An Inconvenient Decision

By Robert Hamilton

Robert Hamilton is an atheist and Lead Administrator and Moderator of Atheist Republic Ottawa Consulate, member of the Board of Directors of the Humanist Association of Ottawa, and member of the Centre For Inquiry Canada — Ottawa Chapter and amateur Street Epistemologist.

Meet John Chapman.

John is Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa who recently issued a public statement affirming the practice of his diocese to continue to marry same-sex couples in spite of the shocking decision of the Anglican church’s General Synod against changing their marriage canon to accept gay marriage.

This past July, when church leaders gathered together in the swanky Sheraton Vancouver Wall Center, everyone knew what was at stake. The vote on gay marriage would be the culmination of more than a decade of studies, commissions, reports and consultations. The church had danced around the issue long enough. It was time for a final decision.

So on a fateful July 12th evening in Vancouver, of the 229 voting General Synod members in the room, 75 percent tapped YES into the electronic voting system to update the church’s marriage canon to include same-sex marriage — a convincing majority.

But based on that vote, the motion failed to pass.

How? By dividing General Synod members into three orders (laity, clergy, bishops) and requiring a two-thirds majority vote by each order, it took just 14 of 39 Bishops to say no, and quash a decision that took so long to come to a head. In fact, all along the deck was stacked. Using these voting rules, even if 100% of the laity and clergy had voted in favor of marriage equality, 14 Bishops could still have produced the same cancelling outcome.

When the voting results were revealed, the stunned shock and cries of dismay led to a crisis of leadership. The Bishops hastily gathered and, on the following day, released a message of anguish and apology. They expressed no responsibility for the actions of their order, choosing instead to voice a tone of victimhood as though the voting result had been foisted on them along with everyone else. The Bishops, presumably including the very 14 who triggered the crisis, pointed members to a loophole that would allow dioceses a “local option” to freely disregard the vote.

Which brings us back to the Right Reverend John Chapman. Like his Bishop colleagues, John could immediately foresee how news of this General Synod vote would be poorly received at home. His written pastoral response was delicately worded to offer a business-as-usual message that his diocese would continue to solemnize legal gay marriages.

This then is a clear example of institutional drive by church leaders to maintain control over credulous people, using doctrine, scriptural dogma and convoluted procedures, confronting the inherent sense of justice, morality, empathy, respect for others and emotional expression of community values that’s part of all of us. There’s great strength in that.

So when faced with a cliff edge, the Bishops could see an enormous chasm between themselves and the direction that their community was inexorably headed; well, so much for hard doctrine. Time to find some wiggle room.

Was John motivated on ethical grounds to recognize the hard-fought struggle of the LGBTQ+ community? Hard to tell; maybe so and maybe not. But one thing is easy to tell: the basis on which church power over people rests does not come from any transcendental deity. Our sense of moral justice comes from each of us. Religious leaders know this all too well.

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican Atheists,American Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

Photo by Clem Sim on Unsplash

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