Last-minute manoeuvring during a divisive debate within the Anglican Church of Canada on how to treat same-sex couples has left the church at odds with itself.
Although leaders of the church voted Thursday morning to “affirm the integrity and sanctity of committed adult same-sex relationships,” they had voted less than a day earlier to defer a decision on how to treat same-sex couples by sending the issue to theological scholars for study.
In spite of the vote Wednesday evening – which seemed to have taken the topic off the table for at least three years – the controversial issue was extended by an Ottawa delegate who, during the late evening debate, proposed that specific recognition of same-sex relationships be added to the motion.
The motion passed as it stood and his proposed addition was opened to debate as the meeting reconvened in St. Catharines, Ont., the next morning.
The discussion began with youth delegates taking the floor. Spokespeople for the General Synod, the group of church leaders holding the meeting, said that most of these young speakers backed the new proposal, though a few who wanted to replace the words ‘integrity and sanctity' with the word ‘love' were defeated.
In a release, officials at the meeting acknowledged that the word ‘sanctity' caused problems for a number of speakers Thursday morning, with some worried that it would make the motion a doctrinal statement. But Montreal delegate Dennis Drainville countered that the word was chosen because “God is in the midst of that relationship between two committed partners.”
After debate that a conservative faction within the church said was cut unreasonably short, delegates voted to approve the addition by a show of hands. The addition then became an integral part of the resolution that had been approved Wednesday.
The process has left these conservatives furious and worried about the reaction of other Anglican churches. The spokesman for a church group called Anglican Essentials said that they feel deceived that the motion passed Wednesday night was so quickly contradicted by Thursday's addition.
“The No. 1 concern for us is how the international community is going to react to this,” Chris Hawley, the spokesman for Anglican Essentials, told globeandmail.com. “Canadian Anglicans don't want to be set adrift in the Anglican Communion.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed Wednesday's decision to defer the decision on same-sex blessings. His statement did not mention the addition that was passed later.
“The decision ... offers hope for the continuing collegiality of the Anglican Communion,” Dr. Williams said in a message posted on his Web site. “It is important that the Canadian church has held back from a structural shift that would have run counter to the pleas and wishes of the primates' meeting last autumn and of so many around the Communion.”
Anglican unity was cited as a reason to spurn the motion originally tabled, which would have allowed each diocese could decide for itself whether to offer to bless same-sex couples. But the new primate of the Canadian church, Andrew Hutchison, said this week that unity, while important, should not be a goal in and of itself.
But Mr. Hawley argued that the issue is bigger than the Canadian church and could drive a wedge into the global body of Anglicans, already deeply divided over homosexuality. He said that his group almost immediately began to receive messages from outside of Canada by Anglicans who have heard about Thursday's decision and are upset.
In spite of their spiritual connections, Anglican churches around the world operate autonomously.