The Anglican Church of Canada has been far behind the governments and courts of this country in recognizing the rights and privileges of same-sex partnerships. Although the church has passed statements of welcome and support, same-sex couples have not been able to have their commitment to one another blessed within their parish church.
This month the national decision-making body of the Anglican Church of Canada will meet in Winnipeg and one of the agenda items could open up an option for supportive dioceses to bless same-sex partnerships. If, however, this option is denied again there will be a call for more study and more discussion even though the Anglican Church in Canada has studied and debated this issue for over 30 years.
Caution has held sway over the decades because it is a divisive issue for Christian traditionalists and because the Anglican Church has to work within a vast international communion that struggles with cross-cultural tensions.
To many in the secular world this rift within Anglicanism may seem unimportant: a sign of yet another moribund institution unable to ‘keep up with the times’. Not so; this struggle is much more broadly instructive because it is about the risks –and promises – of communal decision-making. It is about the openness that societal organizations must allow for successful local autonomy, while at the same time fostering a broader sense of identity and kinship with those from whom they differ.
Canadians have developed this capacity because we cherish a shared national identity while valuing the multitude of regional, cultural and linguistic differences across this vast land. Similarly, Canadians have a legacy of peacemaking and keeping international communication open while finding appropriate ways to support the needs of Canadians.
So it is fitting that Canadian Anglicans take the next step in allowing dioceses to differentiate according to their specific needs and calls to ministry. We know that some dioceses in Canada now wish to offer God’s blessing on the committed and enduring love between two people who happen to be of the same sex. This will challenge the norms of some other parts of our international Anglican family. The Canadian church may have to cope with the possibility of being considered “outsiders” for a while in the Anglican Communion.
Then again, those who are fundamentalists in the Communion and who are working to split our international fellowship may have to rethink their divisive approach to what has long been an understanding of mutual responsibility and interdependence.
Over the years the Anglican Church has not always been perfect of course, but with other faith communities it has actively responded to the needs of society in ways that are often quiet and unnoticed. When street people need shelter and food, when food banks are a necessity, when threatened refugees need sponsorship … the Anglican Church is there. When foreign debt load immobilizes struggling economies, our churches are often leaders in advocacy at the international level. When justice is ignored and people are oppressed and suffering, it is often the churches that speak up and bring the injustice to public attention.
It is not as if the Anglican Church is unable to face challenges and look for compassionate ways to deal with tradition and controversy. Our denomination studied and eventually allowed divorcées to remarry even though the Scriptures are quite clearly on the other side of this issue. The introduction of contemporary language worship options alienated those preferring a more traditional experience, but both moved ahead. A few years ago some parishes were reluctant to administer Holy Communion to persons diagnosed with HIV. Now the churches are at the forefront working in countries where AIDS is devastating populations. The Anglican Church has apologized for the shameful experiences of indigenous people in residential schools and accepted its financial and healing responsibilities to Canada’s aboriginal peoples.
We are a church that appreciates diversity and responds to injustice and oppression. In the defining moments that lie ahead, the profound hope of many Anglicans is that the Canadian church will remain steadfast in its commitment to justice and support the blessing of same-sex partnerships. Centuries ago our Teacher called us to serve the needs of our diverse communities with compassion and now is the time for a courageous decision.
It is always a conundrum why the church community in general is so fixated on sexual matters. It is difficult to comprehend why so much time and energy goes into discussions, debates, reports and commissions about whether two faithful people who love each other and sit in pews as loyal Anglicans can or cannot be recognized as equally worthy of having their partnership valued just as any other members of the parish community.
We live in a world where matters of life-threatening urgency and profound suffering need the attention and resources of our church. Yet there are some who are diverting attention away from these essential issues to focus on the lives of people who just want to be faithful and love each other.
Surely we can overcome caution and uncertainty to build communities of compassion and hope and justice just as that young rabbi from Nazareth taught us so clearly.
Now is the time for the Anglican Church of Canada to say “YES” to the blessing of faithful, committed same-sex partnerships.
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