The real story is not the Anglican schism in Canada of the parishes who have ”˜left’ the Anglican Church of Canada. The real story is how the Anglican Church of Canada is in contradiction with itself and in conflict with the Anglican Communion.
After all, notwithstanding the controversy surrounding his musings on Sharia law, the Archbishop of Canterbury has made it very clear what the mind of the Anglican Communion is in his Advent 2007 letter. “Insofar as there is currently any consensus in the Communion about this, it is not in favour of change in our discipline or our interpretation of the Bible” on these matters of moral order and teaching and, as a result, “it becomes important to clarify that the Communion as a whole is not committed to receiving the new interpretation and that there must be ways in which others can appropriately distance themselves from decisions and policies which they have not agreed.”
This is, perhaps, what some parishes, like St. John’s, Shaughnessy, in Vancouver have done. They have decided to stay with the wider communion in the face of the actions of their diocesan bishop, Michael Ingham, who, after all, has required his priests and parishes either to embrace this “new interpretation” or to allow others to enter into their parishes to bless same-sex unions. So much for toleration. Perhaps, a kind of Sharia law for traditional, orthodox Anglicans might be the counter to such bishops and their synods! And maybe that is what is happening by parishes seeking the oversight of the Primate of the Southern Cone as a way to remain faithful to the Anglican Communion. They have had to “distance themselves from decisions and policies [to] which they have not agreed.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, of course, can no more condone the jurisdictional incursions of bishops than he can admit that there is a new understanding of Scripture that all must willy-nilly accept. But, then, what are the “ways” for parishes in these situations?
The General Synod of Canada in 2007 noted that the matter of same-sex blessings was (a) a matter of doctrine or church teaching; (b) that it was not a matter of core doctrine, in the sense of being creedal (sex, marriage, and moral matters in general are not explicitly named in the Creeds, of course); and (c) that there was to be no local option with respect to dioceses acting on their own. Some, of course, were greatly dismayed at the last motion, thinking that if it is not a creedal doctrine then they are good to go with whatever they want, (echoes of the Righter debacle in the States). Others were relieved that no action had been taken that formally affected the standing of the Anglican Church of Canada in the Anglican Communion.
Others were dismayed at marriage not being seen as a core doctrine; it is, but in the area of moral doctrine, not creedal doctrine. Theologically, of course, this begs the question about the formative nature of scripture and creeds with respect to moral teaching and pastoral practice.
To be sure, nothing was done to stop the Diocese of New Westminster from continuing to do what it has been doing on its own, hence the situation for parishes there. But the motion forbidding local diocesan option has been cavalierly ignored by three other dioceses to date, namely, Montreal, Ottawa and Niagara, who have decided to go ahead with what the General Synod proscribed. And not a whisper of regret, let alone a rebuke, from the Primate Fred Hiltz. And the press seems oblivious, too.
Leaving aside whether the General Synod has any authority to determine new doctrine of any sort, the issue here is about the integrity of the Anglican Church of Canada with respect to its own foundational principles, such as the Solemn Declaration of 1893 which commits the Church in Canada to the Communion. At issue, too, are the vows of ordination that priests have taken which commit them to the ”˜Canterbury connection’. None can be required to subscribe to this “new interpretation.”
Property issues will play out differently in different parts of Canada depending on whether parishes were the creations of diocesan synods or predate synods, and depending on the nature of their legal incorporation. Who holds title? But in the matter of ordination, clergy cannot be required to subscribe to a new interpretation that runs counter to what they signed up for and which commits them to the wider church. But if coerced, what are the options? Charter of Right’s cases or Sharia Law? Or something more mundane like ”˜constructive dismissal’?
And will ”˜progressive’ bishops in Canada, on the other hand, decide to make complaints to the Human Rights Commissions about recalcitrant priests and parishes who refuse to endorse the same-sex agenda, alleging hate crimes? The ironies are huge. Secular courts and law might be used to protect or attack traditional orthodox Anglicans because of the church’s embrace of a secular agenda that lacks the clear warrant of scripture and tradition.
–The Rev’d) David Curry serves at Christ Church, Windsor, Nova Scotia