At the General Synod of The Anglican Church of Canada, held July 7-12, a proposal to allow the Canadian Anglican ministry to solemnize same-sex marriages was voted upon and was reported to have failed by a single vote. The next day, however, it was reported that there had been a counting error and that the measure actually had passed. Thus, by the closes of margins, the Anglican Church of Canada approved same-sex marriage.
The resolution provides that: “A minister may only solemnize a marriage between persons of the same sex if authorized by the diocesan bishop … .” It also substitutes “partners” for “husband and wife” and replaces “a man and a woman” with “the parties to the marriage.”
The issue was a unity-breaker. Some clergy walked out of the Synod in protest to the raising of such a divisive issue. When it was reported that the proposal had failed, some bishops rebelled saying that they would conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies anyway. When it was reported that the measure had passed, one church member wrote a letter expressing his dismay over the Synod’s failure “to defend one of the most fundamental doctrines of the church as made clear by Scripture, tradition and reason.”
The Reverend Dr. Joseph Boot, founder of the Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity describes that decision as “madness.” He describes the decision to endorse same-sex marriage and evidence of the Canadian church’s “faithless and apostate leadership,” and advised: “True Christians must get out.”
It is surprising that such a monumental change in a fundamental matter of core religious doctrine as the definition and meaning of “marriage” can be made by a mere majority vote. In this instance, the vote was so close that the outcome was allegedly misreported one day and was changed the next day. That rather trivializes and tarnishes notions like Eternal Principles, and Unchanging Gospel Truths.
The Canadian Anglican church is not the only faith community to approve of same-sex marriage. In December 2012, the Pew Research Center reported that four (of sixteen) major faiths in the United States approve of same-sex marriage, and three other faiths offer optional (or local) support.
Likewise, Pew Research reported that in October 2011, most Americans (46%-44%) favored legalizing same-sex marriage most Protestants (58%) and many Catholics (37%) opposed same-sex marriage.
Of course, it is for Canadian Anglicans themselves to determine what they believe. All others – the rest of us – must respect and defend the right of members of any faith to make their own decisions about their doctrines and rites. We must repeat the old saying: “I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Such respectful tolerance for others’ differing views is especially important in the matters of religious beliefs.
Yet even while respecting the right of others to express their own views, it is equally important that those who disagree with those views respectfully express their different, even opposing views. To self-censor and not object is one form of disrespect for the others and their view. Such silence expresses a form of contempt, conveying the message that the disapproved views and those who express them are unworthy of being engaged, much less of being corrected and taught the truth.
Religion and family have been closely linked over millennia. When major faith groups abandon the historic, faith-centered, church-protected understanding of marriage and the union of a man and a woman, the future of marriage as a gender-integrating social institution, the foundation of family – the protection of parenting, the cornerstone of the basic unit of society – is undeniably threatened.
Likewise, when such a revolutionary deconstruction-and-reconstruction of the meaning of marriage is adopted by churches, the integrity and the future of those faith communities are endangered. If churches fail to defend and are unfaithful to their role to protect the scriptural meaning of marriage and marital families, why should not families abandon such religions?
The notion of marriage as the union of a man and a woman is one of the first religious principles-institutions-rites described in the oldest, earliest book of canonized Judeo-Christian scripture.
We live in a time of many changing values; our world is buffeted by many powerful change agents. Yet Christ famously said about the meaning of marriage – “What therefore God hath joined together let not man put asunder.” Mark 10:9 (KJV).
Some core institutions of society must be stable. Marriage is one of them. Constancy and stability in the meaning, functions and purposes of marriage protects married couples, promotes the welfare of children, and benefits society.
The radical doctrinal decision of the Canadian Anglican church to redefine marriage diminishes marriage, weakens that church, and disserves the society of Canada. Families and persons of faith in Canada deserve better.
Lynn D. Wardle is the Bruce C. Hafen Professor of Law at Brigham Young University. He is author or editor of numerous books and law review articles mostly about family, biomedical ethics and conflict of laws policy issues. His publications present only his personal (not institutional) views.