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Anglican Church of Canada releases report from The Commission on the Marriage Canon

Anglican Church of Canada releases report from The Commission on the Marriage Canon

The Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada released the following announcement on Tuesday, September 22:

Dear Friends in Christ,

Today the Council of General Synod received The Report of The Commission on The Marriage Canon.  The report is very comprehensive and reflects the commitment of the members to address General Synod 2013’s Resolution C003 in its fullness.

You will recall that the resolution requested consideration as to whether the proposal for amending The Marriage Canon would contravene The Solemn Declaration of 1893; and called for a theological and biblical rationale for the blessing of same sex marriages.  The Commissioners take us into a deep exploration of the theology of marriage and present several models for understanding same sex marriage.  In accord with the request in Resolution C003 for broad consultation throughout the Church the report includes a succinct summary of feedback received from Anglican Communion and ecumenical partners.

On behalf of the whole Church, I want to thank the Commissioners for the diligence with which they went about their work and fulfilled the mandate given them by The Council of General Synod.  They have laboured long and produced a fine report which will be a valuable resource to the Church.

In commending it for widespread study, I pray we be guided by the wisdom of the Spirit’s leading in our preparation for conversations at General Synod 2016.

Fred J. Hiltz
Archbishop and Primate

From the report:

The approach we wish to take is thus recognizably Anglican in two important ways: first, while Scripture bears the final authority for the church, it does not do so apart from interpretation and application. No reading of scripture is “uninterpreted” apart from reason and tradition. No reading of Scripture can be abstracted from the life of the church and its struggle to embody the Gospel. Second, it recognizes Scripture as a text read (or perhaps better “performed”) primarily in community, in the context of the liturgy, rather than a text read privately in the context of one’s personal devotions.

The Commission’s presentation explained the process of developing the report:

[Commissioner Dr. Patricia Bays] discussed the results of the consultation, which saw 223 submissions on the proposed changes to the marriage canon from 26 dioceses. The commission in particular had sought opinions about matters such as the Solemn Declaration and conscience clause. It received reports from men and women, young and old, lay and clergy, gays and lesbians, Indigenous communities, theological colleges, dioceses and parishes, and ecumenical partners.

…and explored the report from perspectives of communion, theology, diocese and parish disagreement, law and the definition of marriage:

[Commissioner Dr. Paul Friesen] highlighted an approach to Scripture that was “neither fundamentalist nor liberal, but Anglican,” in which Scripture was at the centre of a series of concentric circles—the first circle being tradition (community) and the second being reason (interpretation). The relationship between Scripture, tradition and reason is dialectical and interpenetrating; sometimes one aspect challenges another, and sometimes one helps us understand another.

Moving onto the question of how to define marriage, commissioner Dr. Stephen Martin used the current marriage canon as a starting point and the declaration of intent from couples about to be married. From these two sources he extracted five main aspects of marriage:

• Permanence—a lifelong union, for better or for worse;
• Monogamy—an exclusive union to the exclusion of all others;
• Faithfulness—a union characterized by mutual faithfulness;
• Covenant—a covenant with God, who creates the marriage bond; and
• Purpose—mutual support, procreation if it may be, and sexual expression.

Dr. Martin emphasized that the commission’s mandate is not to change this definition, but to see whether it may be expanded or opened up to include same-sex relationships without distorting its character.

This effort, he added, was not a question of “subversive liberals” trying to gain a hold of the church, or of the Anglican Church pandering to a particular constituency or culture, but because of what had been articulated by the church’s own LGBTQ members and the response of General Synod.

The resolutions call for a change in the language of Canon XXI (On Marriage in the Church) to gender-neutral, and provides an opt-out clause “which allows bishops, clergy, congregations and dioceses to refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages on the basis of conscience,” reports the Anglican Journal. The resolution will go before the General Synod for a vote in 2016:

In order for the resolution to be adopted, it must be accepted by a two-thirds majority at two consecutive General Synods, at which point it would become law on the first of January of the following year. By this calculation, the resolution could not be adopted before January 2020.



