Comments: Canadian Bishops unable to agree to marriage canon change

The same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

I told you TEC would stand alone, in the end.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Tuesday, 1 March 2016 at 11:12am GMT

Oh dear. So the Primates' not-Meeting and the not-Sanctions have had the desired effect. Shameful.

Posted by DBD at Tuesday, 1 March 2016 at 3:03pm GMT

DBD..the Canadian Anglican Church, albeit liberal has always been more conservative than TEC.

Posted by robert ian williams at Tuesday, 1 March 2016 at 6:20pm GMT

Methinks the Scottish Episcopal Church may have been encouraged in the other direction by the Columba incident.

Time will tell.

Posted by Jeremy at Tuesday, 1 March 2016 at 6:36pm GMT

A long statement that said, not a lot.

I feel for their struggle. Oh yes...

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Tuesday, 1 March 2016 at 7:28pm GMT


Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 1 March 2016 at 7:29pm GMT

Again, it is vital to bear in mind the recent past and all that gay men were subjected to by the state. What would be the balm of Christ truly, in such penal situations ?

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Tuesday, 1 March 2016 at 8:33pm GMT

I like the idea of the Chair of Canada's General Synod reminding the House of Bishops that their decision made is their own House should not necessarily inhibit the decision of a previous General Synod Meeting to bring forward at the next Meeting of the G.S. the very matter they (the bishops) seem to have already prnounced on).

The rules of a General Synod - anywhere else in the Anglican Communion, if not in Canada - is that all matters pertaining to Church government are actually decided at a joint Meeting of all 3 Houses of the General Synod, itself. No House of Bishops, or Meeting of Primates for that matter, in the Anglican Communion constitutes a papal-type Magisterium. This is one reason why we are not Roman Catholics.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 1 March 2016 at 10:03pm GMT

The Princes of the Church have spoken apparently.

Posted by Wade McClay at Wednesday, 2 March 2016 at 1:11am GMT

Fr. Ron:

Contrary to your assertion, in Canada, a change to a canon must be passed by at 2/3 majority in all three houses (bishops, clergy, laity) voting separately at two successive general synods. THe laity and clergy may debate together, but they vote separately. The bishops (I think) may participate in the general discussion but vote separately and apart.

What has happened here is that the House of Bishops has done a head count and discovered that more than 1/3 of them will not support the proposed amendment to canon. This need not, and probably will not, stop a debate, nor a vote which may well show more than 2/3 support in both lower houses. That will indeed push the bishops into a corner, but -- barring an actual subsequent vote in the House of Bishops during the synod, if it happens -- means canonical reform is put off for another three years.

What is likely to happen on the ground is that more and more bishops like my own, who have been giving permission for blessing of same-sex marriage (and, FWIW, for the renaming and blessing of a trans person after the transition was complete legally) will probably simply stop paying attention. Legal same-sex marriages can't happen in church until the canon is changed, but there will be an awful lot of blessings that look an awful lot like marriages, whereas right now the look is somewhat restricted.

Posted by John Holding at Wednesday, 2 March 2016 at 3:46am GMT

There are 29 dioceses in the Anglican Church of Canada - in a nation spanning six time zones.

A large number of these are rural dioceses, numerically small. Some – e.g. the Diocese of the Arctic – are huge geographic areas that require more suffragan bishops for small local churches than is the case in the often more compact urban areas.

The majority of Anglicans in Canada live in or near urban centres (though Newfoundland represents a significant exception to this) whose dioceses largely – though not unanimously – support same-sex marriage.

Toronto, for example, has five bishops in the House, and thus may be seen as weighting the vote. However, there are many more bishops (including suffragans) in the House from the more conservative dioceses where relatively fewer Anglicans live.

Result: the Canadian House is over-weighted towards the numerically smaller dioceses, while the majority of Anglicans live in areas where same-sex marriages are more frequently experienced as normal.

