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CANADIAN BISHOPS SPEAK

The House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada has issued a statement to the other members of the General Synod of the Canadian Church which meets next month. The bishops have reflected on the matter of same-sex blessings and while unable to reach a consensus seek to embrace a common mind on the matter of pastoral care and the borders of theological reflection.

The first striking aspect of their statement is that it does not reflect the sort of majoritarianism nor claims to charismatic inspiration to be found in our own bishops’ reply to the Primates Communiqué. But there again, Canada hasn’t produced distinct forms of religion which reflect the particularity of Americanism at its most xenophobic. Joseph Smith was born in New York State.

Perhaps a majority of bishops in the Canadian Church are in favor of same-sex blessings. They might well have issued a majority report urging General Synod to proceed to permit them. Instead the Canadian bishops seem to take seriously the divisions in their church and their duty to be pastors to the whole church, at home and abroad and not merely political leaders of those who agree with them.

I am rather puzzled about the comment which promotes the ideal that Christians should pray together whatever the circumstances.

Perhaps this is a shot at those Primates who refused to take communion with the American Primate? I deplore the use of the Eucharist to lobby for or against any persons or opinions. The Eucharist has its own work and purpose among us and cannot be hijacked and turned into a political rally for or against anything. On the other hand no one is obliged to receive communion and there are occasioned when we had better not!!! If asked or if we take the initiative, praying with others is a Gospel imperative. With this said, this paragraph in the bishops’ statement is balanced and good.

The bishops go on to star a number of issues connecting gays and lesbians to sacraments and other rites of the church. Certainly no child should be rejected for baptism solely because of the behavior or lifestyles of their parents. Some would also say that a priest has to assess, as best is possible whether parents and godparents are prepared to bring up a child in the communion and fellowship of the church.

The Bishops go on to hope that no person may be denied communion or confirmation because of their sexual orientation.

This gets a bit more tricky. Do we indiscriminately confirm people who, for instance are living together but not married? Obviously their future intentions must factor into a decision although all circumstances may not be the same. The next section highlights this when it makes reference to the “current teachings of the church”. The “current” teachings of the church state that Matrimony is a sacramental rite in which a man and a woman seek God’s blessing on their union. As I’ve said before this is the issue. A same-sex blessing as a concept is at best a fudge and at worst a prevarication. The debate is really centered on whether same-sex couples may be married by the church. I have no idea what blessing a civil union means anymore than I know what blessing Suzie’s tadpoles mean. It may make Suzie feel better –no harm in that – but what does it do to the tadpoles?

The bishops then suggest two options open to couples who wish their civil union or relationship be in some manner recognized by the church.

I am sure that I have blessed the homes of gay couples. They haven’t discussed with me what they do in private and I haven’t asked. “Don’t ask: don’t tell” some may say. Not so. If they had later sought to reveal to their bored friends the details of their sex lives, it is doubtful whether any bishop would confirm their being denied the sacrament The communion rubric hasn’t seen much use in hundreds of years. As long as the celebration of the Eucharist doesn’t take the form of a rally or lobby for or against the couple’s formal relationship but sticks to the Propers for the day or week, I see no real objection.

The bishops suggest that when a gay or lesbian married or committed couple seeks to hold a reception or celebration in a church for their life in Christ, again intercessory prayers for their mutual fidelity, the deepening of their discipleship and for their baptismal ministry may be offered, not including the exchange of vows and/or a nuptial blessing.

This again sounds pastorally sensitive. Granted it could be used as an affirmation of gay unions in general. Certainly both parish priest and bishop would have to take great care in framing the contents of such an ad hoc liturgical rite.

The bishops seek to encourage ordained gay and lesbians as they seek to be faithful to their calling at the present time.

Given the fact that the church has always ordained gay persons and that, at the present, their lives are probably under greater scrutiny than at any other time in the history of the Church perhaps the above section is necessary. To cling to the belief that gay and lesbian clergy have always managed well in the area of celibacy is to live in a dream world. The suggestion that being gay is the equivalent to having a call to celibacy is theological nonsense. On the other hand, if a priest or bishop is called and set aside to a special ministry and in ordination given special grace, the responsibility to set a worthy example to the flock of Christ is something to be attempted by all, even if seldom achieved by any. There are parishes in which a gay or lesbian priest may live with another without causing “scandal” as the rubric puts it. There are other parishes where this would not be so. This may not be fair -it certainly isn’t -but it isn’t solved by producing a fudge on Matrimony.

The bishops then note that same-sex blessings are not at present permitted by the Anglican Church of Canada.

Note “as of today” and “clearly permit.” Some of us would say that the doctrine and discipline of the Church, never mind “our church” –denominationalism at its best – does not permit same-sex blessings and that an extraordinary consensus not only within the Anglican Communion but in the wider Church would be necessary to change the Doctrine of Holy Matrimony as expressed in our formularies and the Book of Common Prayer.

But at least the Canadian bishops are more honest than our own. For it is equally true that the doctrine and discipline of TEC does not permit same-sex blessings. That we don’t own up to this fact is a scandal and may yet become a schismatic scandal.

The bishops suggest that there may be a development of doctrine on this issue. They do not prophecy when this may occur or how. The theory of “The Development of Doctrine” was formulated by John Henry Newman. He was warned at the time that his theory without specific terms of authority would lead to chaos. But, rather like theories of the atonement, no church other than the Roman Catholic Church has apprehended Newman’s theory as official doctrine. The assumption that Doctrinal Development is part of core belief remains a dangerous and divisive theory because at the least we haven’t found a theological and ecclesial formula to suggest how it works in a Communion without central authority.

One cannot refrain from contrasting the tone, language and dignity of this pastoral statement of the Canadian bench with the heated rhetoric employed by our own House recently. The time was, not long ago, that our Bishops collectively expressed themselves in the opaque language I call “815 Mandarin”. This time they broke the code and wrote something ghost written by people who obviously read political blogs or those of sports jocks. Perhaps our episcopal neighbors to the North might send a team down here to help our bishops recover their collective dignity

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