Anglican Church of Canada Retreats under the Threat of Expulsion in its Same-Sex Blessing Proposals

Last week, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada approved a motion affirming the "integrity and sanctity" of same-sex union. Since then, it has plunged the worldwide Anglican Church into schism, causing the gap between the conservatives and liberals to widen.

The word “sanctity” has made the conservatives furious. Traditionalists said that, in Church language, sanctity meant blessed, holy or sacred. It appears twice in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer regarding marriage ceremonies.

Conservative Primates said using the term "sanctity" put same-sex unions on a par with marriage, and shuns the debate on their doctrinal status.

“The use of the word ‘sanctify’ means that the whole issue has already been decided and that is devastating.” commented Archbishop Gregory Venables, the Primate of the Southern Cone (South America), in a statement on behalf of 22 Global South Primates.

The Canadian General Synod tried to avoid a clash with the worldwide Church last weekend when it decided to delay a vote on gay blessings at its meeting in St Catharines, Ontario.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who always maintains a “reconciliation” approach to all the schisms between the conservatives and liberals, welcomed the postponement.

The Lambeth Commission, the body he set up to try to resolve the differences between the two parties and maintain unity, has asked the conservatives not to split by forming new provinces or dioceses until the Commission has completed its work in October. The postponement has provided space for the Commission to carry out its work, which is now in a stressful position between the conservatives and the liberals.

The postponement however, has greatly upset the conservatives, especially the African and Asian conservatives are rapidly losing patience with the Church's liberal wing and the restraint of the Archbishop shown in the gay clergy crisis.

Just before the “same-sex blessing” motion came up from the General Synod, the West Indian Archbishop - Most Rev Drexel Gomez’s wrote a letter to the Chairman of the Lambeth Commission, Archbishop Robin Eames. Echoing the voice of the 18 Primates from the Global South, the letter called for a definite separation from the American Episcopal Church if it does not repent within three months. This voice will prove influential as it represents more than 50 million Anglicans and 70 million churches, covering well over half the global Anglican community.

The theological significance of same-sex blessings is a huge concern for the conservatives. "It is rewriting the Christian faith. There's nothing in the Bible about the sanctity of same-sex relationships. Canada's action merely confirms the sad reality of the fragmentation of the Anglican family,” commented Archbishop Gregory Venables, the Primate of the Southern Cone (South America), “We would like to see them expelled. This is going against Christian teaching and they should either repent or shut the door behind themselves."

Archbishop Drexel Gomez, the Primate of the West Indies and a member of the Commission, added, "It is completely unacceptable to Bible-following orthodox Christians, that same-sex unions are described as 'holy'. Such language is reserved for marriage alone.”

53 per cent of the clergy and laity delegates and 62 per cent of the bishops called for a national commission to review whether same-sex blessings were a matter of doctrine that cannot be altered by a diocese.

To the most pessimistic portfolio, some senior churchmen have started to concede that if a common theological stature cannot be reached, the worldwide Church “could acrimoniously fall apart and two rival churches could be created.”