June 25, 2007

Understanding Canada - Part 2

So, what hath Canada wrought? In summary, on the Vexed Question the General Synod

1) affirmed that the blessing of same-sex unions is not in conflict with the core doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada, in the sense that it isn’t a creedal matter;

2) declined to affirm the authority of individual diocesan synods to authorize such blessings; but didn’t at the same time deny that authority, and informally (through the new Primate) allowed for a status quo in the Diocese of New Westminster;

3) adopted a statement that calls for pastoral response to the situation, which an accompanying document describes as possibly including liturgical functions short of a nuptial blessing; and

4) [appears to have*] committed to its Council the task of looking into amending the canons and offering a theological rationale for allowing marriage for anyone legally qualified to be married.

Point 1 will not please many who think that the sexuality issues are at the heart of the faith, and worth breaking communion over. Point 2 is a bit mysterious and seems to be a compromise designed to rock the boat as little as possible. Point 3 may be seen as even more of a mystery, since the church has never taught that the nuptial blessing is required for a marriage (in the BCP rubrics it is noted that wherever a deacon is allowed to perform a marriage, the nuptial blessing is omitted!). Point 4 is only a referral, but it does present one of those church/state tension-points so dear to Anglican hearts. Any canonical change concerning doctrine, discipline or worship (which this concerns) will require a two-thirds majority in each order in two consecutive session of the Synod. Note that this is about marriage not simply blessings. The Synod may well authorize blessings at its next session, which as it need not alter the marriage canon, can be adopted by a simple majority.

All in all, I am heartened by these actions. It is a source of no small frustration for many that by two votes in the order of bishops (as opposed to clear majorities in the other orders) a status quo is maintained rather than an advance. But having high respect for matters of polity, and seeing which way the wind is heading, I can rejoice that this is not a step backward, even if it means a delay.

* I say appears to have because this hasn't yet appeared on the official tally sheet as adopted; Anglican Essentials (a reasserter Canadian website) reports it was adopted early in the Monday morning session.

Tobias Haller BSG


C.B. said...

Tobias - you say in point 2 "but didn’t at the same time deny that authority, and informally (through the new Primate) allowed for a status quo in the Diocese of New Westminster"

The the primate have some official capacity in Canada to informally allow New Westminister to continue with SSBs?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

As I understand it -- and I admit I could be mistaken -- explicit authorization from the Synod was not required for dioceses to do as New Westminster has already done. (Which I guess should be obvious since they did it!) (What was being sought in the resolution was a kind of "higher level of agreement.") This seems to me to be similar to the situation in TEC, where diocesan bishops are at liberty to authorize rites within their dioceses that are not yet approved for general use.

I understand that it was on this basis that B001 was withdrawn as not necessary. This all happened very early in the day before I started listening to the session. I'm relying on the press reports. Yes, I know, dangerous...

Closed said...

The differentiation between Core Doctrine and Doctrine is the vital outcome here and shifts much in the matter in my opinion. I'm quite pleased.

I do wish that rather than focus on blessings or state status, we would focus on vows. Are my vows any less because we cannot receive legal status or because they go unblessed. The vows are the heart of an ecclesial relationship, a relationship grounded in loving the other as self, laying one's life down for one's friend, in my opinion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Amen, *Christopher. I think this is why the church has taught that the ministers of marriage are the couple -- it is the act of commitment that effects the marriage. And it is the living out of the vows that vivifies the marriage day by day.

Anonymous said...

This is all very interesting, but a little puzzling.

I think I understand the significance of "not doctrine"/"doctrine"/"core doctrine"--changing matters of style and theological indifference should be nobody's business, changing doctrine is a little more serious, and changing core doctrine starts to raise the question of whether one remains a Christian at all.

The document seems to identify the "core" as essentially the "creed"--but as we've discussed before, there is much that we would agree to be "core Christianity" outside of the creed: God as love, the greatest commandments, the Eucharist itself, for example.

