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Diocese of Montreal Bishop wants "Whole World" on board with Same-Sex Marriage

Diocese of Montreal Bishop wants "Whole World" on board with Same-Sex Marriage

By Jonathan Widell
Special to Virtueonline
August 22, 2018

Same-sex marriage is a hotly debated issue in the Anglican Church of Canada. Especially now that the General Synod voted in favour of it in 2016 with the narrowest of margins and the advocates of same-sex marriage are getting ready to finalize the change of the marriage canon when the General Synod convenes again next year. Only if the changes are approved a second time will the marriage canon be changed.

Needless to say, the intervening period is marked by intense politicking. Most of the politicking is done by the advocates, as is demonstrated by the pervasiveness of those efforts in the Diocese of Montreal.

It is the position of Bishop Mary Irwin-Gibson that she can't wait "for the whole world to be on board with same-sex marriage" so she can and must act proactively. Her proactive approach is reflected on all levels. Of course, new priests to be ordained have to follow her lead on this because priests promise to be loyal to their bishops at the time of their ordination. Indeed, the Vicar-General of the said Diocese told me that opposition to same-sex marriage would be a "problem" with a view to ordination. He explained that, of course, the Diocese values diversity but implied that newly ordained priests cannot afford being diverse.

At the parish level, it is possible for the Vestry to have a vote on same-sex marriage. Technically, the reason is that the Bishop can allow same-sex marriage in her Diocese if certain conditions are met. One of those conditions is that the parish is in favour of it. What is that "it"? Does the parish have to have a vote on every single same-sex marriage or can it have a blanket approval in advance? For the sake of economy, the latter is sufficient. One wonders what the real motivation of such a vote is when no marriages were in preparation in this particular parish. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the real motivation is to create a sufficient momentum for same-sex marriage with the ultimate goal being the passing of the proposed changes to the marriage canon in the General Synod next year.

Since the seminary education is short, three years, and the students can be ordained quickly, it is important from this perspective to make sure that the seminarians are also on board with same-sex marriage. One of the educators told students in an informal setting that, whenever a man and a woman come to her to ask to get married, she would like to smack them in the head. The two latest principals of Montreal Diocesan Theological College have been scrutinized for their support for same-sex marriage. The former boasted that his theology could be summarized as "Christianity is a queer thing". The current principal was also vetted for his political correctness on this issue at every stage of the process.

Youth work in the diocese is run by people devoted to the cause. One of them told us that he had taken his daughters to so many gay weddings that one of them asked if she could still marry a man. The motivation for this sort of youth work is not simply educating the children to diversity but also to bolster the standing of the people who run those groups. They are the only part of the work of the diocese that is actually growing. That partial success creates the illusion that unquestioning support for same-sex marriage is the new growth strategy.

Whether the individuals realize it or not, the practical outcome, if not the reason, of this is to minimize the probability of the changes to the marriage canon being defeated next year. The diversity that the Vicar-General mentioned is a dead letter. Whether the new marriage canon allows for exemptions for priests that refuse to marry same-sex couples, it is nothing more than a grandfather clause as long as new candidates for priesthood are vetted for their adherence to the cause. Those who oppose same-sex marriage have to keep silent in order not to have their career prospects torpedoed.

However, it is doubtful whether keeping silent is enough to ingratiate oneself with the bishop or whether explicit affirmation of one's allegiance to the same-sex advocates is required. As anyone on the opposing side knows, one had better not voice one's opinion if one wishes to avoid being summoned to the principal's office on some apparently unrelated issue or being subject to other forms of microaggression.

Whether there are valid arguments in favour of same-sex marriage remains unclear. The documents that are studied at the College are edited in a way that leaves out the parts that refer to a man and a woman in the existing marriage canon. As a consequence, one of the students had to ask why we were even talking about changing the marriage canon.

Jonathan Widell was born in Finland, worked in the European Parliament in Luxembourg from 1995 to 1998 and moved to Canada in 2003. He earned the Doctor of Civil Law degree from McGill in 2012 and the M. Div. degree from the Montreal School of Theology (Montreal Diocesan Theological College) in May 2018. He left the Anglican Church of Canada after graduation. He currently works as a freelance translator.

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