"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

The Jurisdiction of a Synod?

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I’ve written on this question below. The lack of authority to do what we have done is so clear, I do not believe there is even a debate involved. I’ve talked this over with a number of experienced lawyers who have all agreed the argument has merit.  One very experienced canon lawyer told me it was compelling and accurate, and should be provided to all Canadian bishops. This, in addition to my own 8+ years experience working with the law makes me very confident in my reasoning.

However, I did not get a chance to present that reasoning at synod as the chair ruled my procedural motion was not debatable. This was an incorrect assertion, but at that point I had decided there was no sense proceeding. The chair had been told the motion was not debatable by the chancellor.

Why incorrect? Our Rules of Order set out this: “7.13 When a question is under debate, the chair shall receive no other motion unless it be to amend the question under debate, to postpone it to a certain day, to lay it upon the table, to refer it to a committee…”

My motion was a motion to refer. Our Rules of Order further state: “7.10(b) A motion to lay on the table or to divide shall be decided without debate.” So, the only procedural motions specifically referred to in the Rules of Order as being not debatable are the two noted. The remaining procedural motions are not specifically mentioned. This leaves it as a decision of the chair.

Looking further, to Bourinot’s Rules of Order, 40(e) says this about a motion to refer, “Such a motion may be amended and debated, but only the issue of reference or committal, not the main question.”

The language is permissive, which further supports a motion to refer is debatable.  It was within the discretion of the chair, but did not appear to even be considered.  Poor advice leads to poor decision-making.

All this to say, it is difficult to conclude you have had sincere conversation on a question, when rules of order that are designed to help discussion are instead used to limit communication. 

My speaking notes, for the record, even though they were never presented:

Procedural Motion with respect to Resolution G-3 – “Blessing Same-Gender Committed Unions” – Motion for Committal

It is moved that resolution G-3 be referred to a special committee to study if the resolution is within the authority of this Diocese Synod to decide. The special committee members are to have expertise in canon law, theology and ecclesiology, reflect the make-up of the Diocese, and hold hearings to receive submissions on the question prior to making a reasoned, written report to the Bishop.


This area concerns canon law, which is a combination of secular law and church structure (our ecclesiology) and tradition with a sprinkling of theology. It is an area of expertise which is not the sole domain of lawyers or theologians, but one that involves them both. When I speak of authority, it is not limited to the legal sense, but also in the church sense – as in how the Body of Christ is called to make decisions. What informs us here is Scripture, like Acts 15, and not a legal text.

In the Anglican Church of Canada, we have three levels of synods. Our Diocese, the Provincial Synod and the General Synod and we’re at the bottom of the heap in terms of authority. We can only do things granted us through the rules or by the action of the Provincial or General Synod. Our Synod only has the ability to act with residual power – only that which remains after the other synods.

On the question of same-sex blessings, both the St. Michael Report (paragraph 1) and the General Synod in 2007 (resolutions A184 and A186) have stated that same-sex blessings are a matter of doctrine.

This raises a question: which synod can rule on a question of doctrine? The answer is the General Synod alone. General Synod claims sole authority on matters of doctrine (Article 6i), the Provincial Synod acknowledges that authority (Article 1.04), and our diocesan rule book has no provision for us to make decisions on a question of doctrine. It is not within the authority of a Diocesan synod to decide a matter of doctrine.

Authorizing the blessing of same-sex relationships can only be done by endorsing what has already been ruled as a question of doctrine. As only the General Synod has that power, our synod cannot vote on such a resolution.

There is a similar problem if the blessing ritual is only considered as a worship activity, for the General Synod also reserves the authority (Article 6j) to create new worship rituals. The Provincial Synod (Article 1.07) can only act where General Synod has not acted. The Diocese has no ability to create a new type of liturgy or worship.

As a final note, the 2007 General Synod considered if a Diocese had the authority to proceed with the blessing of same-sex relationships. Resolution A187 was defeated, signalling the General Synod’s unwillingness to affirm that a diocese alone could proceed with such a decision. That other dioceses have wrongly passed resolutions on this question is not a good reason for us to do the same.

It also ignores that synods, by their nature, are spectacularly poor places to make decisions on theology. Canon Kim Murray, chair of the Canadian task force on authority in the Anglican Church, wrote this in a 2002 report, “…to say that the resolution of debates about doctrine, discipline or worship belongs to a General Synod is not adequate and may place matters best dealt with in a long-term consensual process of informed discussion into the dubious judgment of a majority vote at the end of a divisive and largely uninformed debate.” That task force included the Chancellor of General Synod. That report is highly cautionary about the General Synod taking the step that we are presently debating.

For these reasons, we need to proceed with caution. This is a question of grave importance to the church. We are not one on this question. It has caused division, and continues to cause division. Something that causes division to the Body of Christ is so serious it cannot be dealt with by a few hours of debate. It is important enough that we need to make sure we are acting within our proper authority before we vote. Therefore, this resolution should be referred to a special committee to carefully consider if our diocese synod has the ability to vote on a resolution like G-3.


Written by sameo416

October 15, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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