Aside from that--is the underlying assumption that doctrine can change, and that core doctrine cannot? Or is it that there are certain institutional requirements for the change of one or the other? Does the Synod have the authority to change doctrine? Or core doctrine? If it doesn't, does anyone, or any assembly?

The Canadians seem a bit more orderly about this than the Americans. I'm just wondering, am I picking up the unstated assumptions correctly, i.e. that something being "mere doctrine" can be changed in the next Synod if a few more bishops cross to the other side?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Rick, it is confusing. ACC has now reached the same conclusion as TEC by a synodical route rather than a trial -- establishing what more or less everyone knew: that there are certain doctrines not subject to change (or not subject to change in theory -- witness filioque!)

As you know from our previous discussion, I find the use of terms confusing, and would rather reserve "doctrine" for matters pertaining directly to the faith. However, the distinction is the same, whatever the terminology.

Note that the ACC is not talking about changing doctrine, but canons which concern doctrine.

In some sense what is being distinguished is the difference between dogmatic theology and pastoral theology.

Anonymous said...

Thinking Anglicans and the Anglican Church of Canada News both report that "General Synod has refused to ratify proposed changes to the membership of the Anglican Consultative Council that would see all primates of the Communion automatically become members."

These changes would have stacked the membership of the ACC with a majority of Primates, ensuring that it always voted as the Primates voted, thus taking away its independence. If ratified by two-thirds of the Communion's Provinces, they will take effect.

Rejection of these proposed changes may prove one of the Canadian General Synod's most significant actions.

R said...

Tobias and *christopher:

I was surprised to run smack into the vows versus church blessing question yesterday when a (gay) couple, active members in our parish, asked just before worship if they might join the anniversary blessings we have regularly at the end of our services. They were married in Canada years ago. The United States wouldn't call it a "marriage." Nor would the TEC. . .but. . .

Of course I said yes, and sweated bullets for a moment until I realized that the prayer we have been using to pray for those celebrating anniversaries is the second marriage blessing in the BCP. No mention of gender there. I was even tempted to use the word "union" in place of marriage, but the more I thought about it, the more silly it seemed. What mattered was they were married to each other(they had made the vows), not so much the official position of any state or church. The reading from Galatians, I realized during the service, was only an added bonus.

I'm grateful I wasn't asked even a day in advance, so I had no opportunity to make a meal of it. It all simply happened. The congregation said the prayer for them and a (straight) couple who also came forward. And between all of them there were five children as well!

Worked beautifully -- a pastoral demonstration of your point.

I owe you both thanks for the theological background that made sense of the whole thing.

I suppose that's the Spirit at work. . .

C.B. said...

To add to the complexity. It appears that the "doctrine" of SS unions with respect to the local options thereto may be affirmed by a simple majority. But cannons dealing with the "doctrine" of marriage require a 2/3 votes in two successive synods. Is that right?

R said...


Just a thought/question. . . Would it be helpful to go so far as to say that dogmatic theology has a universal character while pastoral theology tends to be more local in its manifestation?

The boundaries are not so neat in practice, of course, but it strikes me as one way to describe the attempted resolution to this point in Canada. . .and points (yet again, I'm sure) to a possible way for many in the Communion to live together with, or despite the current disagreement.

Anonymous said...

i suppose that i have a philosophical (in the technical sense) worry about this talk of "not able to be changed". what is the force of such language supposed to be?

if we mean something about legal capacity, then there is no such legal restriction as i can find it in the Episcopal Church, and I presume, in the ACC also. There is no part of the Constitution, Canons, or BCP, which is not subject to amendment.

the same is true for the RC Church, despite all its talk of irreformable and unchangeable dogmas about certain things. no matter how many times you say "unchangeable", such words cannot mysteriously prevent a new generation from, in fact, changing.

some changes might be momentous: there are changes to the US Constitution which would make us a dictatorship, and there are changes to the Episcopal Church's documents which would make us no longer a Christian body at all. but the fact that such changes have such effects does not somehow magically prevent them from being made.

