INTEGRATOR, the newsletter of Integrity/Toronto
copyright 2003 Integrity/Toronto.
The hard-copy version of this newsletter carries the ISSN 0843-574X
Integrity/Toronto Box 873 Stn F Toronto ON Canada M4Y 2N9
SPECIAL SYNOD PLANNED FOR 2004
Recent Toronto synod developments around same-sex blessing
by Chris Ambidge
CLAIMING THE BLESSING CANADA
by Joanne Davies
A CALL TO BLESSING
A statement by Claiming the Blessing Canada, calling on General Synod to allow for blessing same-sex unions.
INTUITIVE ASSUMPTIONS AND CLOBBER PASSAGES
by Bill Morrison
by Chris Ambidge
Integrity Toronto has been at every Toronto diocesan synod since 1991. Few of those sessions have given as much attention to "matters homo" as the 2003 synod.
Several events combined to bring us to the front burner: blessings in New Westminster and bishops in New Hampshire, and in secular terms, the Ontario and BC court judgements permitting same-sex marriage. Closer to home, the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto sent a motion to Synod asking for parishes to be allowed to bless same-sex unions. The Diocesan Council (doubtless urged along somewhat by the Holy Trinity motion) proposed a more extended decision-making process than voting this fall on the single motion would have given. That formed the basis for the Synodical deliberations this November.
In his Charge to Synod, Archbishop Finlay pointed out that the challenge for the diocese is how to have meaningful, respectful dialogues in safe places as we talk about blessing same-sex relationships, honouring the church's mission to be an inclusive church, as well as our baptismal covenant of "respecting the dignity of every human being".
He went on to say "It is no secret that after prayer, discussion and bible study, I am in favour of the 'local option'. That is, I would like our diocese to set out some principles whereby parishes that agreed to do so could have the option to bless committed, monogamous relationships of Christian couples who want to love and care for each other throughout their lives."
Synod considered (and then passed) the proposal from Diocesan Council that there be a serious educational effort in the diocese over the next year. There will be four day-long sessions (for various geographic parts of the diocese) in March, April and May. At these information sessions, there will be two people speaking on each of scripture, authority in the church, theology of sexuality, and the like, and time for those attending to talk about it, ask questions, think about it -- much the same thing that happens at synods. The process is for the benefit of the decision makers and parish leaders: synod members, church wardens and clergy. The information events will be before General Synod next spring. The deliberations of General Synod itself will also advise the Toronto members, who will assemble at a special session of diocesan synod in November of 2004 to consider a specific question on the blessing (or not) of same-sex unions..
I was a bit frustrated when I first heard the proposal back in September - "good heavenly days, yet MORE study" I thought - but then I thought, well, if the diocese is prepared to put this many resources and synod-member time into it, and go to the expense of a special synod, then this part of the church is taking the question pretty seriously. In the discussion at Synod, there was lots of "yes we do need to work seriously on this question", and a huge agreement for the special synod.
The deliberations took place early Friday afternoon. Synod was very attentive. The crush court (outside the plenary hall, where the displays are, and usually some people taking a break) was dead - everyone was inside paying attention. The presentation began with the Archbishop giving a summary of what had happened beginning in 1976, and moved quickly to New Westminster and New Hampshire, and the Toronto situation. Then Synod considered the motion from Diocesan Council to hold the educational events and the special synod next year. Members were asked to be very careful only to discuss the substance of the motion (do we hold a special synod?), not the broader questions of are-homos-ok-in-the-church. A couple of people skated over that line, and were called on it by the chair, and things went well. When the vote came, it was overwhelmingly in favour - less than 20 (of 800+) opposed.
The Holy Trinity motion was considered by Synod immediately after they'd decided to hold the 2004 special synod (this order was known beforehand). There was a motion to defer the HT motion to the special 2004 synod, and that happened, again by a huge majority. That was difficult for the HT people, but I'm not sure that synod 2003 was really ready to deal with it - and had there actually been a vote, it would have been gut-level response from everyone, rather than a more thought-out response which we can hope for next fall.
Next, there was a very anti-gay motion from St Ninian's calling on Synod to urge the federal government to invoke notwithstanding to avoid the dreadful possibility of same-sex marriage. That also got referred, though speakers pointed out that it might be irrelevant by next fall, should the law be changed. The hands on this vote had to be counted twice, but I'd say it was about 60/40 to defer.