This is not to say that most Canadian Anglicans would support a change to the Marriage Canon. That remains to be seen. It IS to say that the mood of the Canadian Church cannot be read from the peculiar composition of its House of Bishops.

Posted by Michael Ingham at Wednesday, 2 March 2016 at 3:49am GMT

This notice from our House of Bishops cannot actually prevent the motion from coming to the floor of synod. A motion was passed at the 2013 synod requiring that the Council of General Synod prepare and bring this motion to the 2016 synod. So the motion will be presented. What happens after that, I think, is unclear. It may be debated, or it may be deferred. If Alan Perry is reading this, he may be able to enlighten us further.

I don't think our bishops are trying to kill the debate, and I don't think they have been unduly influenced by voices from beyond our shores. I think they are simply being honest and reporting to the Council of General Synod that it is unlikely that the motion to revise the marriage canon could achieve the necessary 2/3 majority in their House. Sorry, James, but I don't think that's cowardice. And I know some of them fairly well.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Wednesday, 2 March 2016 at 5:23am GMT

"The Episcopal Church Welcomes You...Canadians, to Get Married in the States"

Or, perhaps "ecclesial disobedience": that's up to you AngChCanada clerics....

Posted by JCF at Wednesday, 2 March 2016 at 5:43am GMT

Maybe Canada could send them down here when Trump is elected and let the Christians go north? They sent Cruz, after all.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Wednesday, 2 March 2016 at 7:48am GMT

I do not think that this outcome was the effect of the Columba declaration or the primates meeting. It is exactly what I would have expected. I'm not by any means certain, but I think the gay marriage issue might well not have succeeded in the Houses of Clergy and Laity as well. The Canadian Church is more conservative in many respects than the American Church. Despite being in some respects less British than, say, the Anglican Church in Australia, the Anglican Church of Canada does, by and large, take its cue from the Church of England. While I deplore the decision of the House of Bishops, I think it is unfair to speak as MarkBrunson does, and suggest that the decision means that those who disapprove of gay marriage are not Christian. What I wish some of them would see is that there is room for all of us in the Church.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Wednesday, 2 March 2016 at 1:54pm GMT

Yes, Fr. Ron, echoing John Holding's note above, the Episcopal Church also has a rule of the bishops, clergy and laity voting separately (though the latter two only on certain issues, not including canon changes unless such a vote is requested). Moreover, due to our peculiar General Convention, the Bishops do not even debate in the same space as the lay and clergy members.

A the 2015 convention, our canon change was adopted by in all orders, voting separately; as were the provision for trial use of the new marriage liturgies.

It strikes me this discussion in the Canadian house of bishops is an honest collegial effort to come to a common mind; even though it has the perhaps unintended appearance of a shot across the bow of the clergy and laity. But as each order has an effective veto, since all must agree, it is fair to give a heads up. That doesn't mean the discussion and the vote should not go forward. Persuasive debate may even change some episcopal minds -- or vice versa (an advantage the Canadian synod has over that to the south, in my opinion!)

Posted by Tobias Haller at Wednesday, 2 March 2016 at 2:46pm GMT

Thanks for that helpful information, Bishop Ingham. And thanks for your work and witness.

Posted by Jim Naughton at Wednesday, 2 March 2016 at 3:26pm GMT

Thanks, John and Tobias, for your informative responses to my assertion. However, I am speaking from ACANZP's way of coming to any agreement on Church polity; which depends on open discussion by all three Houses on the floor of General Synod of the Province, which alone becomes the setting for legislation. Although Bishops can collectively make announcements on any issue they choose, they cannot determine polity on their own account.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 2 March 2016 at 11:42pm GMT

"Persuasive debate may even change some episcopal minds"

Indeed, this is why one priest of my acquaintance was especially troubled by the statement. If the bishops took a "straw poll" and found that if the vote were taken tomorrow it would likely not pass their order, fair enough. But to issue a statement like this assumes that those straw numbers will be (more or less) the same after the synod debates. In which case why gather in synod at all? We could just electronically submit our votes according to our pre-arrived decisions.

