Comments: Canadian bishops plan to discuss marriage canon

The Communiqué articulates the Canadian House of Bishops apprehension over whether or not parliamentary procedure at synod is the best way of discerning the Spirit. They express, as well, an interest in building trust around a controversial issue.

This brings forward the important distinction in the Canadian church between episcopal leadership and synodical governance. The bishops may well wish to provide leadership; but they ought to do so within the governance structure of which they are one part. General Synod initiated this process by way of resolution. The House of Bishops might take care that they not react to events in such a way that they undermine the very thing that they wish to uphold i.e. trust in our process of governance. Lay and clerical Members of General Synod do not require conversation minders any more than do the order of bishops.

Parliamentary procedure can at times become adversarial. However it is more likely to show forth the fruits of the Spirit than are in camera meetings by a small segment of the church within which the differences of opinion that must surely exist are smoothed out by a press release afterwards.

Clearly in a group such as theirs, with a spectrum from liberal to ultra-conservative, their is a range of differing opinions. So maybe the quest for unity in the house of bishops is first and foremost an in house quest. Several Canadian dioceses have enacted same sex blessing rites that come up as close to the canonical wire as possible. On the other hand, two of the Canadian bishops recently attended a meeting of GAFCON. Several others are conservatives as well. There is more to the dynamics back stage than a public relations statement issued from on stage suggests.

Institutional anxiety is not a Leviathan; it is more of a Hydra.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 3 November 2015 at 6:16pm GMT

previous post, final paragraph, first sentence, ought to read " ... there is a range of opinions".

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 3 November 2015 at 7:04pm GMT

Or ultra-liberal to conservative? Funny how there is always a thumb on the scale...

Posted by cseitz at Tuesday, 3 November 2015 at 7:35pm GMT

Let's just drop this "fruits of the Spirit" line and own the decision.

Either the Holy Spirit is wicked schizophrenic; we're suddenly perfectly attuned to its will; or, hey, these are human decisions, made because, as our knowledge and understanding increased, we've changed our minds.

Stop putting it on God and the Spirit: it's on us.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 3 November 2015 at 9:20pm GMT

@ csetiz, "Or ultra-liberal to conservative? Funny how there is always a thumb on the scale..." I can live with your calibration as well as mine. A political spectrum, as we have in the Canadian church, is always somewhat relative and elastic. However, I think a couple of Canadian bishops out of, what is it forty some odd (?), partying with GAFCON could reasonably be considered ultra-conservative by local standards. And since we are into idioms, here is another. If the shoe fits....

@ James Byron, "Stop putting it on God and the Spirit: it's on us." Not sure I would be quite so either/or; but I'm in general agreement with the sentiment your post expresses. Note the following from the bishops' communiqué,

"We are concerned that parliamentary procedure may not be the most helpful way to discern the mind of the Church, or of the Spirit, in this matter ..."

We should indeed own the decision. Allowing the proposed amendment General Synod has requested to be put on the floor for debate, and trusting in the synod to do its job, is exactly the way we get own the decision, and contrary to the apprehension voiced by the bishops, exactly the preferable way to make it "on us".

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 4 November 2015 at 3:44am GMT

As part of the Anglican Church (ACANZP) that first invited the Faithful Laity to participate in Synods, may I point out the fact that Pope Francis, in the Roman Catholic Church seems to be moving towards that possibility for himself. This, surely is the very best way of accessing the 'mind of the Church', that resides not only in the episcopal or clerical capacity for the invocation of the Holy Spirit's wisdom, on matters of concern to all humanity?

This may be why the Anglican Church of Canada has had the courage to look more deeply into the mystery of the married state - to see whether it is limited to the purpose of procreation, or if it might be adapted to apply to deeply committed personal relationships between two persons of the same gender. After all, there is evidence of such relationships in the Scriptures. It's just that they were never, traditionally, called 'marriage'.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 4 November 2015 at 4:38am GMT

Well, this will give the Primates something to talk about at their January meeting in Canterbury! As well as taking Minutes of what is said at the meeting in the new year, could someone also be assigned to take Minutes of the Body Language of the Primates as the discussions get under way?

Posted by Father David at Wednesday, 4 November 2015 at 5:23am GMT

I am less and less comfortable with importing the language of the political spectrum into the church. If "liberal" and "conservative" have a useful theological meaning, it is within the context of 19th C. German Biblical criticism and the 20th C. "fundamentalist-modernist" controversy, neither of which has any direct bearing on the present question. (Despite the stereotypes, I have met few Anglicans who support SSM on "secular" human rights grounds, or reject it because of Leviticus). To echo Bishop Whalon's excellent essay on AO, virtually all opponents and supporters of marriage equality I know would be considered "conservative", "liberals" having (as the label would suggest) a more laissez-faire attitude to relationships and less interest in the traditional institution of marriage (regardless of the gender[s] involved).

The late Prof. Cyril Powles, an alumnus of the Society of the Catholic Commonwealth, testifying at the trial of Fr Jim Ferry was asked if he considered himself a "liberal". He famously replied that he was, rather, a Catholic radical. We should all so aspire!

Posted by Geoff at Wednesday, 4 November 2015 at 6:48am GMT

I wasn't proposing or endorsing labels, but only pointing out the "liberal to ultra-conservative" language being used by the original commentator.

Posted by cseitz at Wednesday, 4 November 2015 at 11:36am GMT

@ Geoff, "[importing]the language of the political spectrum into the church." I take your point. However, just as one may speak of right to left secular economic politics, or right or left Hegelians, one may speak of a right to left spectrum on social issues.