Despite the exhortations from the Chair that the discussions remain "safe space" for all, without attacks, there were times when it wasn't safe, but instead, hostile to lesbigays. (That's not just my assessment, but the impression of quite a number of lesbigays and supportive folk). The unsafe atmosphere was particularly noticeable during the debate on referring the St Ninian's motion. It is to be hoped that this can be avoided at intervening meetings, and that the tension level be racheted down when Synod next meets, in November 2004, specifically to deliberate on same-sex unions. The intervening year will be anxious for all of us, both those who accepted Integrity's offer of rainbow ribbons for their nametags, and those who oppose blessing same-sex unions. None of us want to damage the church, but have difficulty with the actions of others who seem to us to be inflicting harm. Integrity people aren't going anywhere. We have all been baptised. We echo the Archbishop's call for meaningful, respectful dialogues in safe places, honouring the church's mission to be an inclusive church, and respecting the dignity of every human being.
By Joanne Davies
In September 2003 a group of people got together and decided this is the time for the Anglican Church of Canada to Claim the Blessing. We came together at the initiative of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto. We knew each other in various ways but the strongest tie for this meeting came from being on a team that organised the Anglican presence in this year's Toronto Pride Parade. We had marched in the parade, beside our float, proclaiming love and welcome to all from various named parishes. Holy Trinity had long been a parish who had been clear about their welcome, in words on signs, in bulletins, their website, and their worship. The parish felt the non-response by the Anglican Church of Canada to gay and lesbian unions, was weighing far too heavily on the love and welcome proclaimed. They felt very clearly that, now is the time.
The people present at that first meeting were both clergy and lay, and from two dioceses, Toronto and Niagara. At the first meeting the voices at the table all echoed each other: "Now is the time" and from the clergy, "I feel I can no longer give pastoral care with integrity." Clergy found themselves saying "no" to blessing a union, even though they saw before them a couple deeply committed to each other. So we began to plan.
We had before us the experience of New Westminster and the organisation in the Episcopal Church in the United States called Claiming the Blessing. We decided to learn from both, to grow on their foundations and, with permission, we took a form of the American name. While we all knew that our work needed to begin with our respective dioceses, for each are autonomous, we also wanted to link our country, to join parish by parish, and diocese by diocese. In our discussions we knew we wanted change and to begin a process that was not divisive to our church. The desire to "Claim the Blessing" in our Church is derived from a desire to belong. So our voice would be an expression of the love to be blessed. We wanted to find a way of giving voice to people in the pews, to finding the voices which had long been quieted. So our group is not the voice of a demand, but more one of a calling to love and to care and to include truly and openly. We want to do so without the taint of underground conspiracy. We decided we wanted to speak to General Synod about our call to blessing. We want them to begin talking with intention and for our voice to resound in their ears. A voice that says clearly "Now is the time" . It is worth noting that is only at the level of general synod that the canon law on marriage within the church can be changed.
First we worked on a statement, which came to be named A Call to Blessing. We wanted it to become our mode of communication to General Synod. It would be a statement for individual people, clergy, lay and religious to sign and a statement for whole parishes to sign. We also thought that parishes could take our words and use them for times of discernment and reflection. So the statement itself could call them to sign. We had some inward struggle about whether to ask for marriage or for blessing. But the tried and true formula of small steps first is a good one. We also wanted to reflect the gospel message, that God's love is present when we give love to each other. Further to that, in the profound and intimate commitment of loving one person with our whole body we are claiming the blessing of our embodied spirits given by God, and loved by God. So our first step is not to call for marriage. Our first step is to acknowledge what is already there and in essence that is what a blessing does. (Marriage itself may finally prove the only viable option for the national Church to provide a permanent ritual to receive the blessing. It may be an important second step to discern how marriage reflects the church's beliefs and how the church reflects its own beliefs in performing marriages.) Our statement calls for local option because growth and change do not happen all at once. It comes from listening to each other, and that too is a first step.
We continued to work on our statement. In Toronto, our group invited Michael Ingham to talk about the experience of New Westminster, to a full audience at Church of the Redeemer. When we finished our statement, we created a website and opened an email address so people could send us their signatures on line. We invited people to celebrate the Eucharist with us at St James' Cathedral in Toronto. There was a good turnout, we worshipped with an openness and authenticity that felt truly as though it reflected the commitment, honesty, and whole love of Jesus. We gathered many signatures there. Integrity/Niagara and Integrity/Toronto took the statement to their diocesan synods and gathered yet more signatures. We began introducing ourselves and our statement by e-mailing people, whole parishes, and groups, across the country. Signatures and words of support have come in quickly. As I write this , nearly 450 signatures have arrived from all over the country. As you sit reading this article please begin to think of people or parishes you can tell about our group and who would like to sign our statement. Communication needs support.
In the new year we want to begin a move across the country, and have people actually working with us from many widespread areas. We hope to set up meetings of area representatives by conference calls. We want to form a day of prayer and hope for Claiming the Blessing and we want this to be Canada wide. That day, possibly in mid-March, is presently in the planning stage. We have, at present, two parishes signed on our statement and we would be pleased to share their journey to signing. We are asking for local option, so let us help your parish with the discernment process if we are able. We would also be happy to hear from you personally and support your own journey to Claiming the Blessing.
