Sunday Sex Talk

without comments

Here are my notes from yesterday morning’s discussion—they’re a bit choppy but represent my best reconstruction of the the fragments I managed to write down.  My hat is off to the live bloggers in the world!  I think Chris’s account is rather more coherent, but some of these details may be useful.

++Fred is now at the podium and introducing this morning’s session, “Faithful Reporting Back,” in which there will be a report of activities and news from the past triennium on the topic of same-sex blessings both in Canada and around the Communion.  He hopes that this session will give information and context for the discussions that ensue.

Janet Marshall, chair of Faith,Worship, and Ministry, is now at the podium.  The first speaker will be +Linda Nichols (Edmonton), chair of the Primate’s Theological Commission, followed by other members of the Commission.  Janet will speak next on behalf of Faith, Worship, and Ministry, followed by several bishops (whose names just blew by me).


The Commission from 2004-7 responded to the question of whether the blessing of same-sex unions was a matter of doctrine.  The St. Michael’s report, in which  the Commission concluded that blessings are adiaphora or non-core doctrine, was presented to the Council of General Synod in May 2005.  General Synod 2007 then directed the Commission to consult with parishes and dioceses and report on whether the blessing of same-sex unions constitutes a faithful, Spirit-led development of Christian doctrine and to consider Scripture’s witness to the integrity of every human person and the question of the sanctity of human relationships.  +Linda noted that the Commission came to consensus on the second question, but not the first in the Galilee Report that was the result of these deliberations.

Jamie Howison

Jamie Howison noted that members of the Commission approached the questions predisposed in one way or another.  His sense was that we needed to make some real headway on inclusion of GLBT Christians in the life of the church, but wondered whether there could be agreement.  All members saw same-sex blessings as matter of theological and doctrinal weight that required theological consideration, rather than simply a tactical/pastoral response.  Over time, he found that Commission members experienced a collapse of the terms they understood as oppositions  (e.g., liberal/conservative, more/less scriptural etc) and a developing awareness that issues looked different in different contexts (e.g., Inuit community in Arctic, urban community in Winnipeg).  They agreed that rooting their work in the Eucharist, prayer,  and Bible study gave the activitie of the Commission a solid foundation and broke down some of the barriers among members, despite their differences.  His sense is that for movement to mean anything at all, it will need to happen not through debate and divisive votes, but rather through the kinds of interactions that the Commission had, i.e., through speaking and listening to each other.

Gary Thorne

Members came to the task with differences in the weight they attached to scripture, tradition and reason.  He saw the referral of the questions to the Commission as a political request, an instrument needed for the working of General Synod.  He also had a sense of people from various perspectives expecting theologians of their particular stripe to represent that view.  Ultimately, it didn’t work that way and didn’t break down along liberal/conservative lines or clergy/lay.  He also pointed out that the St. Michael’s report has been misinterpreted as saying that because blessing of same sex unions is adiaphora the door is open for dioceses to do as they wish.


The Galilee Report and the documents produced with it were circulated on the national church website and to dioceses, theological colleges etc.  In the fall of 2009, CoGS requested that the Commission examine three questions: 1/ what are the distinctions between a blessing and a nuptial blessing 2/ blessing of marriage and blessing of a union  3/ blessing of civil marriage of same-sex couple.  The January 2010 meeting marked the end of Commission’s 7 year mandate.

Janet Marshall

Also at GS 2007, CoGS was asked to consider revision of the marriage canon, including a theological rationale to allow marriage of all legally qualified couples.  A task force was appointed to produce what became The Rothesay Report (May 2010).  As it worked, the task force began to lean to a more conservative position because it seemed like they were being asked to produce something for one side only and they backed away from that, feeling that they needed to work for all positions on the question. The journey on this issue has been 34 years to date.  There is no consensus on what the church could or should do.

Lela Zimmer (Faith, Worship, and Ministry—Associated Parishes of the Central Interior)

The task group asked to step away from the issue of same-sex blessings to consider the broader issue of human sexuality.  It held focus groups attached to diocesan and provincial focus groups.  In May 2008, facilitator training with Stephen Andrews and pscyhologists who work as therapists was undertaken.  They then asked to conduct groups at synods and other groups who might produce a cross-section of the Canadian church.  The response was lukewarm from both dioceses who felt there was no appetite/desire for this type of discussion and others who felt they whad already done this work.  In the end, 6 groups were conducted: 2 provincial meetings (Canda, BC?Yukon), 3 diocesan (Arctic, Toronto, Ontario), 1 with Canadian Forces Chaplains.

