Affirming Marriage

Well, it looks like Canon XXI isn’t going to be changing any time soon.

A little bit of background info for the uninitiated: This July the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada is set to meet and the big debate/vote on the docket has to do with changing our Church Canon (i.e. Church law) on marriage.

You can read the Marriage Canon in its entirety here, but for our immediate purposes I think it sufficient simply to say that Canon XXI affirms that marriage is an indissoluble covenant (“until they are separated by death”) between one man and one woman which is ordered towards, “mutual fellowship, support, and comfort, and the procreation (if it may be) and nurture of children, and the creation of a relationship in which sexuality may serve personal fulfilment in a community of faithful love.” One could spend a good deal unpacking this and indeed we have spent a good deal of time doing so.

It’s important to note that the Anglican Church of Canada affirms this understanding of marriage, “according to our Lord’s teaching as found in Holy Scripture and expressed in the Form of Solemnization of Matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer.” That is, the Anglican Church of Canada believes that our present teaching on marriage is not only faithful to what Anglicans have always believed and taught but is the very teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ himself as we have it in Holy Scripture.

Now, not all Anglicans believe this. So, at the General Synod of the ACoC in 2013 a resolution was passed to draft a motion, “to change Canon XXI on marriage to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples…”

A Commission was struck. They met. They prayed. They studied. They produced the report This Holy Estate. Many people rejoiced at the report. Others were disappointed. My own response was one of concern. I thought the theological and biblical reasoning was, shall we say, insufficient. Ephraim Radner, Professor of Historical Theology at Wycliffe College, said, “It was not a theological report. It was a report that used some theology, but for a non-theological purpose.” I think he is right. Moreover, it raised concerns for me with respect to Catholicity. What does it mean to disregard other churches who are asking us not to go forward with such a change? How can we disregard the majority of our Anglican brothers and sisters from around the world? What would it mean for me as a priest to be subject to a church with whom I disagree doctrinally?

Coinciding with all of this in the Canadian church, the Episcopal Church went ahead and voted to changed their marriage canon in the summer of 2015. In response to this and a growing tension in the Anglican Communion the Primates (leaders of the Anglican Communion) met in Canterbury in January. It was an overwhelmingly successful meeting, though not a pain-free one. Indeed, some lamented their communiqué for in it the Primates overwhelmingly agreed on the traditional Church teaching on marriage as outlined in the BCP and Canon XXI of the ACoC.

OK, back to the Canadian vote this summer. I believe the saying is, “ball in your court,” Canadians.

A quick explanation of what it would take for the motion to change the marriage canon to pass on first reading (if it passed the first time, it would have to pass a second reading in 2019). In July 2016 the motion would be debated and voted on by three different voting bodies: the laity, the clergy, and the bishops. In order for the motion to pass it would have to pass with a two-thirds majority in each of the three houses.

Well, it looks like Canon XXI isn’t going to be changing any time soon.

The Canadian House of Bishops met last week. Many Canadians were praying and fasting for this meeting. Today they released their statement. Here’s the money quote:

In our exploration of these differences it became clear to us that the draft resolution to change the Marriage Canon to accommodate the marriage of same-sex partners is not likely to pass in the Order of Bishops by the canonical requirement of a 2/3rds majority in each Order. Some of us talked of being mortified and devastated by this realisation.

And so we (continue to) pray.

I imagine that the motion will still be debated and voted on but barring any unforeseen circumstances or changes of heart it will not pass. That means that the Anglican Church of Canada will continue to uphold the traditional teaching of Jesus Christ and of the whole Church on marriage.

It’s been interesting to see some of the responses thus far to the Bishops. I think I’ve written enough for now but I’ll try to address one or two of them in another blog post.

Grace and peace.


  1. Colin said:

    Despite having deeply held convictions and concerns on issues such as this, I tend to stay away from following church politics national and communion-wide because it so often descends into realm of polarized opinions and people being upset that they didn’t get their way.

    This is why I was so happy to read this report and see the way in which it recognizes the difficulty many Anglicans will have with the likely defeat of the motion at the HoB level, but that we are still called to strive for communion amongst difference. It affirms the point that I find gets lost between the polarization of opinion, which is that as a church we are subject not to the will, want, or desire of man but to the movement and Will of the Holy Spirit. It isn’t “tough noogies” to those who may not agree with that movement, but a opportunity for all of us to learn deeper love and fellowship, as well as patience and understanding for one another despite what may be radically different understandings of marriage.

    • Colin said:

      And likewise, I would add, I think what the House of Bishops’ letter today draws the entire church into is a state of prayer and repentance. Prayer for unity and understanding, prayer for trusting the authority we vest those Bishops with to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in our church, and repentance for everyone. This ought to be a reminder of the deep pain of being part of Christ’s divided body, the Church, and should call us to repentance for those divisions, whatever and whenever they may be.

      I am just not confident that there is any way to approach matters of the church, no matter what they are, through anything other than prayer and repentance, and too often we fail to do this.

  2. jt* said:

    Thanks, Colin. I appreciate your comments here. “I am just not confident that there is any way to approach matters of the church, no matter what they are, through anything other than prayer and repentance, and too often we fail to do this.” Indeed.

    I found the House of Bishops to be consistent with the Primates Communiqué issued just last month and appreciated the re-stated desire to walk together despite our differences. I pray that we might find the courage and humility to do so.

    I find that I keep coming back to St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians on these matters:

    “Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that…I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.” (1:27f.) And again: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” (2:1f.)

    And also his letter to the Ephesians:

    “…lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” (4:1f.)

  3. bvsg said:

    Can’t figure out where the “subscribe button” is.
    Would very much appreciate you sending me a link so that I may subscribe.
    Kind Regards

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