The statement from the special meeting of the House of Bishops on the potential change to the marriage canon was released just as I boarded a plane for a visit to the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Philippines to explore a companion relationship between our dioceses. In that I wasn’t at the special meeting (first, due to a conflicting work commitment and, second, due to my broken wrist) I’m just now sharing my thoughts with you on the bishops’ statement and on my thinking to date on the discussion within the Anglican Church of Canada on marriage.
The backdrop on both of these things is complex and includes: a) my own experience in the Canadian House of Bishops and with all of you in our life together and in our listening sessions on the proposed changes to the marriage canon, b) my own experience as a priest in the Episcopal Church during the time that the Episcopal Church authorized liturgies in which same-sex couples could make lifelong vows before God and those assembled, to live in a faithful, lifelong, baptismally-grounded, covenanted relationship with each other, and, c) the fact that I, myself, am a newly remarried person, and so myself am in the midst of the mystery, the wonder, and the character-building vocation that lifelong partnership with one other person is all about.
And so, dear friends, I’m calling this communication “a reflection” rather than a pastoral letter in that this term better expresses the tone of what you may be about to read.
The Anglican Church of Canada: In my experience, the Anglican Church of Canada is a church of more diversity than many other parts of our Communion. We are a church made up of people from an array of cultures, countries of origin, and theological perspectives. We are a church that is attempting more than ever to listen to the experience and perspectives of Indigenous peoples. What this means is that we need to work hard to listen to each other and find ways that allow for flexibility, tolerance and mutual respect in the way we approach the discussion of important issues.
Our Listening Sessions on the Report of the Marriage Commission: I deeply appreciate the participation of all who attended one or both of the two listening sessions Archdeacon Lynne McNaughton and I hosted on the report of the Marriage Commission. Most who attended the sessions had heart for, rather than issues with the proposed change to the marriage canon. Some (clergy and laity), however, had a different perspective—either voicing disagreement with the proposed change or saying that, should General Synod vote to change the canon, they would need to exercise the conscience clause. Many were concerned that regardless of the outcome, people would get hurt.
Our View of Those Who Differ with Us: As I continue to ponder this issue, I keep coming back to this question: Do we believe that people of good will who are doing their best to interpret Scripture faithfully and to live in prayerful community with us and within our Anglican Church can come to different opinions and perspectives on the subject of marriage? While our answer to this question may have no effect on the strength of our own convictions on the issue of the potential change to the marriage canon, our answer to this question will affect the way we view those who disagree with us. My answer to the above question is “yes.” What is yours and how does it affect how you think about and treat those with whom you do not agree?
Where I Am: I myself am strongly in favour of the Church better preparing couples for, pronouncing God’s blessing on and supporting couples in the living out of their publically-declared, baptismally-based, lifelong, faithful, covenantal promises to each other. I am in favour of the Church offering this both to heterosexual couples and to same-sex couples. As much as I am a person supportive of the rights of individuals, I hold this position in that I believe that such an offering by the Church is a faithful response to the Gospel of God in Christ.
Along with this, I would strongly protect a parish’s, a priest’s, or a bishop’s right both to differ with me on this position, and to decide not to participate in extending this opportunity to same-gender couples. Additionally, I would want those taking this position not to be scorned, judged or themselves made to feel marginalized on account of their position.
Going Forward to the 2016 General Synod: Until any change occurs in the marriage canon, we in this diocese continue our policy to authorize those parishes who wish to offer a blessing to same sex couples who have been legally married to do so. This, of course, is a policy that has grown out of significant discussion and debate within our Synod.
The recent communique from the House of Bishops, as I understand it, was simply to offer the Church some transparency in that the House of Bishops had been in discussion about the potential change in the marriage canon for a number of sessions. The communique from the House of Bishops in no way prevents the full discussion of the proposed change among laity, clergy and bishops and the voting on the proposed change at General Synod.
In the meantime, I believe we should continue to focus on the priorities Diocesan Council and I have been discussing: strengthening our parishes in their core purpose of gathering, transforming and sending people to enact their baptismal identity and purpose in the world; working on concrete acts that build our relationships with Indigenous peoples; increasing our capacity to attract, engage and provide leadership opportunities to diverse peoples; and cultivating a diocesan culture that is more transparent, collaborative, courageous, forgiving, and in which parishes and leaders have a greater sense of choice. My hope is that we will also add the exploration of a companion relationship with the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Philippines to these priorities.
On the potential change to the marriage canon, I would ask you to read the full report of the Marriage Commission and pray for the Church as it reads and reflects on the report. Pray for our LGBTQ members and friends for whom this discussion can be painful, frustrating and exhausting. Pray for those who may be struggling with expressing less popular or minority perspectives in their contexts (here and in other dioceses) for it is difficult to express a minority perspective. Pray for all delegates to General Synod. Pray that we all continue to be guided by the Holy Spirit in our desire to walk together and that we all will continue to be open to what emerges in the discussion.