The questions included: why does sex matter? what stories/passages from bible influence your thinking about sexuality?  what elements/institutions influence?  what issues need to be discussed? what resources are needed for study?  [there were other questions, but I lost it in the middle].  Responses to these questions had some common ground, but not entirely.  For example, respondents indicated that dxpression of sexuality should be grounded in testimony of bible, but there was no agreement on what that testimony should be.  They agreed that families, role models, mentors, conferences, institutional policies (to a degree) influence attitudes/thinking about sexuality and that amany of these, primarily socially constructed, are grounded in scripture and religious belief.  Media constitutes another influence.  There was also agreement that churches ought to take more active stance and that healthy expressions affirm standards and values of societies/culture (monogamy, faithfulness, mutual love respect, biblical teaching).  Unhealthy relationships were typically seen as opposite to these.  There was agreement that we need a robust conversation in the church about sexualty that gets beyond the place of GLBT people in our communities and the physical aspects of sexuality.  The conversation should be holistic and engage youth on subject.  There was interest in considering single and celibate people in the discussions.  Little was gleaned on the types of resources people would like. The task group created web resource, “Created in the Image of God” (attached to the Faith, Worship and Ministry report as appendix).  In light of disagreements in the Communion, they felt that international conversations would be useful and initiated inter-diocesan conversations between Canadian and African dioceses.

+Michael Bird

Niagara was linked with Central Tanganyika (Tanzania).  8 papers reflecting on theological issues were produced and sent to CT, from whom they received responses.  A second set was crafted and sent back.  In February 2010 +Michael travelled to London (UK) to meet with the partner bishops (6 African, 5 Canadian).  They considered a number of matters, including what dialogue should be about,  sharing stories, being open to other, passion for proclaiming gospel, making disciples, responding to the Holy Spirit, dialogue not being about changing other people’s positions.  While they started with sexuality, the discussions moved on to talking about mission and ministry.  They met with the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Later, the bishop of Central Tanganyika came to Niagara to meet the reflection team.  From the London communique came a statement that all were committed to walking together in bonds of mutual affection and to working as members of the body of Christ.

+Colin Johnson

In the Diocese of Toronto there has been engagement with African bishops over food with several papers The face to face conversation was largely about partnerships.  There was a later trip to Uganda for prayer, study.  Toronto has been part of the continuing Indaba process.  15 diocesan bishops are to meet in July in London for continuing Indaba process.  Over the next year the goal is to deepen partnerships and relationships around mission of church (not primarily sexuality).  Links are being forged with Hong Kong and Jamaica for these discussions

+Michael Ingham–not available this morning.


House of Bishops major developments: 1/shared episcopal ministry document (2004) still a resource should dioceses wish it 2/ April 2007 statement concerning pastoral generosity.  From Lambeth 2008 he came away mindful of the request for gracious restraint around the 3 moratoria and the Canadian church was one of the first provinces to have discussion about what this might mean.  The statement from H of B fall 2008 was made after receiving reports from dioceses who have had requests for development of public rites for blessings, dioceses who anticipate this request, dioceses who have experienced cross-border interventions and engaging in Indaba within house.  It resulted from a desire for “something to take home” from that meeting.   The third session began with comments by ++Fred that were incorporated into the statement.  ++Fred has made efforts to stop cross-border interventions at several meetings, but without much success.  The H of B has made a continued commitment as far as possible to the 3 moratoria until GS 2010 and to walk together and hold each other in prayer.  There was also a commitment to establish diocesan commissions to discuss same sex blessings in preparation for GS 2010.  The H of B articulated a continued commitment to pastoral generosity and to shared episcopal ministry.  The document was produced by consensus and communicated immediately to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communioin Office.   Since then, the province of Rupert’s Land issued a statement that would maintain their commitment to honour moratoria.  At the same time, there has been activity in a number of dioceses across the country around blessings (enumerated many requests to bishops for various configurations of blessing). memorials to GS from Saskatchewan, Central Nfld and Kootenay on this matter.  Other discussions in synods didn’t result in resolutions or decisions. The majority of dioceses have had significant conversations and developments.  From the perspective of the national church and Communion the H of B statement of October 2008 stands as the position of the house as a whole.  ++Fred ended with the A of C’s comment that the tensions that assail us do not reflect the whole life of the  community, but part of it.

Written by Patti

June 7th, 2010 at 6:11 am

Posted in General Synod