Report Number: 006 document 3
(Please note that the resolutions proposed herein were altered significantly by the Council of General Synod in March, and that it is the resolutions as amended by the Council that will be placed before General Synod.)
Addendum to FWM report on the blessing of same-sex unions
At its meeting of 5-8 February 2004, the Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee passed the following resolutions:
Be it resolved that Faith Worship and Ministry ask the Council of General Synod to bring the following motions before General Synod:
1) Blessing of Same Sex Unions
Be it resolved that this General Synod holds:
2) Resources regarding Same Sex Unions
Be it resolved that this General Synod requests the Faith Worship and Ministry Committee in the next triennium to assist the church in implementing the resolution on same sex unions and to prepare resources for the church in addressing issues relating to the blessing of unions and marriage.
The Committee further recommends that:
Background to the Resolution on Same Sex Blessings
A paper by the Rev’d Canon Dr. Kim Murray
As part of its work for the triennium just completed, the Council of General Synod requested that the Faith, Worship and Ministry Standing Committee consider the matter of the blessing of committed same-sex unions, with a view to developing both a process for discussion and a resolution to be presented to General Synod 2004.
This matter has had high priority in six meetings of FWM as a committee, and in the work which has occupied members between committee meetings. At the February 2003 meeting of FWM it was decided that the services of the consulting firm Linda Graff and Associates Inc. be retained to conduct a focus group study of the issue in the four provinces of our church, and this course of action was endorsed by the Council of General Synod at its meeting in May 2003. The executive summary and recommendations of the report delivered by this firm to our meeting in February 2004 are attached to this background document, and the full text of the report has been posted on the General Synod website and may be downloaded as a pdf file at (web address).
The consultants’ report has provided us with an independent picture of how members of our church currently view this issue. What emerges is more-or-less what we already suspected, that there are sectors of our membership who are deeply committed both for and against the blessing of committed same-sex unions. There is also the indication of the existence of a larger “silent majority” of those who are to a greater or lesser extent equivocal regarding the issue. Almost all of those who participated in the study indicated concern that the unity of our church should be preserved, and that this was not an issue over which our church’s unity ought to be impaired or broken. A few of those who participated indicated otherwise. There was a recurring call for continued dialogue and for more information and study of the issue at the level of the local parish.
Despite the report’s stated recommendation that General Synod might decide to give yet another triennium of dialogue, study and reflection to this issue, it is the prayerfully considered opinion of the members of the FWM committee that our church must bring this issue to some form of decision when General Synod meets this spring. The motion as it is presented does not propose to resolve the issue, but rather invites General Synod to affirm those foundational convictions which we hope and pray may lead to a healthy resolution of the matter. We feel that a motion to simply defer the matter to a later meeting of General Synod would offer nothing to the process of resolving this issue, and might in fact prove to have destructive consequences.
At its final four-day meeting, FWM devoted twenty-seven hours of committee time to the discussion of this issue, and to the development of the resolution as it is now offered for your consideration. We offer it with a profound sense of having sought for and been guided by the Holy Spirit of God, and we pray that what we offer here may be helpful to our church in finding a faithful way forward.
The writer of the book called Ecclesiastes announces that “there is nothing new under the sun.” This might also be said of the five paragraphs which comprise the body of this motion. There is a sense in which each paragraph reflects the essence of statements previously made by the church and endorsed by its membership.
Paragraph 1 recalls the judgement of Richard Hooker, who, in his magisterial Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity responded to potential division within the Elizabethan church by restating the traditional concept of adiaphora or, as he stated it in English, “matters indifferent.” Hooker’s use of the term did not indicate that the parties at odds over particular issues of practice or discipline were, in the modern sense “indifferent” about that concerning which they were in contention, (they were often passionately motivated and at odds) but rather that the matters in question were not “necessary to salvation,” and were therefore not sufficient to justify the breaking of the unity or fellowship which the church has in Jesus Christ.
A modern application of this same principle occurs in the communiqué issued by the Primates of the Anglican Communion when they met at Porto in March of the year 2000, which stated:
We recognise that one Province’s adoption of certain policies may result in severely impaired communion between Provinces or dioceses (as has already happened in relation to the ordination of women). We believe that the unity of the Communion as a whole rests on the Lambeth Quaderilateral: the Holy Scriptures as the rule and standard of faith; the creeds of the undivided Church; the two Sacraments ordained by Christ himself and the historic episcopate. Only a formal and public repudiation of this would place a diocese or Province outside the Anglican Communion.”
Paragraph 2 restates the findings of the final report of the General Synod Task Force on Jurisdiction. The report makes the point that the
confederal nature of our church means that undesignated powers rest with the dioceses and/or diocesan bishops. This seems to suggest that when it is unclear at what level a matter should be decided, the power to decide it should rest at the diocesan level unless the ‘mind of the church' deems it to belong at another level. In short, when jurisdiction in a contentious matter is not specified, it will be decided at the highest level that has the will to decide it.
The intention of the second paragraph of this motion is therefore simply to affirm that within the Anglican Church of Canada a diocese may discuss the matter of the blessing of committed same-sex unions, and that, with the concurrence of its bishop, it possesses the prerogative to alter its practice and discipline with respect to this matter. This does not in any way alter the policy of the Anglican Church of Canada regarding this matter.
Paragraph 3 embraces a range of statements proceeding from sources as diverse as the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Canadian House of Bishops and the group which names itself the Anglican Communion in New Westminster. It recognizes that if the jurisdictional structures of our church permit what may become a plurality of practice and discipline from diocese to diocese with reference to the blessing of committed same-sex unions, adequate episcopal oversight and pastoral care must be provided for all, regardless of perspective on the issue. This would seem to be a requirement of what St. Paul refers to as “that most excellent gift of charity.” It also reflects Richard Hooker’s vision of a church “for all people” as distinct from other more narrowly defined sectarian ecclesiological visions.
Paragraph 4 echoes the call for further study and respectful, prayerful dialogue which has issued from Lambeth’ 98, the Canadian House of Bishops and from previous statements on the matter of human sexuality arising from our own General Synod. It recognises that, as is the case with many complex and conflicted issues, the church, even when it has acted to permit a plurality of practice and discipline, continues to be called to work out the implications of that action in a manner which seeks the mind of Christ and affirms the integrity and inestimable worth of all of its members as brothers and sisters for whom Christ died.
Paragraph 5 reflects the principles embraced by our Church in the New Agape and in our continuing to walk the path of healing and reconciliation with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. It also acknowledges the distinct nature of ethnic communities within our Church, particularly with reference to traditions around human sexuality. In this paragraph we recognize the critical importance of allowing these distinct communities of faithful members of our church the right to enter into this discussion (or not to do so) at a time and in such a manner as their discernment of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, mediated through their cultures and traditions, may guide them.