One of the bishops interviewed by the Anglican Journal indicated there was a concern that if they didn't speak up now, then if the vote went as expected, people would feel that the bishops had known all along that it wasn't going to pass and had been taking us for a ride. I rather think the opposite: holding their peace for the time being would imply that they had been open to minds being changed, while warning the church that as things stand they likely wouldn't have the numbers implies they don't expect that to change significantly.

I am happy to assume the most honorable of motives on the part of the House - and as it happens, I have never believed that a canonical amendment would pass first reading in 2016. (I was amused that some conservative bloggers were convinced it was a fait accompli that the "liberal establishment" would circle the wagons to push through). But I certainly wonder who is advising them on the PR optics of their timing.

Posted by Geoff McLarney at Thursday, 3 March 2016 at 4:33pm GMT

John Holding,
The Canadian General Synod sits unicamerally (except during the election of a Primate, when the bishops are sent away while the clergy and laity vote). Thus all orders are present and participate during debate. If a vote by orders is called for (such as for canonical amendments), the laity vote first.

Geoff, you have stated it quite well. Like you, I expected the change to fail in the order of bishops. But rather than at least giving the appearance of openness to the Spirit, they have declared the question decided.

Posted by Jim Pratt at Thursday, 3 March 2016 at 5:56pm GMT

"(and, FWIW, for the renaming and blessing of a trans person after the transition was complete legally" - John Harding

That's a topic which gets very little attention and which I guess is rather complex. In the UK it's probably unnecessary since I think the Gender Recognition Act actually affects baptism and confirmation records. I prefer the Canadian situation you describe, although it seems strange that the transition needs to be completed legally first.

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 3 March 2016 at 9:46pm GMT

The Anglican Journal has further comment from the primate, see

Bishops split three ways over same-sex issue: Hiltz

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Thursday, 3 March 2016 at 11:16pm GMT

Hiltz: "There [are] people, I think, in the church who would like to see us move ahead with same-sex marriage, but they're wondering, 'Is now the right time?' "

"I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action'; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.' Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

Posted by James Byron at Friday, 4 March 2016 at 8:42am GMT

"Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering that outright rejection." - James Byron

And all too often harder to change.

Posted by Kate at Friday, 4 March 2016 at 5:25pm GMT

Yup, James, that MLK quote (from his Letter from the Birmingham, Alabama, Jail) nails it.

Lots of white straight men out there paternalistically deciding the "timetable" for justice, for liberation, for arrival at the Promised Land.

Posted by Cynthia at Friday, 4 March 2016 at 7:01pm GMT

The Canadian Church at its worst is sheer mediocrity. Consensus for its own sake is an utter failure. In order for a bridge to function as a bridge, it must stand somewhere. Fred Hiltz is no leader. In any case, Canada will not defend the Episcopal Church from the attack from Canterbury. I understand why no religion is the new default for religion for many.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by Gary Paul Gilbert at Friday, 4 March 2016 at 9:10pm GMT

I must say that James Byron's quotations listed here on Friday 4 March do seem to sum up the sitation admirably. Should the application of true justice wait for some future date, in order to be justified? Justice delayed is justice denied, surely?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 4 March 2016 at 10:31pm GMT

The bishops' actions also serve to disprove (if further disproof were needed) the moderate view that we can sit back and allow social change to drive religious change. In other words, let other people fight the battles, then join in their victory celebration.

Canada's had equal marriage for over a decade; in some provinces, since 2003. Marriage equality's a done-deal north of the border: even opponents accept it as a fact of life. If the Anglican church can ignore social pressure in Canada, it can ignore it anywhere.

Posted by James Byron at Saturday, 5 March 2016 at 12:36pm GMT

I am a techno-idiot so I cannot link to a letter sent by my bishop, Dr. John Chapman, to the diocese of Ottawa reflecting on this article.

