness of the result by the razor-thin margin of one vote. He pointed to Section 21 of the Rules of Order and Procedure, which states that “A question being once determined shall not again be drawn into discussion in the same session, without the consent of two-thirds of the members present voting as provided in Rule of Order 18 b).”

Amid much commotion in the hall, Chancellor Jones confirmed that such a motion was not debatable. Members thus voted on a motion to reconsider the previous vote

Results of the vote showed that only 64.3 per cent of members of General Synod supported reconsidering the vote, falling short of the two-thirds majority outlined in the Rules of Order and Procedure. The motion to reconsider therefore did not carry.

The Primate then concluded the meeting for the day. Recognizing that many members of General Synod were “hurting from a variety of perspectives,” he announced that he would stay behind to help create a space for anyone who wished to talk, pray, or weep.

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