All Together Now

Are Anglicans Facing a Great Schism?
“Adopting same-sex marriages
need not split the church,”
says REGINALD STACKHOUSE
From Monday’s Globe and Mail

Will Canada’s Anglicans split if their governing body opts for blessing same-sex unions?
If these nearly one million church members are true to the history of their centuries-old communion, they will agree to disagree — but they will not fragment. The past, however, does not always shape the future.
Through the ages, no part of Christianity has shown more flexibility in retaining unity amid diversity in doctrine, ceremony and lifestyle. Yet no challenge to that comprehension has been stronger than the reaction to recent proposals about same-sex unions.
For the Canadian church to come down on one side of the issue can therefore strain its relationships not only with Anglicans in other parts of the world — especially sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean — but also within its own membership.
So when the General Synod is asked in June to approve proposals to bless same-sex unions on a “local option” basis — that is, each diocese deciding whether or not it will permit the change — approval will have to be given by no less than 60 per cent of the bishops, 60 per cent of the clergy delegates and 60 per cent of the laity.
Will it happen? A majority of that size is always a challenge, and in this case, three majorities. But just as daunting a question is: How will church people react if the General Synod does vote to go ahead?
If the past gives us insight into the future, Anglican practice will vary around the country, but few clergy and laity will secede to form a no-same-sex church of their own.
A conscience clause can give clergy the right to opt out of blessing same-sex unions or conducting same-sex marriages, and many can be expected to claim this right. But that need not be a practical problem when a gay or lesbian couple can find nearby clergy in the next town or even down the street to tie their knot.
That kind of conscience clause operated effectively in the first years that Anglicans were remarrying divorced people and when the church was first ordaining women priests. Some bishops and clergy did draw a line, but they were few — and before long, they were none. Gradualism is usually a workable way to initiate a major change. It may work again.
Will this alienate the Canadian church from the rest of the Anglican world, though? For now, the Canadian bishops are said to be proceeding as though they will be included in the next Lambeth Conference. It is by invitation only and the invitations come only from the Archbishop of Canterbury, but the Canadians are not assuming his door will be closed to them.
Nor should they, when history tells them change is the nature of sacred things too. At one Lambeth early in the 20th century, the bishops condemned contraceptives. But only a few decades later, their episcopal successors recommended family planning as responsible stewardship.
It took time for women clergy to be accepted outside Canada and the United States, and they are not yet recognized in all parts of the world. But two of the primates at the next Lambeth may well be women.
Time can work again to expand the thinking of Anglicans who now feel deeply they cannot accept same-sex unions they believe to be morally wrong. And their thoughts should be respected without rancour. They are not homophobic people. They are not bigots. They are another example of what the philosopher John Locke meant when he said that reasonable people will differ.
So the Anglican communion can be, in the 21st century, what it has been through so much of its history — a church for people more at ease with both sides of an issue than with an “either-or” approach.
When St. Augustine and his monks arrived in Kent in 597, fresh from Rome, they could have expected to have an “either-or” ministry of converting a pagan Britain to Christianity. Instead, they found that a Christian church had been alive and well in Britain for over two centuries. So both Roman and Celtic Christians lived alongside each other for generations. And did so peaceably — inclusiveness being one reason that Christianity is the world’s largest faith.
That idea dumbfounds anyone who thinks unity demands uniformity, and that building a wall is better than opening a door. But it’s always been part of Anglicanism, and I’m one who hopes it will keep the Canadian church together still.
Reginald Stackhouse, an Anglican priest and a leading evangelical, is principal emeritus and research professor at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.

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