Canadian Anglicans move closer to Lutherans, ponder meaning of diversity

June 24, 1998

In a nine-day meeting here, the Anglican Church of Canada's chief governing body approved legislation bringing the church closer to Lutherans, opposing euthanasia and cloning, and expressing the church's support to partner churches in several oppressed or war-torn countries.

In the first meeting it has held in Montreal in 30 years, the 300-member General Synod also spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on "nation and identity" and on what it means to be a minority voice in a society as diverse as Canada's.

The theme of this General Synod, a body which meets every three years in a different part of the country, was "Lift every voice -- Faisons entendre nos voix" which was meant to help members focus on those who are often ignored or unheard.

In his opening address at the start of synod, Archbishop Michael Peers, the primate, set the tone when he told delegates that one of the least heard voices in the Canadian Anglican church was that of French Canada. He challenged synod members to pay particular attention to that voice during the gathering.

Synod members spent a whole evening listening to panel members representing different voices or geographical parts of the country speak about what it means to be a part of the Canadian whole.

Synod members also heard a presentation from the church's indigenous members, a group that is working to implement a "Native Covenant" which would give it greater autonomy within the church.

Host bishop Andrew Hutchison of Montreal delivered a major address in which he expressed the difficulties involved in leading a church that represents a very small number of Anglophones in an overwhelmingly Francophone province.

In his speech, Bishop Hutchison also argued that while the church has no mandate to play a role in partisan politics, it is bound by conscience to take strong positions on matters involving principles such as peace, justice and reconciliation.


Taking a stand

Synod members took him to heart, passing more than a dozen resolutions affirming the Canadian church's stand against oppression, injustice, violence and war in several parts of the world.

Through some of these resolutions, the Canadian Anglican church offered expressions of solidarity to partner churches and the people of Kenya, Sudan and Colombia who suffer from war or political oppression. Members voted to ask Ottawa to play a greater mediation role between Cuba and the United States.

Meeting the week that Pakistan exploded a number of nuclear devices in response to similar tests carried out by India, synod delegates called on the Canadian government to renounce the use of nuclear weapons and to exert pressure on other governments to do so as well.

They voted to ask the church's ecojustice committee to produce resources to enable Canadian congregations "to study the Just War theory and its implications for Christian response to war and militarism."

Members also called on the federal government to initiate a broad process of public consultation whenever it negotiates multilateral agreements on investment and trade and to consider the implications of such pacts, especially on the most disadvantaged members of society such as the elderly, the very young and indigenous peoples.

Members also voted to ask the Prime Minister to apologize to Inuit people displaced from traditional hunting areas on the east coast of Hudson Bay and Baffin Island to the High Arctic in the 1950.

In the area of social policy, General Synod approved resolutions saying it cannot support euthanasia and assisted suicide. The resolution described such measures as "a failure of human community."


Moving toward full communion

The church also called on Ottawa to prohibit the cloning of human beings.

The resolution with what may have the broadest impact for the Anglican community itself, was one commending for study a report urging "full communion" between Canadian Anglicans and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

Full communion would not be an actual merger of the two churches, but means that each would recognize the other's clergy, rites and sacraments. It could lead to extensive sharing of resources and even personnel between the two denominations. Reactions to that report will be gathered by both churches in the next three years and considered again when their respective governing bodies next meet in the year 2001.

One of the most arduous parts of the proceedings, held in a sweltering gymnasium at McGill University, was a debate on "human rights principles" for church members and employees that would have legislated protection from discrimination on the basis of age, sex, sexual orientation, family or marital status, race, color, ethnic origin, ancestry, disability, creed and socio-economic status.

The often emotional debate on that resolution stretched over three days and the proposal was ultimately narrowly defeated after synod members failed to agree on a way to marry theological concerns to language more commonly associated with civil courts proceedings.

General Synod, which consists of bishops, clergy and lay people elected to the task in each of the church's 30 dioceses, meets every three years.