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Marriage Canon (un-un)changed…for now…but does it really matter?

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This news story from the CBC announced the result of the much-awaited (in some quarters) vote at the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada to amend the Marriage Canon in order to permit “same-sex marriage”.

And now it looks like the motion did pass, because of a problem with the way voting was set up.  This story states the vote was miscounted.  I don’t have to change much of what I’ve written because pass or not, the vote is almost irrelevant.  What is relevant is the divisiveness and acrimony that has resulted.

The bullying problems are also reported as being the northern delegates, that is, those from primarily indigenous dioceses.  Bishop Robertson left the floor at one point in protest:

Northern representatives complained about feeling bullied, while Larry Robertson, Yukon bishop, left the floor in protest, saying he was angered at what he called the adversarial process.

As reported, the vote failed on the basis of one vote in the House of Clergy.  A momentary side path for some Synod 101 to explain what happened.

In matters of doctrine, a change to the Canons (church laws) require a 2/3 majority in each of three groups that vote at Synod: bishops, clergy and laity.  Doctrinal matters are of such central importance that only that large level of agreement, in three independent groups, can make a change.  (this of course assumes that you accept that doctrine can be decided by majority vote, which in itself is only a modern development in the church’s understanding of its polity).  If that change is voted in with 2/3 majority in each House, it would then have to be voted in at a second Synod, again a reflection of how important doctrine is to the church.  This means that the amendment will not legally take effect until passed at a second synod (2019) again with 2/3 majority in each House.

There was an interesting comment from the Primate yesterday that some were complaining of bullying in the small table discussion groups.

My own experience of these discussions is that there is a fair amount of bullying going around regardless of your particular theological stance on the question.  I’ve been told by clergy colleagues that the greatest threat to the church is orthodox theology.  As someone who follows that particular line of thought, being told that you are the greatest threat to the future of the church is not what I might term a welcoming, inclusive sort of experience. That’s just one of a series of events where I’ve witnessed and experienced coercive power being used to exclude one particular perspective.

It’s the reason I won’t attend gatherings on the subject as the use of coercive power to control and silence is too painful to witness in a group that publicly declares they are following the way of Christ.

What has become very apparent to me is that the church throws around terms like ‘inclusion’ and ‘welcome’, but means very different things from what I understand those words to mean.  When 66.67% of a group supports one thing, and 33.33% supports something diametrically opposed, it is difficult to find a place where you might talk about being inclusive.  The very nature of the discussion is fundamentally exclusive because the democratic and legal process is only structured to create winners and losers.  As I’ve pointed out previously, this debate is not really about ‘inclusion’, but about deciding which particular group it pains you the least to exclude.

Right now, it is obvious that the church as a whole is least pained by excluding anyone with a theologically traditional view of the sacrament of marriage.  Even if that voice reflects about 1/3 of the community.

I would welcome some honesty around that aspect of the discussion.  It’s one of the elephants in the room because the history of passing such motions results in division in the church.  For example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) after affirming such a motion reported 35 Alberta congregations leaving the church and a 25 percent decline in the budget (Anglican Journal, July 8,2013).  “Drawing the circle wide” is a bit of an oxymoron when it results in the fracturing of the body of believers.  We probably won’t have as dramatic a shift, but only because a number of those parishes have already left to join ANIC or other bodies.

In the past 10 years of discussion on this point, I have seen that degree of honesty only once.  An online discussion around the topic, involving those of all perspectives, considered this question of exclusion.  One pro-change participant finally stated why it was that they were not pained by excluding those of an orthodox bent: “You’ve had your time while others were excluded.  Now it’s their turn.”  Not ‘drawing the circle’ wide in any real sense, just changing the membership of who happens to be inside that circle.

This was a startling admission, and I was happy to have read it as it cleared up for me my confusion around the term ‘inclusive’ as used in these discussions.  Inclusive means including those whom you wish to include, while excluding those whom you really aren’t that concerned with.  I’m being harsh in stating that because it is how I perceive the use of the word ‘inclusive’ when it deliberately excludes people like me.  I think this the real lie behind the use of such terms.

There are lots of other things to say, but I’m going to avoid rehashing things I’ve said repeatedly in the past (like in my submission to the Marriage Commission).  Two points.

