Same-sex unions threaten split in diocese

By Daniel Velarde

The Anglican church’s worldwide crisis over same-sex unions threatens to splinter the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa.

Last month, delegates to the diocese’s synod in Cornwall voted 177 to 97 in favour of allowing clergy to bless same-sex unions if their conscience permits. However, the decision has to be approved by the Bishop John Chapman before it can take effect.

Chapman has said he is consulting other Anglican clergy before making a decision.

“Bishop Chapman will take his time,” his office says. “It won’t happen overnight.”

There are some in the church who will not wait to hear what the bishop has to say. Tony Copple leads Anglican Essentials Ottawa, a group preparing to split from the Ottawa diocese and form a “biblically faithful” branch of the Anglican Church.

Conservative Christians, or Biblical Christians, cherish principles from which they can never call retreat. Their souls are at stake, says Copple.

Copple says he and his followers fear the liberals in the church are moving Christianity toward a religion of progress and forgetting the universal truths against which human action must be judged. The gulf between church liberals and conservatives is widening across North America and Europe.

“Salvation and redemption are becoming passé in the West,” says Copple. “But that’s exactly what our faith is about. It’s the only thing.”

Rev. Garth Bulmer, rector of St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church on Elgin Street, led the first charge for gay rights in the local church five years ago. “Whenever you depart from something that’s been established for a long time, there’s a risk,” Bulmer says.

Christians believe in something eternal and universal, be it revealed in a book, a man – the Pope – or a tradition.

“But there is no eternal truth about marriage – this is a social construct that changed constantly over the centuries and will always change,” says Bulmer.

“We are at our peril if we put the Bible to the side and change our doctrine according to society,” says Copple.

Anglicans do not take the Bible as the only source of God’s revelation, says Bulmer. Instead, churchgoers use reason to guide their faith, plus tradition, or the combined experience of past generations.

“They’ll say that these are a bunch of wishy-washy people making concessions to liberal culture at the expense of their own principles,” says Bulmer. But the Church of England never took the Bible literally, he says.

“That’s a very dangerous road to take,” Copple says. Without the Bible, orthodox Christians feel lost, shipwrecked, with no beacon to guide them past their sins to salvation. Copple wants to give them a lifeboat.

Bulmer sees the diversity of sexual expression as neither good nor bad in itself. “Homosexuals are not perverted, they’re not sick,” he says.

“People should be no more persecuted for their sexual orientation than for their skin colour.”

Copple expects to see a new Anglican province covering Canada – including a new Ottawa diocese – within a year and a half.

Orthodox Anglican groups plan to dedicate the next two or three months to setting up their new dioceses and finding bishops to run them, he says.

Anglican Essentials Ottawa plans to hold a public meeting Dec. 9 to discuss the direction the church in Ottawa has taken.