the philosophical Good News then is gained by clarity about why we don't make such changes. we don't drop the incarnation or the affirmation of God as creator, and the reason we don't drop it is not because it is "unchangeable" or "core doctrine", but simply because it is important to us, so we do not change it. the fact it is not changed is Good News to those of us who do not want to see it changed, because change is possible. if it were the magic force of words like "unchangeable" or "core doctrine" which prevented change, then we could take no solace in such changes not happening. but because the only thing that prevents such changes is people's lack of desire for them, we can take heart.

what protects the "core doctrine" is then not a theory about "core doctrines", but rather, the actual living commitment of the actual living people to that doctrine, a commitment that I trace back to the operation of God in his Church.

and at the end, this means that it is better we addressed this as a judicial matter than a legislative one. as a judicial question, the "core doctrine" standard helps to determine what deviations from majority opinion are permissible. but as a legislative matter, it would seem to be an attempt to prevent change by declaring it impossible (by saying, for example, that "core doctrine" cannot be changed). such declarations only evidence uncertainty and nervousness, and are entirely unable to actually prevent change.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the comments.

Charlotte, you are quite correct that this is a significant step; I was focusing on the Vexed Question, so didn't highlight it here. I've also had the general impression from comment shortly after the proposal was made that it was more or less dead in the water, as few seemed sanguine about displacing bishops with Primates. TEC declined to ratify this as well. I believe the CoE will deal with it next month. The 2/3 standard is a high requirement for an unpopular move.

Thanks for the good words on this. It often gets lost in the shuffle exactly what the church is doing in a marriage, and it is good to remember that marriage existed long before there was a church! That being said, the blessing does add something, and I look forward to the day when this will be normative for all couples who wish it.

Yes, it seems the 2/3 x 2 issue really has nothing to do with doctrine apart from the canons. The rule applies equally to discipline and worship.

Richard and Thomas,
I agree on all counts. I cite the filioque as an example of a "creedal" doctrine on which there has in fact been a significant difference of opinion. So rather than "incapable of change" I would suggest "universal" or "stable" as better language. The Righter decision is actually very well constructed and lays out both a rationale and a list of "core doctrines." Hooker speaks (referring to John) of "the eternal Gospel" of truths which are so basic that to depart from them is to utterly undo the whole structure. That is the reason we don't make the changes (which, as my brother points out, we are actually capable of doing). In the present matter, in spite of the claims that SSM threatens to undo the traditional institution, there is no evidence beyond the assertion. And SSMs clearly have no demonstrable impact on the dogmatic teachings. In many ways, I suggest they illuminate them.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Tobias, marriage existed long before there was a church. And also, the Church existed for a long time before it had a marriage rite (about 1100 years).

June Butler said...

Michael is correct. The clergy came quite late to the marriage party. Perhaps, the church might want to have another look at removing itself from the marriage business.

toujoursdan said...

It will be interesting to see what happens next.

Even some conservative bloggers have said that all A187 said was that it "affirms" the authority of dioceses to vote to allow SSUs. My priest, Canon Garth Bulmer, was the one who got up at the synod and said "We really don't need affirmation to proceed". And technically, once A186 passed, we don't.

I think the current situation is unstable. Even though the local option was voted down, New Westminster was allowed to continue their blessings, which means the local option is indeed in place. Holy Trinity Toronto said that they are going to start doing them, and I wouldn't be surprised if my church - St John the Evangelist in Ottawa - does the same, as will others.

It seems like a recipe for TEC-style anarchy where people choose to do what they want to do out of "conscience". It would have been better to have a consistent vote on A186 and A187. The "yes" on A186 completely undermines the "no" on A187. The pro SSB crowd will argue that since it doesn't violate Christian doctrine and one part of the church can do it, they can do it too, and the anti-SSB crowd will argue that since the church has determined that it doesn't violate core doctrine and part of the church can do it, they should leave.

+Caleb Lawrence, Bishop of Moosonee's passionate comment that, like women's ordination, we can argue this indefinitely, but it takes "living the experience" in order to discern whether it is holy or not was a memorable moment. And maybe the silver lining is that the next 3 years of "living the experience", even irregularly, will bring discernment to the church.