The first is a prediction.  Within three months the majority of Canadian dioceses will proceed to wholesale approval of same-sex marriages, rendering the national church discussion irrelevant.  This was a safe prediction to make, since two bishops openly stated they were going to proceed anyway, and a third would have publicly announced the same plan later this week.  The Marriage Canon was changed a few years back to remove the ‘man’ and ‘woman’ specifics, and now reads that ‘duly qualified persons’ are able to be married.  Since ‘duly qualified’ doesn’t get defined anywhere, there is a legal doorway that anyone can drive through at will.

Frustrated leaders are just going to go ahead and do it anyway, which in itself says something about the broken state of both our theology and our ecclesiology.  If the vote passed we would have feasting, when the vote failed now we’re going ahead anyway because we are certain that we know what is righteous.  This is a pretty cavalier approach to a matter that started out defined as doctrinal in nature.  That this does not cause gnashing of teeth throughout the church is another sign of how far we miss the mark when it comes to a real understanding of the Body of Christ.

I will make a different sort of prediction.  The impact of the cavalier approach to matters of common concern will spark a ripple of disregard for all of the polity of the Anglican Church of Canada.  This has already started, with reports over the last few years of parishes deciding to do things differently on their own initiative.  When the leadership disregards normal process (by saying I’m going to do it anyway regardless of the vote), it should not be a surprise when other leaders use that license to bring forth their changes.

What has bound us as a church for many years was a deep sense of moral obligation to each other.  This was not a legal obligation, and was summed up in the Solemn Declaration as being an intent to remain in community.  This moral authority is only a historic footnote today, as we begin to scatter to whatever winds happen to be blowing on that day. Being in community brings forth mutual moral obligation.  If the moral obligations are not respected, there is no chance that there can be real community.

The second I find greatly troubling on a deeply personal level.  The Church is completely disregarding the indigenous voices calling for a maintenance of traditional understanding. This is nothing short of a repeat of the residential schools experience for the indigenous person.

Strong words? Certainly.  Appreciate that from the aboriginal perspective this is once again a white, colonial manifesto being imposed on my community without dialogue and against our will.  Indigenous tradition reflects a far more nuanced view of sexuality than the European, but it also reflects a very traditional understanding of marriage.  While that has been stated, no where have I seen any restraint out of respect for these people that the Church (at least in Michael Peer’s words) wants to engage in healing and reconciliation. This is the second great lie – we want to reconcile, but only if you’re willing to follow us as we revise our understanding of the sacraments.

This perspective has been made clear numerous times, but there has been no willingness or effort to engage my community in a way that respects tradition and the traditional way of engaging in discussion about change.

I’ve seen a whole series of stories floating around about indigenous celebration of other sexualities.  I’m not knowledgeable enough to comment on those particular teachings, but many of those stories smack of colonial cultural appropriation.  What I hear loud and clear from the elders, almost universally across indigenous cultural groups, is that this is very contrary to their understanding of the teachings.

From the CBC news story above:

Indigenous bishops resisting change

The bishops’ group had indicated in February that the threshold would likely not be met. Indigenous bishops had also said they would resist having “Western cultural approaches” imposed on them.

From a previous source (my submission to the marriage commission) :

This is such a significant point, as it directly engages traditional teachings that exist in aboriginal cultures. The church is beginning to acknowledge that aboriginal cultures have a rich tradition independent of that which the settlers brought to Canada. This tradition has survived the repeated attempts of settler culture to destroy it. Does the Anglican Church now wish to begin that path of adversarial relations with aboriginals anew? For the church to consider moving in a direction that is contrary to the teaching of the elders, has the potential to alienate many northern congregations:

Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Northern Ontario mission area also commented that there is no First Nations representation on the committee. “Keep this in mind that the church and the Bible teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman…Our elders are very strong in that belief and they would like to see that continue, so please keep this in mind for our First Nations people, as they are part of the Anglican Church of Canada. (Anglican Journal, May 4, 2014)

At a provincial synod a few years ago (when I still was willing to take the risk of being in community that way) one of the Rectors from a northern, indigenous parish made a comment about the marriage question.  He said, “The day after such a motion is passed, my parish will cease to exist.”  Why?  Because it was so contrary to the indigenous understanding of what marriage was about.

As a Metis person, this troubles me in ways I can’t even begin to voice.  My family experienced racism from the church that led to a complete denial of who we were (this stretches back into the 1870s in Red River).  My great-uncle was likely the first aboriginal bishop in Canada, and certainly the first Metis bishop, but that will never be known in the history of the church, so effective was the death of who we were as a family.

Now, I find myself in a very similar space, wondering how safe it is to be me…in a church that has again spoken clearly about the place of indigenous voices within its community.






Written by sameo416

July 12, 2016 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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