Under threat of expulsion from the greater Anglican Communion, the Canadian House Of Bishops issued a statement May 2, recommending that the Anglican Church Of Canada ban the blessing of same-sex unions at its general synod next month in Winnipeg.
The Anglican Church Of Canada has been under pressure to ban same-sex blessings since a meeting of the Anglican Communion, held in Tanzania in February, issued an ultimatum to the US Episcopalian Church demanding it stop blessing gay unions and ordaining gay bishops, or face expulsion.
The Episcopalians represent about 3 million of the world’s 80 million Anglicans.
At the centre of the debate in Canada is the Anglican diocese of New Westminster, BC, which has blessed same-sex unions since 2003. The Church Of Canada’s general synod, which meets in Winnipeg in June, is set to issue a ruling on whether or not the Anglican priests in Canada will be allowed to bless same-sex unions.
The statement from the House Of Bishops is a pre-emptive move, in an effort to influence the synod to rule against same-sex blessings. It recommends that priests be allowed to offer Eucharist and intercessory prayers to gay and lesbian couples, but not full nuptial blessings.
“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,” reads the statement.
The bishops also affirm in the statement that gays and lesbians and their children should not be denied baptism or other Christian sacraments, which is a step forward for some dioceses.
The House Of Bishops did not issue the statement unanimously and New Westminster bishop Michael Ingham is one of several voices who want the Anglican Church to move forward on this issue. He says that he will continue to allow the blessing of same-sex unions in his diocese, at least for now.
“We will continue unless the general synod requires us to stop,” says Ingham. “We have consistently argued for full inclusion of gay and lesbian people, and that remains our position. However we are part of the Anglican Church of Canada, and will remain bound by any decisions taken by the church.”
The statement from the bishops was quickly blasted by Integrity Canada, a group working for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the Anglican Church. Integrity issued a press release that blasted the bishops’ statement, and warned that rejecting same-sex blessings will have consequences for the Church in Canada.
“Many Anglicans are finding it increasingly difficult to justify the church’s continued discrimination against same-sex couples,” warns the group. “Many have left the church, and some clergy have resigned.”
Oddly, most of the international criticism has been directed toward the US Church allowing Canada to fly under the radar. Ingham suspects that the ultimatum given to the Episcopalian Church, while ignoring the Canadian one, may be a tactical move.
“A great deal of this stuff that’s going on internationally is fuelled by anti-Americanism, which is a shame because the Episcopalian church has been a great critic of US policy for many decades,” says Ingham.
The irony of looming schism in the Anglican Church over the issue of marriage is not lost on Ingham, given that the Church Of England was born after Henry VIII cut ties with Roman Catholicism because pope Clement VII would not grant Henry a divorce in 1533.
“It’s partly because we have an Archbishop Of Canterbury [Rowan Williams, the head of the Anglican Church] that comes from the Catholic wing of Anglicanism, and he would like to see the church take a decision on this globally rather than locally, which is not the Anglican tradition.”