While he mildly defends the release in question, his "mortification" (his word) at the attitude of the House of Bishops as a whole is stated clearly and without equivocation. While I would not go so far as to suggest a sense of anger at the lack of support for same gender marriage in church, he was clearly bitterly upset.

Fine words are of course little comfort to the LGBT community, though he gives them. John has consistently pushed the limits to support and enable LGBT persons, based on his understanding of scripture. I await his further action with interest.

Posted by John Holding at Saturday, 5 March 2016 at 8:02pm GMT

Here is the Ottawa letter

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Saturday, 5 March 2016 at 11:07pm GMT

Building on Jim Pratt's comments, to clarify the polity of the Anglican Church of Canada, the General Synod is indeed a unicameral body. Since the late 1960's the Bishops, Clergy and Laity have met together (except for Primatial elections) but for most of that time the Bishops always voted separately. In 2013 second reading was given to eliminate separate voting by bishops. Now all three Orders vote together for ordinary matters, and separately (by 2/3 majority) for canonical and constitutional changes (and sometimes also with two readings). There are also provisions for members to require separate votes by orders on ordinary matters.

To be clear, the amendment of the Canon on Marriage requires a 2/3 majority in each of the three Orders voting separately at two consecutive sessions of the General Synod.

The House of Bishops is a body distinct from the Order of Bishops. The Order of Bishops consists of the eligible bishops constitutionally gathered in General Synod, whilst the House of Bishops is a periodic meeting of the active bishops across the Church. To be sure, the two groups are virtually identical, but one has constitutional existence and authority and the other does not. The distinction may seem obscure, but it is constitutionally important.

The bishops' statement notwithstanding, the forum for making a decision will be the General Synod. It has been signalled that it is unlikely that the Order of Bishops will vote 2/3 in favour of the amendment, but there are two significant unknowns still in play. (1) We don't know what version of the motion will be voted upon, given that (a) the Council of General Synod has yet to release the final version of the motion and (b) it is possible that the Synod will amend the motion before it goes to a vote. (2) The debate has not yet happened in Synod.

Whatever happens, I believe that the matter will be debated and go to a vote in July. We can all speculate on what will happen, but we will not know until then. I propose that we give up speculation at least for Lent and preferably until General Synod meets.

Posted by Alan T Perry at Monday, 7 March 2016 at 11:09pm GMT

Thank you Alan.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Wednesday, 9 March 2016 at 5:43pm GMT

Thanks to +John's letter.

Posted by Kate at Friday, 11 March 2016 at 7:01pm GMT

The Council of General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada has issued a response to this statement from the Canadian House of Bishops.

I think it would be fair to characterize the response as not particularly favorable to what the bishops had to say. The bishops's suggestion that there should be another way of dealing with the proposal does not push the conversation forward if the bishops are unable to even suggestion other concrete options.

The statement follows:


To the Rt. Rev. Don Phillips, Secretary of the House of Bishops

The Council of General Synod acknowledges receipt of the statement from the Special Meeting in February 2016. We appreciate the bishops’ integrity in communicating to the Council.

We share their concern that the report, This Holy Estate, has not been more widely engaged with across the church. We look to our bishops to ensure that members of their diocese, especially delegates to General Synod 2016, have read and engaged the report.

In their statement, they wrote that they wondered if a legislative process is “the most helpful way of dealing with these matters”. The Council has also considered other options. If a legislative solution were not the best way to proceed on this question, we would ask the House of Bishops for some concrete examples of other options.

They expressed a desire to “explore other options for honouring and fully embracing committed, faithful same-sex relationships”. We would welcome concrete examples.

We share their commitment “to achieving the greatest pastoral generosity possible.” We ask the bishops for some concrete examples. For example, if a local option is the way forward, will the House be prepared to live with and honour the choices of individual dioceses?

We continue to pray for the work of the House of Bishops and ask that they continue to uphold the Council of General Synod, and those who are delegates to General Synod 2016 in their prayers.

Posted by dr.primrose at Monday, 14 March 2016 at 9:15pm GMT
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