Same-sex Blessings, Toronto, and the Anglican Communion

By Ephraim Radner, ACI

The Bishop of Toronto recently issued a set of “Pastoral Guidelines for the Blessing of Same-Gender Commitments”. Some of the basic theological contradictions and destructive pastoral confusions involved in these guidelines have been pointedly disclosed by Catherine Sider Hamilton and F. Dean Mercer (see their “Response”, posted on the ACI website on November 9, 2010). In what follows I want to address a particular matter: where does the issuing of these Guidelines now place the Diocese of Toronto with respect to the Anglican Communion?
This question arises, obviously, because only recently and on the basis of a long string of official declarations by various Communion councils and groups – including the so-called Instruments of Communion – the formal adoption of rites of same-sex blessing has been declared to be incompatible with Communion teaching and discipline. In May of this year, representatives from The Episcopal Church (USA) were asked to withdraw from Communion groups dealing with matters of faith and order just on the basis of The Episcopal Church’s rejection of Communion teaching on matters of same-sexuality, including widespread and formally authorized use of such blessings. Since this requested withdrawal was viewed as a precedent, one must wonder if and how the new Toronto Guidelines might affect the diocese’s, and perhaps the Anglican Church of Canada’s standing on similar Communion councils.
Toronto’s Bishop, the Most Rev. Colin Johnson, has made clear in his letter accompanying the Guidelines that “these guidelines are not to be understood as an authorized rite of the Anglican diocese of Toronto”. This crisp statement alone, however, does not settle the matter. It is well known that debate over what is an “authorized rite for same-sex unions” has proven as much a maneuver of avoidance and obfuscation as it has aided in making real distinctions. At the end of the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, addressed this situation in the following way, in response to a question from a reporter:

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