OTTAWA (CCN) — The suspension Jan. 15 of the Episcopal Church (TEC) by the primates of the Anglican Communion for devising a same-sex marriage canon has implications for Canadian Anglicans.
The Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) is examining a change in its marriage canon to be debated in its synod this July. Anglican primates from the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) wanted the ACC to be sanctioned along with the American TEC for “unilaterally permitting the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of those in active homosexual relationships.”
While the primate of TEC is suspended from decision-making and from participation in some bodies, he has not been expelled from the Anglican Communion which, according to the primates’ statement, is determined “to walk together, however painful this is, and despite our differences, as a deep expression of our unity in the Body of Christ.” For now, the move forestalls schism in the Anglican Communion centred in Canterbury, England, where the primates’ meetings took place.
However, the conservative Anglican primates of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) wanted the sanction to include a sharper rebuke and a call for repentance. Many bishops from the Global South had threatened to walk out of the primates’ meetings.
Saskatoon Bishop Donald Bolen, the Catholic co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Canada, said in an email interview he was “grateful the final statement of the primates’ meeting reiterated a desire of the Anglican provinces to continue to walk together.”
However, as a Catholic involved in ecumenical relations, Bolen said: “I see it as a good sign that the Communion takes it seriously when ‘unilateral decisions on matters of doctrine and polity are taken that threaten our unity.’ ”
Bolen noted the sanctions on the TEC “are a way of saying that the action of a particular province is impairing the Communion.”
“No sanction was placed on the Anglican Church of Canada, presumably because its discernment is still ongoing,” he said. “In that regard, I found it hopeful that the Anglican Church of Canada invited a contribution to their internal discernment on their marriage canon from the Canadian Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue.”
The Canadian dialogue’s contribution to the ACC’s Commission on the marriage canon submitted in May 2015 asked: “If same-sex marriage becomes possible in the Anglican Church of Canada, what then becomes of the enduring meaning or value of the distinction between male and female, and of procreation as one of the ends of marriage? How would the distinctiveness be maintained?”
It also described the “relatively rapid pace of the synodal process” as worrisome given the “gravity of this potential doctrinal change and its implications for the daily living of Christian faith, for Christian anthropology, and for ecumenical relations.”
The document warned such a change would “signify a new obstacle on the road to full visible unity between us” and “put at risk the fuller reception of the consensus and convergence that has been achieved through the years, raising questions about the level of awareness and authority that past agreements carry, and abrading the ecclesial trust between us.”
ACC Primate Archbishop Fred Hiltz, who participated at the Canterbury meetings, issued a statement noting the fact its upcoming July 2016 synod will deal with a proposed change similar to that of TEC.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the action of the primates’ meeting will weigh into our deliberations,” Hiltz said.
Archbishop Foley Beach, the primate of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), a group of breakaway Anglicans in the United States and Canada, participated in the Canterbury meetings.
Bishop Charlie Masters, who heads the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC), the Canadian diocese of ACNA, said in an interview, “the sanctions offered a good first step.”
The move has “served notice on the whole of the Anglican Communion that no province can just decide doctrine and practice and step outside biblical teaching and practice,” Masters said.
While the sanctions are small and the focus narrow, Masters said it was “very significant.”
“I am sure the Anglican Church of Canada will have noticed very carefully what has happened.”
He noted the Archbishop of Canterbury “did solemnly pledge to hold TEC to this.”
While ANiC and ANCA are not formally recognized by Canterbury, the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada, they are in communion with the Global Anglican Future Conference primates.