For example, on the issue of same sex marriage, I'm a liberal. I do, in fact, see it as primarily a human rights issue; but I'm also a theological liberal because I do not think that the literal interpretation of specific scriptural texts offers any insight with regard to a contemporary understanding of human sexual orientation. In fact, I think some of the texts that are used add to a fundamental misunderstanding.

Several years ago, The Canadian Church hired a consultant to survey opinion in the church. They reported that on the issue of same sex partnerships/marriages Canadian Anglicans were as heavily polarized as any organization they had seen. Canadian bishops did not create this polarization; but they do reflect it while attempting to contend with it.

Dr.C Seitz and I can quibble about the relative parameters of the spectrum; but make no mistake, it is merely quibbling around the edges of a real phenomena.

My critique is pointed at the approach our bishops are taking with regard to the process which our General Synod has initiated. They are anxious about GS debates and would prefer what they believe to be kinder gentler "facilitated" conversation model. They suggest this worked at GS 2010 to produce peace and tranquility. I beg to differ. The fact that two members of the General Synod 2016 moved a kind of "private member's" motion asking for a process to amend the Canon on Marriage, and that GS 2016 voted in favor, suggests two things. Not everyone shares the bishops' enthusiasm for where the issue was left in 2010. Not everyone is as nervous as the bishops about the process General Synod must eventually use to consider a Canonical amendment.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 4 November 2015 at 2:52pm GMT

I'm not so sure one can speak of a "left-right spectrum on social issues." Left and right conventionally refer to the economic "axis" of politics. In fact, I'm not even confident that there is a particular category of "social issues" that can be separated out from other theological questions. I don't know that recognizing that we can't derive bespoke answers from scripture about a phenomenon not identified until some 1900 years after it was written makes one a "theological liberal" (which is not to say you aren't one).

I'm not denying that theological liberals exist, or that they are likely to support same-sex marriage. My point is only that theological liberalism is only one of a variety of perspectives from which one can support it. I wouldn't, for example, call authors like Jeffrey John, Justin Cannon, or Tobias Haller "liberal." On the other hand, I know theologically "conservative" Anglo-Catholics who vote NDP, who would place themselves on the "left" both economically and "socially", and who also hold to a view of the sacraments as being divinely instituted and not gender-neutral. Too often contemporary Anglicans seem to use "liberal" and "conservative" as code words which collapse diverse arrays of theological perspectives in each of two "boxes."

Posted by Geoff at Wednesday, 4 November 2015 at 8:14pm GMT

@ Geoff, re right-left, political axis etc, I don't disagree, or want to expend a lot of energy disagreeing, with the global sense of what you say. I'm happy to let sociologists and politcal scientists slug it out as to whether one person's theoretical doctrine is another person's house of cards.

On my more generous days, I would say perhaps that assigning a label to one's self is more legitimate than assigning it to someone else. Besides, The origin of the right-left continuum has its origins as a metaphor derived from a seating plan.

However, that does not obviate the fact that voices that advocate social reform in support the sexual revolution contrast with voices that advocate the conservation of socially constructed roles, however rationalized.

Polarization on social issues, including the politics of gender identity, is real, palpable, measurable, no matter which metaphor one uses to chart it out.

As for the inclusion of theology in the matrix, I think it is exactly that i.e. an element or component that never stands alone but which may be found along side other items in the social and cultural environment. Even the God whose name cannot be pronounced has an historical and cultural identity complete with language.

The stance I've taken on scripture is, even if comparatively, a liberal theological stance; but it exists as one kind of analysis along side, for example, notions of human and civil rights, modern insights into the human sexual response, and the like. Conservatives who argue that this is a matter of pure doctrine or divine revelation dictated from heaven and binding for all time are engaging in a kind of special pleading, one that has serious implications for social justice and the credibility of theological insight itself. Map the distance between us as you will.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 5 November 2015 at 12:03am GMT

"However, that does not obviate the fact that voices that advocate social reform in support the sexual revolution contrast with voices that advocate the conservation of socially constructed roles, however rationalized."

That's probably fair; it's just important to recognize that not all SSM advocates "support the sexual revolution." On the contrary, those truly committed to advancing the latter tend to look askance at marriage as an attempt to assimilate GLB people while deprecating queer relationships which do not conform to heterosexual-style marital models. This is the radical "pansexual" school of thought of which David Virtue often complains: it does exist (where I live, Concordia University is a hotbed of this version of queer theory) but he tends to conflate it with all SSM support. Some of the latter, however, have more in common with Virtue himself than with the Concordians - especially in affirming fidelity within marriage and abstinence without as the Christian norm.

Posted by Geoff at Thursday, 5 November 2015 at 1:55pm GMT

@ Geoff, "On the contrary, those truly committed to advancing the latter tend to look askance at marriage as an attempt to assimilate GLB people while deprecating queer relationships which do not conform to heterosexual-style marital models." Sure thing; but keep in mind that revolutions almost always encompass a spectrum. Instance, just for example, the tension between focus and diversity in the Maquis of WWII France.
Besides, are not monastics or hermits or anchorites or parochial celibates , each with a focus on sexuality, revolutionary alternatives to marriage?

No matter that practitioners of faith may view the church theologically, churches are societies.Hence the usefulness of the continuum, the spectrum, of physical arrangements metaphors, in navigating the same.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 5 November 2015 at 3:45pm GMT

The earliest concepts of marriage were based on the disposition of property rights and procreation.

Many Church-sanctioned heterosexual marriages today are based on other goods - including faithfulness, companionship and co-habitation without the need or capability to procreate or secure property. This is a new function of heterosexual marriage; not unlike the prospect of same-sex marriage, surely?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 10 November 2015 at 9:50am GMT
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