Bishop Bothwell introduced the paper on Theological Response and commended it to the Council for study.
Text of motion
That this paper be received. CARRIED
[Text of four page paper: THEOLOGICAL RESPONSE to the Working Paper #13, Law Reform Commission.
The recommendations of Working Paper #13 of the Law Reform Commission, "Divorce", suggest that the civil law should take further steps towards what is commonly called "easier divorce". We, as Anglican Christians support the recommendations, in spite of the fact that our support contradicts the traditional habit of Anglicanism and of the Christian Church which has been to keep very strict rules against the dissolution of marriage. The present Anglican rules, as formulated in Canon 21, also contradict the tradition as expressed in the third rubric currently printed on page 563 of the Book of Common Prayer. We are giving this support, not to give in to a secular and permissive spirit of the age, nor because of a relaxation of the moral sense, but for reasons soundly based on Christian faith.
When the Anglican Church of Canada changed its Canon on Marriage to permit re-marriage of divorced persons, under certain circumstances, it acted in response to a strong demand from clergy and laity that the Church should be equipped to recognize marriage breakdown as fact, and to minister to those who had experienced marriage breakdown and divorce. In providing machinery, the Church did not set up ecclesiastical courts to assess right and wrong or to attribute blame, but rather commissions to assess whether a couple, one or both of whom had been divorced, were really intending Christian and life-long partnership in this new marriage. It is natural then, that the Church should welcome changes in the civil law which move divorce proceedings largely out of an adversarial posture in the courts.
Those who cannot accept the Church's position that divorced persons can and should in some circumstances, be given permission to remarry, argue that it is inconsistent for the Church to demand vows of life-long marriage, and then permit exceptions. They say that if we admit that it is possible for a marriage to be dissolved, then we are no longer setting for the world the ideal of the indissolubility of marriage. This is so. But the chief charge given to the Church by its Founder was not to defend the indissolubility of marriage; rather, it was, within the ancient framework of the double command to love God and your neighbour, to baptize all nations in the name of God, so freeing mankind from sin, and to practice the breaking of bread and blessing of the cup in communion as a sign and means of reactivating the presence and acts of Jesus. All Christians were to do this, and upon them corporately and their leaders individually was laid the power to "loose" and to "bind", to liberate people from their sins, or to let them remain bound under the power of their sins till they should be ready themselves to practice forgiveness.
The Christian vocation, then, in approaching a revision of either Church rules (Canon law) or civil law, is to bring about reconciliation and forgiveness. The Christian has a further vocation to bring about a confrontation between men and women on the one hand, and God, on the other. Neither of these vocations is enforceable by laws. But there have to be laws in a human society which has not taken up the challenge of redemption; as long as there have to be laws there has to be forgiveness, and vows will be taken which some people because of sin cannot keep, or should not be allowed to keep. The Church has power to loose and to bind in marriage, and what the Church binds through vows the Church may also loose through release from vows.
Marriage has within it an element of the heavenly, of the presence and action of God. So has mankind: both mankind and marriage, its institution, are subject to a fall from grace and can be restored to grace.. Christians who are aware of the pattern of fall and resurrection in their own lives will not have difficulty recognizing that a marriage which has been regarded as indissoluble can in fact, come apart, and be replaced by a new marriage, which in turn, may be regarded as indissoluble. The difficulty is in the "public image" of the Church as the upholder of the "status quo", a role the Church has ever found too easy to conform to. In fact, it is the Church's duty and its Founder's example, to challenge the "status quo" on all sides, demanding that every accepted situation and institution and practice measure up to the Father's will. The Church must therefore positively demand that marriage measure up to the Father's will if it is to remain intact.
The difficulty for the civil law will that it applies to all and opens up to non-Christians and to uncommitted Christians and to all manner of folk, the possibility of monogamous marriage reverting to serial polygamy and polyandry, and the "lowering of standards" in society. But God gave all manner of folk such options when he created us with an innate reflection of His own freedom, and we must not take away what God has given. The freer the circumstances in which marriage can flower, the more terrible may be the picture and possibility of its withering; but also, the more wonderful, more divine and more liberating may be its flowering and spiritual fruit.
Such then is an explanation of the theological background against which the Anglican Church of Canada changed its practice of refusing marriage to divorced persons, in order better to conform to the clear call of Jesus Christ that we should seek perfection, and that as the Church we should free people from sin and its causes. So, also, the Sub-Committee on Marriage and Related Matters of the General Synod Committee on Doctrine and Worship endorses the following conclusions of an "ad hoc" group of clergy and laity in the Diocese of Toronto, written after careful examination of Working Paper #23 of the Law Reform Commission.
1) The Anglican Church is supportive of the directions and recommendations of the Law Reform Commission in Working Paper #13, inasmuch as these seek to respond to the fundamental basis for divorce, i.e., marriage breakdown, and seek to move from an adversary to a conciliatory divorce process.
2) We must agree with the Reservation of Claire Barrette-Joncas, Q.C., that marriage is more than a mere contract, and we agree that there is an inevitable tensions between the broadening of divorce laws and the protection of marriage as an institution. We do not see this, however, as a reason for not attempting to grapple with contemporary issues and problems around divorce.
3) We cannot support the observation (p. 33) that "divorce can and should be a simple affair", even in specified instances. Such an approach implies that marriage also is a "simple affair", a position which we cannot support theologically or sociologically.
4) Having stated these reservations very strongly, we are nevertheless anxious to support the Law Reform Commission in its attempts to bring divorce law more into line with the realities of human experience, and to more [sic i.e. move] the divorce process out of the arena of debate and acrimony to a more human and conciliatory level.
5) We are particularly supportive of those suggestions that will allow for counselling, for possible reconciliation and for a process that will enable people to treat one another as human beings who still have value, warmth, and love, even in situations where marriage breakdown has irretrievably occurred.
6) The Anglican Church commends the Law Reform Commission for Working Paper #13. Obviously, a great deal of thought and concern, based on experience in the courts, lies behind the Commission's recommendations.]