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James Pratt

Like Rod, I am a bit troubled by the grafting metaphor, as well as by much of the discussion in section 5.3, which, after going to great lengths to demonstrate how same-sex relationships fit within the definition of sacramental marriage stated in the excerpt above, then leaves open the possibility of “Same-Sex Covenants as a Differentiated Form of Christian Marriage Covenant”. There seems to be a bit of “fudge” — it’s marriage, but somehow a little different (without explaining what those differences might be).

The entire report needs to be read, and on the whole, I think it is a valuable contribution.

Rod Gillis

The report requires close reading. I’d like to share a couple of preliminary responses, tentative perhaps, formed after an initial reading. The section on theological rationale is very conservative. So it is ironic that it may be destined to be rejected by conservatives both in Canada and elsewhere in The Communion.

The Commission (5.3.3.) makes significant use of the “grafting in” imagery from the NT, gentiles to Jews, in order to construct what The Commission terms an “analogy”. It is disconcerting as it may contribute to a continued misplaced emphasis on difference between heterosexual and homosexual persons. There is also a possibility that this kind of theological application may inadvertently become another land mine on the tragic historical terrain of Christianity’s relationship with Judaism. Note the following from section 5.3.3, “Finally, the inclusion of the new group does not invalidate the earlier covenant as wrong or no longer relevant …” The reality is that Christian theology going forward from the NT has been used as the basis of attempts to do exactly that, i.e. invalidate the Hebrew covenant as wrong and no longer relevant—a past sin that is confessed by worshipers using the Canadian Good Friday Liturgy (BAS p. 316). The draft resolution (Appendix A) requires scrutiny.

The Commission was required to come up with a conscience clause. However, the draft resolution really provides a conscience super fortress not just for individuals but for dioceses and parishes. General Synod will be the ultimate decider; but the text of the draft resolution signals the possibility of a fiasco in terms of a meaningful revision of a national Marriage Canon with reference to the global intent of the original motion (Appendix D).

At the CoGS meeting when the report was received, for example, there was signifigant discussion about the scope of the clause. Watch for much more debate.

Prof Christopher Seitz

The full carve-out for Bishops and Dioceses is here.

The House of Bishops is apparently divided so we will have to wait to see if 51% can be mustered in favor.

efren supanga

In the given main aspects of marriage considered, it is notably glaring that the male-female aspect was excluded. It must be the first to be dealt with if we have to deliberate on the subject of marriage biblically, theologically and even by tradition. Instituting something and then using scripture, reason and tradition to qualify and validate it as good will be doing disservice to God’s faithfulness to us down the ages. We will be forced to make it appear that we have always been wrong and have just discovered it as a new revelation through our sudden brilliance and stretched out and crooked. interpretations!

Geoff McLarney

I would echo the commission in urging Efren and others to read the report in its entirety. In fact, the “male-female aspect” was deliberately NOT excluded: the commission’s recommendation was not an “undifferentiated” or gender-neutral rite, but a distinct dispensation within the sacramental rite of marriage.

Rather than instituting something and then back-reasoning it to be good, we are faced with the opposite task: finding a way to formally institute what God has manifested as good in the witness of gay and lesbian Christian lives.

David Allen

I think it is a way forward in a similar way the early church dealt with movement from being a mainly Jewish sect to becoming a multicultural sect that flowed into the Gentile world. There were Jewish Christians who wanted to demand that Gentiles had to basically first become Jews (circumcision) before they would be acepted as Christ followers.

But Christ gave the church, through Peter, the keys to the kingdom and what the Church decided on earth was accepted in Heaven. The council in Jerusalem decided that Gentile believers didn’t have to become followers of the Law to become followers of Jesus.

The Canadian Church is following that same process of studying the situation in light of modern understanding of human sexual orientation and identity and coming to a decision with regard to same gender couples and marriage in the Church.

The Church has actually been wrong on much in the past and thankfully modern Christians have changed those mistakes. This isn’t the first time and likely won’t be the last.

Bro David

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