Some members take a breather as the officers of General Synod confer about what to do with the discovery of voting error. Photo: Art Babych
The General Synod plenary hall was a cauldron of emotions after Primate Fred Hiltz announced with finality that an error in Monday night’s count of the vote on the motion allowing same-sex marriage had been made, and that, in fact, it had been approved, not rejected.
There was palpable anger on the faces of some members, weariness in others. Others smiled and quietly exchanged hugs. Some simply looked stunned.
A few visibly upset members stood up to leave the plenary hall. They refused to comment when sought for reactions.
The Anglican Journal interviewed members from both sides of the divide to get their reactions:
Shara Golden, diocese of Fredericton
I might not have agreed with all the processes, but I do believe that when something is wrong and you can fix it, you fix it. It was a hard way to have it happen for where I thought it should go, but I would want someone to say we’re going to fix it, if it was the other way.
I didn’t vote for the resolution…but I wouldn’t be happy if I knew that we had done things wrong. That’s not what God would want. He’d want us to be honest and upright. I will live with the results, I will.
Bishop William Anderson, diocese of Caledonia
They did what they had to do in terms of trying to correct the record, so I have no issue with that. What I do have an issue with is that last night when the thinking was that the vote got in the way, a number of bishops announced that they were simply going to ignore the results, they were going to defy the decision of synod and…go ahead and approve [same-sex] marriages.
Well, today, the situation is reversed, with the correction of the record, so the question I would be asking is, “Does this mean, in fact, that they are going to withhold consent for the marriages until this passes second reading in three years?”
I think this process has been immensely destructive of the unity of our church. I think people are going to go away wounded and if the dioceses that said they’re going to go ahead anyway now will go ahead even though now they have won the vote, it further exacerbates the contempt for our synodical process. I think we’re in for a period of chaos and I think that’s not going to be helpful for the church.
Q: What will you be telling your diocese?
The practical side of it is pretty straightforward. I have no reason to believe that it was not an honest error, a technical error, and so the vote is what the vote was. People need to deal with that.
I think the bigger problem is the one that flows from all the dioceses that said last night they were simply going to go ahead. What that says to my people is, “Well, we have a process where this has to pass at two successive synods, but some dioceses have decided they’re just going to go ahead, anyway.” Which begs the question: why are we even involved in a synodical process in deciding something like this if, to be very cynical, some bishops are going to make themselves mini popes who can decide doctrine on their own?
Dean Iain Luke, diocese of Athabasca
The irony is that before the whole synod started, people were saying "it's a lose-lose situation." Everybody knows what it feels like now. Both sides have understood now what it feels like to lose, if you have to use that word. One side ends up not getting their way, but the other side knows what it feels like. For a day, they felt that, and I hope that that will help us.
The most important thing going ahead is that we bring those two groups of people together, that people see the leadership of those two groups working together to find one story for our church. It would be terrible if there were two stories of this synod, because two stories lead to two churches. We need one story, one church. But to do that, people have to see that both sides are working together to tell that story.
Why did it happen this way? There must be something for us to learn from.
Canon Travis Enright, diocese of Edmonton
I arrived here with much trepidation either way, no matter how the vote was going to go, because I think we’ve forgotten how to love in dialogue and our structures are so completely parliamentary. It’s about argument and right and wrong…so now we’re forced into a little tube to see each other not as beloved, not as cared for, but as opponents.
I think moving forward, the church has got to see this. In the last 24 hours, in the fullness of the "no, no, yes, no," it caused so much confusion that it hurt, and there’s no place for a reconciling word where I can go with my brothers and sisters. How can we find space for each other? How can we truly find space for each other vs. this is a canon and we’re going to do this, anyway? Or we’re going to have proclamations or we’re going to have scriptural recommendations. That is not, I think, how this beloved church should be run moving forward.
Q: What needs to be done then? What are you advocating for?
I would probably advocate not something legislative, not even consensus work. There are other models. There’s one particularly Cree way of doing things called Wicheowin, which means, How do you share together? At the end of it when we come to a concern, it’s not that you prove yourself. It’s how can you live together? How can you live through this together?
We talk a lot about self-determination. I think the whole church needs to go through a period of self-determination. The whole church needs to find out what it means to live contextually on this particular land and know that there are many, many voices—conservatism, liberalism, within Indigenous communities, within urban communities, rural communities—and that we’re not simply a monoculture. We have to figure out ways to have connecting points.
