June 4, 2004 in Nation/World

Anglican Church of Canada affirms the ‘sanctity’ of same-sex relationships

Richard N. Ostling Associated Press

ST. CATHARINES, Ontario – The Anglican Church of Canada affirmed the “integrity and sanctity” of same-sex relationships Thursday, a move that stops short of authorizing blessing ceremonies for gay couples but still may provoke rancor in the global Anglican Communion.

The “sanctity” measure, which passed with a show of hands at a national church meeting, was offered to encourage gays and lesbians and their supporters. Gay advocates were disheartened by a decision Wednesday to delay any national go-ahead on church blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples until at least 2007.

Chris Ambidge, Toronto leader of Integrity, the Anglican gay and lesbian caucus, said Thursday’s sanctity action will be helpful in evangelizing gays and lesbians. “This says the Anglican Church values you as partnered people,” he said.

Yet keeping all sides mollified in the church debate over homosexuality has become difficult – as shown not only by the three days of discussion in Canada but also by the deeper rift in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion.

Anglicanism is already split over consecration of an openly gay bishop in the U.S. Episcopal Church and a move by Canada’s New Westminster (Vancouver area) Diocese, independent of the national church, to approve same-sex blessings.

An emergency international panel is pondering how to maintain unity among the Anglicans’ 38 self-governing national churches. Many bishops in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Mideast are furious over the developments in the United States and Vancouver: They see gay relations as banned by Scripture.

Canadian delegates repeatedly cited concern for preserving worldwide Anglican solidarity as a reason to delay the so-called local option proposal, which would have let dioceses throughout the country decide on their own whether to proceed with same-sex blessing rituals.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams released a statement that praised the Canadian vote Wednesday, while ignoring the measure affirming gay relationships.

“The decision to defer the question of the right of dioceses over same sex blessings offers hope for the continuing collegiality of the Anglican Communion,” Williams said.

“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 … so many around the Communion.”

However, the sanctity measure’s approval brought protest from conservatives.

Canon Charlie Masters, director of Anglican Essentials Canada, said all sides acknowledge God’s love for gays and lesbians but “the international community and folks here will see this as close to what we defeated” regarding same-sex blessings. “The impact will be great.”

Archbishop Drexel Gomez, leader of the Anglican Province of the West Indies, released a statement calling the motion “unacceptable to Bible-believing, orthodox Christians” and predicted it would have “devastating consequences” on the quest for unity in world Anglicanism.

The Rev. Peter Moore, a former Toronto rector now in the United States as president of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, said the measure “seems to intentionally confuse the voice with which the Canadian church speaks on sexual morality, which undercuts the church’s ability to speak on anything.”

Like others, Moore predicted that the Vancouver area diocese will continue with same-sex blessings. “There’s no discipline and no intent to have discipline. It’s a free-for-all,” he said.

But others felt that, if the decision to delay national action till 2007 doesn’t deter Vancouver, it might coax other dioceses not to proceed.

Wednesday’s action on the blessings issue orders a two-year theological study, followed by a year of discussion and then action by the next national legislative meeting in 2007.

Ambidge, the leader of Integrity, said that despite gay advocates’ disappointment over the delay “we’re not going to leave in a huff. We’re still here.”

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