Below the fold, there is the full text of a memorandum written to the Canadian House of Bishops in October 2008 by the Primate of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz.
Part of this text was quoted in the statement issued by the Canadian House of Bishops on 31 October.
Reflection by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate, Anglican Church of Canada
At the recent Lambeth Conference, the blessing of same-sex unions was discerned in a variety of venues – hearings, self-select sessions, and Indaba groups. Indaba is an African word meaning “a gathering for purposeful conversation among equals.” In groups of 30-40, bishops spoke with one another and endeavoured in a spirit of mutual respect to listen to each other. This venue proved to be the most helpful in engaging in conversation over this contentious issue. All who entered into the spirit of indaba and willingly gave themselves to the conversation was moved by the experience. As we listened to one another we recognized that “the issue of homosexual relations is as sensitive as it is because it conflicts with the long tradition of Christian moral teaching. For some, the new teaching cannot be acceptable on biblical grounds as they consider all homosexual activity as intrinsically sinful.” (para 111, Indaba Reflections) We learned that “the whole issue of homosexual relations is also highly sensitive because there are very strong affirmations and denials in different cultures across the world which are reflected in contrasting civil provisions for same-sex marriage to criminal action against homosexuals. In some parts of the Communion, homosexual relations are a taboo while in others they have become a human rights issue.” (para 112, ibid) We learned of the struggle for some to refrain from proceeding with authorizing blessings, convinced as they are through a conscientious discernment of God’s will in this matter, that it is a matter of gospel imperative. We learned of the struggle of so many to equate blessings with marriage.
It was abundantly clear that these matters have been under discussion for over 30 years in some places and in other places it is a more recent conversation.
“The issue of homosexuality has challenged us in our churches on what it means to be a Communion.” (para 116, ibid) We reflected on the fundamental nature of the Church as relational: she is related to God, her members are related to each other, and our churches are related in a community of independent, participatory relationships.” (David Hamid) We discussed the nature of provincial autonomy and the principle of consulting with one another over significant matters of faith and order. We recognized the different politics of our churches and how they can produce misunderstandings and confusions that need to be addressed.” (para 102, ibid) We noted that “we need to acknowledge that the whole is more than the sum of the parts and that each part of the Communion, when it acts, must do so in the knowledge of what it means for the whole.” (para 102, ibid) We were convinced that an important way of “deepening our communion is (a) in the development of person to person relationships, (b) in diocesan partnerships and © in recovering our sense of belonging and mutual affection.”(para 102, ibid)
The outcome of discussions at the Lambeth Conference was agreement on the part of the majority of bishops present that, in accord with The Windsor Report, there be continuing moratoria on the blessing of same-sex unions, on the ordination of persons living in same-gender unions to the episcopate, and on cross-provincial interventions. In the Indaba Reflections document we read that, “If The Windsor Report is to be honoured, all three moratoria must be applied consistently.” (para 145, ibid)
Therein lies a significant challenge. The Archbishop of Canterbury recognized this in a letter he issued to all of the bishops of the Communion following the Lambeth Conference. He wrote, “A strong majority of bishops present agreed that moratoria on same-sex blessings and cross-provincial interceptions were necessary but they were aware of the conscientious difficulties this posed for some, and there needs to be a greater clarity about the exact expectations and what can be realistically implemented. How far the intensified sense of belonging together will help mutual restraint in such matters remains to be seen.” At the conference the Archbishop spoke of “a season of gracious restraint” to allow some space and time for conversation to continue.
I come to this meeting of the House of Bishop mindful of our Provincial context and the call for authorization of public rites for the blessings of same sex-unions in a number of our dioceses. I am mindful of the place of the Anglican Church of Canada in our worldwide Communion.
I trust the House of Bishops will support my call for respect for due process through the General Synod in this matter. In 2007, General Synod concurred with the opinion of the St. Michael Report (produced by the Primate’s Theological Commission) that the blessing of same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine. It is not creedal in nature but nonetheless it is doctrine. The same General Synod called for further work by the Primate’s Theological Commission in determining if this matter of blessings is a Spirit-led development of doctrine. Out of respect for the General Synod I believe we have a responsibility with the whole Church to await the opinion of the Commission. It is likely that an opinion will be forthcoming well in advance of General Synod in 2010. I believe that deliberations over this opinion across the church will have a significant impact on discussion at General Synod in 2010 and on the subsequent authority of dioceses through due synodical process to proceed with blessings.
As you can appreciate I am living with the tension of a call to honour gracious restraint and support of a call for bishops to act now in giving consent to the authorizing of public rites for blessing same sex unions. I am appealing for gracious restraint in this matter. I make this appeal out of respect for my brother and sister bishops who represent a diversity of perspectives on this issue; out of respect for due process through General Synod; and continuing Communion-wide conversation including going the Primates’ Meeting in February 2009 and to the Anglican Consultative Council in May 2009. I recognize that for some of you this appeal will be viewed as wise pastoral leadership on my part. Others will see it as a lack of bold prophetic leadership. I ask for your prayers.
Out of respect for those who would have us act now, I would encourage diocesan bishops to appoint a commission to consider what constitutes responsible pastoral care for gay and lesbian members of our Church asking for blessings of their committed monogamous lifelong relationships. I recognize that in some dioceses the work of the commission may include the drafting of a rite for public blessings. The Commission should be encouraged to do a thorough review of work done in this regard by other dioceses in Canada, and in other parts of the Communion.
In the meantime I want to draw your attention to two documents set out by the House of Bishops. One is called Shared Episcopal Ministry approved in the fall of 2004 and the other is Pastoral Generosity approved in the spring of 2007. That document in part reads:
“We are committed, as bishops in Canada, to develop the most generous pastoral response possible within the current teaching of the church. We offer the following examples of possible pastoral responses:
To those who experience these pastoral statements and possible pastoral provisions as inadequate or insufficient, we recognize that they are less than the blessing of same sex unions or marriage. However it is the discernment of the majority of the House of Bishops that as of today the doctrine and discipline of our church does not clearly permit further action.”
I would encourage bishops to incorporate this provision along with Shared Episcopal Ministry into a Bishop’s Guideline, accompanied by a pastoral letter commending it for use in parishes where such provisions may be appropriate.
I take this stance deeply conscious of the burden of responsibility I hold as Primate, as a member of the House of Bishops, as President of the General Synod, as a participant in the Lambeth Conference, 2008 and as a Primate in the Anglican Communion. I do not believe that any of us should move ahead too quickly so soon after a call for gracious restraint from the Archbishop of Canterbury, without continuing consultation with our House of Bishops, without continuing discernment within our dioceses and without respect for due process through the deliberations of General Synod.
Please know that I am mindful of the continuing havoc created in several of our dioceses through cross-border interventions on the part of Primates and bishops from other jurisdictions. I believe we must call them to account. They too must honour the Lambeth call for gracious restraint. I remain committed to addressing this issue within the Communion.
I ask for your prayers as we steadfastly seek to discern the mind and heart of Christ for the wholesome care of all members of his Body, the Church. Please know dear friends of my own deep hope that though we may never come to consensus over this matter of the blessing of same-sex unions, we will seek the capacity to live with difference in a manner that is marked by grace and generosity of spirit, one toward another. I remain absolutely convinced that this matter ought not to be a communion-breaking issue, for as the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, “of the tensions that assail us, the wider life of the Communion is broader and richer than these matters alone.” (para 2, ibid)