Bishop Michael Bird, diocese of Niagara
Obviously, I can’t help but be grateful for the resolution passing because it’s not a vote; behind that are the witness that we give as a church to LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning] community and their friends and their families. That is welcome news to me.
On the other hand, I know that we come away from synod [with] many people feeling confused and hurt because the result is different…We’ll need to go back and pray for synod and hope that we can continue to walk together in new and inspiring ways.
Q: Are you still going ahead with same-sex marriages in your diocese?
I haven’t changed my mind on that at this point. This has just happened, so I haven’t really given much thought yet about what the next [steps are]…I will be talking to some of our senior staff and seeing how, if any way, this will alter that. But at this stage, I basically made my decision now and I’m going forward with it.
I don’t believe that this canon, in its present form, prohibits the action that I have announced.
The motion having passed, and even regardless of which way it went, there was a strong majority of people voting in favour, so I can take that as strong encouragement.
Bishop John Chapman, diocese of Ottawa
Q: Will the diocese go ahead with decision to allow same-sex marriages?
It doesn’t change anything we’re planning to do in the diocese of Ottawa, except that I am now pleased that we’re now moving in a direction that is sanctioned by the whole body of the church. It was sanctioned—over 70% voted anyway before, so I felt comfortable…I felt like it was the right thing to do, it’s the pastorally right thing to do in the diocese of Ottawa…Now I’m moving ahead doing it…knowing that there’s a two-thirds majority support in all three houses.
Q: If, as the General Synod chancellor said, the canon doesn’t prohibit same-sex marriages, why was it necessary to go through what some have described as a painful process?
A: I wish that the matter was presented to synod as a pastoral matter from the very beginning and not as a canonical issue…
Bishop Melissa Skelton, diocese of New Westminster
It was surprising. My part of this was I reviewed the list of clergy and noticed there were four names that recorded no vote, one of whom was someone I was pretty sure had voted in the affirmative…I was kind of involved in it…as this was happening behind the scenes, coming to light. Others were doing the recounting of the votes, which I didn’t even think to do. I was looking for what was odd about having four names of clergy who didn’t have a vote recorded. I thought, something’s wrong.
So what do I think about it? Because I voted in the affirmative, I feel like I’m in this strange new world. So relieved, but so concerned that others are having the experience today that I had last night, which was feeling quite downhearted…about where to go with that.
For my part, I’m relieved that I can go back to my diocese and say to our gay and lesbian people that we have taken an affirmative step on this. In my province, and among my friends in the House of Bishops, I’m very concerned for those who feel that they’re not ready for that. How do we continue to make room for their point of view in a sensitive and caring way?
The vote] is an indication that a critical mass of people in our church want to extend the full liturgical life of our parishes to LGBTQ2 people, and for me that it’s good news.
I put out a statement last night. I decided to have the experience of being here before composing anything… What I said was that I wanted to go back and do broad consultation about a way we might go forward because I actually believe in circle conversation even if in the end the decisions are mine.
I find the wisdom of the circle to be such a help and it keeps me from making some mistakes that I would take when I’m not listening to the diversity of our diocese. Our diocese is diverse.
Q: Will this change given the reversal of the votes?
It won’t change. We’d want to debrief, people would want to talk to us about what happened… The second reading [of the marriage canon is] in Vancouver and things will stay … There are other ways to move forward to greater equity and I want to explore those.
Q: There are those who say that a legislative process may not be the best way for handling matters of great consequence in the church.
We, in the house of bishops, have had a lot of discussions about that and did a kind of circle process to help bishops say where they were on the issue and to listen to others. We did get to do that here in the neighbourhood groups. I myself don’t know what to do when we have an important issue that needs to be voted on. That ends up to be a vote. It’s imperfect but I wish we didn’t live in a world where decisions cut both ways, but I frankly don’t know of any other way at this time…I’m all for circle processes… which were wonderful. I don’t know if they shifted people in their decisions…The gradual process we had at the house of bishops did allow for some people to come to a different understanding at a later time. But we had a longer time frame to be dealing with the materials and that’s not the way it is here, it’s very compressed.
Q: What would you say to the public, who are perplexed about what just happened?
Technology has bugs, what can I tell you. It does. And even when it’s this refined and it’s carefully thought out, and I fully agree with what the primate said that [the general secretary, Archdeacon] Michael Thompson and those who provided the technical aspect, I’m sure they worked very hard. Any of us who run senates know that it’s fraught with ways that it cannot live up to the perfection we had wanted it to be. It makes quite the story, doesn’t it?
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Marites N. Sison is editor of the Anglican Journal.
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