The annual synod of the Anglican Diocese of Montreal has become the second to urge its bishop to allow clergy to bless previously solemnized civil marriages between same-gender couples.
Montreal Bishop Barry Clarke, who himself concurred in the October 19 vote, told reporters afterwards that he is "glad we came to a place where we made a decision."
He said some Anglicans in the diocese may not he happy with the decision, "but at least we can say we are out there and we can say that's where we stand." He told delegates at the close of the debate that "I want to say how impressed I am with all of you. I will consider seriously what I have heard today. I will take it into serious and prayerful consideration. I am a pastor at heart."
However, he said in a statement that the decision makes no immediate change in the policies and practice of the diocese. He would bring the results of the vote to a meeting of the Canadian House of Bishops October 25-30 in London, Ontario. "I will need some time to reflect on today's discussions, to consult further with the other bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada when we meet later this month, and to consider the concerns of our partners in the wider Anglican Communion," Clarke said. "Until a decision is made, there is no change in our current policy and practice; I expect our clergy to refrain from blessing same-sex couples."
Clergy delegates to the synod voted 44-25 and lay delegates 59-32 in favor of a resolution almost identical to one adopted 177-97 the previous week by the synod of the Diocese of Ottawa, which became the first diocese to consider the issue of same-gender blessings since the triennial meeting in June of General Synod, the Anglican Church of Canada's national governing body. The issue is also likely to be revisited by the Diocese of Niagara, which in 2004 voted to allow same-gender blessings; Bishop Ralph Spence, who was the diocesan bishop at the time, had withheld his consent until General Synod. (The Diocese of New Westminster, which allowed blessings since 2002, had, in response to a House of Bishops' agreement in 2005, limited the number of churches that may offer them pending a decision by General Synod in June. Diocesan Bishop Michael Ingham is holding consultations about the next steps for the diocese.)
The Montreal synod had separate tallies for clergy and lay delegates at the request of several delegates critical of the resolution. This meant the bishop had to say whether he concurred. He did. The resolution requests that the bishop grant permission for clergy, whose conscience permits, to bless duly solemnized and registered civil marriages, including marriages between same-gender couples, where at least one party is baptized. It also asks that the bishop authorize an appropriate rite and make regulations for its use in supportive parishes.
Clarke praised what he described as a "wonderful, intelligent debate" on both sides of the issue. To some extent this echoed a comment closing the debate by the sponsor of the resolution, Canon Paul Jennings, director of pastoral studies at the Diocesan Theological College in Montreal. He praised the high quality of some of those on the other side and particular their broad and non-literalistic approach to Scripture.
At the same time, he asked delegates to ask themselves what they would want for their children if they were homosexual, and "what do we believe in all honesty that God wants for them?" He said the church's attitude could make a difference for gays and lesbians between loneliness, denial, perhaps bad marriage or promiscuity and alienation from the church, on the one hand, and faith, holiness and strong partnerships on the other. However, he said the resolution is only a request to the bishop and does not cover same-gender marriages -- a subject outside the power of a single diocese under church law.
Jennings said he and the other sponsor of the resolution, Dr. Douglass Dalton, a medical doctor who worships at St. John the Evangelist Church in Montreal, urged delegates to vote in accordance with their own consciences rather than being preoccupied with the possible political consequences of the vote at various levels of the Anglican Church.
In fact, while some opponents of the resolution did refer to potential political dangers, there was no lack of scriptural argument. The Rev. Gregory McVeigh of St. Stephen's Church in Westmount said the strongest scriptural arguments against same-gender marriage come not from a few selected texts but from a general view of the couple as male and female right from the creation story through the Bible. "However you interpret this scripture, you have to take it seriously."
The Rev. Dean Brady, a doctoral student at McGill University in Montreal, said his studies of scriptural interpretation suggest that same-gender couples run counter to all traditional levels of scriptural interpretation. To support the motion would be to reject the "lens" of scripture as a way of interpreting the world in favor of a "lens" of modern social science.
The Rev. Anthony Harvey of St. Michael and All Angels Church in the Montreal suburb of Pierrefonds asked whether the resolution "is really God's will or is it bringing God down to our level of understanding and acceptance?"
This article first appeared on the website of the Anglican Journal.