This statement is being circulated by Claiming the Blessing Canada
We, clergy, religious, laity and parishes of the Anglican Church of Canada call upon the General Synod, 2004 to authorise the blessing of same-sex unions.
To bless the relationship between two men or two women is to declare that this relationship is a blessing from God and that its purpose is to bless God, within the context of the community of faith.
The House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada recognised as early as 1979 that homosexuals are fully welcome in the Church. There have been many opportunities to study the questions raised by gays and lesbians in the Church since that time. Recent legal changes, both provincial and federal, have pressed this pastoral issue in a new way. Now is the time for Anglicans to provide for the blessing of their same-sex unions. This should be available within their local parish community.
Therefore, we ask the General Synod of 2004 to authorise the blessing of same-sex unions and urge Bishops and their dioceses to make provision for implementation by means of a local option approach. By this action we are committed to celebrating the holy love in faithful relationships and claiming the blessing of God and community.
Hundreds and hundreds of signatures have been added to this statement. If you would like to add yours, please send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Claiming the Blessing Canada, Church of the Redeemer, 162 Bloor St West, Toronto ON M5S 1M4
Please specify your diocese, and say if you are laity, clergy, a member of a religious order, or if you are the incumbent signing on behalf of your parish.
by Bill Morrison
There it was again. A conservative Anglican cleric saying that the problem with the Diocese of New Westminster, or the Diocese of New Hampshire, or whatever, was that they were going against the 2,000 year old Christian tradition of rejecting homosexuality.
This time it was a priest from Melbourne, talking to Steve Crittenden on "The Religion Report" from Radio Australia. That meant it was 2:30 am of a Thursday morning, and I was lying awake in bed again, listening to CBC Overnight.
I was also saying to myself, No, that's wrong. How can Christianity have a 2,000 year tradition of rejecting something no one had heard about until less than 150 years ago? That's when concepts like "sexual orientation" and "homosexuality" began to dawn on human consciousness.
You can't reject something you've no idea exists.
What Christianity has - what humanity has had, presumably from the beginning - is a belief in universal heterosexuality, the belief that everyone is straight.
Calling it a "belief" is wrong. "Belief" implies a conscious choice - I will "believe" this, not that. Prior to the development of theories of sexual orientation and homosexuality, universal heterosexuality wasn't a matter of belief, it was just taken for granted. You just knew that everyone was heterosexual; just as, before Galileo, people just knew that the world was flat and stationary). It was an intuitive assumption, so unquestioned that no one even knew it was there.
Intuitive assumptions become matters of belief only when someone questions them.
When Galileo announced that the earth revolved around the sun, Christianity discovered that it had always "believed" that things were the other way around, and, quoting the Bible as its authority, condemned the new theory as heresy.
When the concept of sexual orientation, and with it the possibility that there were some people whose sexual orientation was naturally towards persons of their own sex, began to become widely known, in the 1950s and 1960s, Christianity by-and-large discovered that it had always "believed" in universal heterosexuality and, again quoting the Bible as its authority, condemned the new theory as heresy.
Intuitive assumptions are vitally important to conservative Christians, because so much of the Bible and traditional belief is based on them. Galileo was such a big threat because admitting his theory meant jettisoning the whole biblical cosmology and geology, reducing what had been assumed to be "scientific data" to poetic imagery and metaphor. The sky as a blue-coloured dome that protects the earth from the waters of chaos above can still be a powerful image of the fragility of life on this "our island home," but it doesn't have much impact on the lives of astronauts in the space station circling the globe on the other side of the "dome."
The concept of sexual orientation is a similar threat to conservative Christian believers. The "clobber passages" make sense only if you accept the doctrine of universal heterosexuality. Only if everyone is heterosexual does it make sense to believe, as the Bible seems to, that people who commit "homosexual acts" do so for the sheer hell of it, to flaunt convention and deliberately go against nature and God. It's a misnomer to speak, in Biblical terms, of these as "homosexual" acts, because they are always committed by heterosexual people (there being no other kind). These passages have about as much to do with the "mutual comfort and help," and the "delight and tenderness in acts of love" that gay and lesbian couples seek to have blessed in their contemporary relationships as the biblical "sky-dome" has to do with those astronauts.
It was a generation after men had walked on the moon before the Roman Church finally admitted that it may have overstated its case against Galileo. It may take that long for conservative Christians to give up their belief in universal heterosexuality and accept the reality of sexual orientation. In the meantime, let us be clear that there is no 2,000 year old Christian prohibition of homosexuality, but only a 50-or-so year old refusal to believe that it exists, coupled with an eons-old intuitive assumption reflected in the Bible that all people, including those who commit "homosexual acts," are straight. And, just because a lot of people took it for granted for a long time doesn't mean it's right.