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Indigenous bishops say they'll resist imposition of 'Western' cultural values

Last Updated Mar 9, 2016 at 5:25 pm EDT

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Indigenous bishops within the Anglican Church of Canada say they will resist having Western values imposed on them, arguing aboriginal voices are being lost in a “very strained” internal debate over same-sex marriage.

“It is no longer acceptable to impose Western cultural questions and approaches on our societies,” the bishops say in a statement to the church body studying the question. It was delivered Aug. 7, but received little notice until a Newfoundland and Labrador radio station, VOCM, reported on it this week.

“We absolutely reserve the right to make these choices and decisions, now and forever, on our own terms and in our own way.”

The church’s governing body will vote on same-sex marriage in July, but officials say it appears unlikely there will be the support required to change its rules to allow it.

Last month, Bishop Geoff Peddle of eastern Newfoundland suggested on a local radio show that much of the resistance comes from aboriginal bishops.

But Most Rev. Fred Hiltz, primate of the Canadian wing of the church, said many others in the Canadian house of bishops also hold “a conservative view” of marriage.

On Wednesday, Peddle said in an interview he wasn’t singling out one group of bishops. He said he was trying to express that all points of view — from indigenous and other members such as the gay and lesbian community — must be heard.

“I don’t know how we can move forward on this, or make a change, if we can’t all feel that we’re moving together. And if some people say we need a little more time, then I hear them.”

The August statement was signed by three indigenous bishops: Adam Halkett in Saskatchewan, Lydia Mamakwa in northern Ontario and Mark MacDonald, the national indigenous bishop. None was available this week to comment on what the statement describes as “a dangerously complex cross-cultural discussion.”

It stresses the acceptance of gay and lesbian people as “brothers, sisters, children and elders.”

“There is no place for hatred and separation in indigenous communities and, especially, in indigenous Christian communities.”

Still, the bishops emphasize there is disagreement among their own members and elders about same-sex marriage. It’s also difficult to decipher past practice due to “the widespread and deep destruction of our history and traditions by colonial occupation,” says the statement.

“At present, we do not hear our concerns and approach in either side of this very strained discussion,” it says.

“Our understanding of marriage appears to be quite different from the dominating society and both sides of this discussion within it.”

At issue is a resolution toward changing the church’s canon or rules to allow same-sex marriage. Two-thirds support are required from each of the three main groups — bishops, clergy and laity — during two meetings held three years apart.

The resolution will be on the agenda in July when the General Synod, the Anglican Church of Canada’s highest governing party, gathers all three groups in Toronto.

Communications director Meghan Kilty said local bishops can already offer blessings for gay and lesbian unions.

“What is different is this is a canonical change so, theologically, the church’s understanding of what marriage is,” she said from Toronto. “And that’s a huge ethical, theological understanding which some people wrestle with.”

The broader group of Anglican bishops said in a statement last week the required two-thirds support among its 45 members was unlikely. There are four aboriginal bishops.

It did not specify concerns raised by the three indigenous bishops last August. But it referred to “deep differences” that have some members of the group feeling “mortified and devastated.”

A federal bill passed in 2005 legalized same-sex marriage in Canada but also protected religious freedoms.

Two years earlier, the United Church of Canada endorsed same-sex marriage after an emotional debate and urged Ottawa to legally recognize it. Local congregations were free to adopt the national stance or make their own marriage policies, said Right Rev. Jordan Cantwell, the church’s national moderator.

“Those are very difficult conversations,” she said from Toronto. “One of the things we strived to do is create a space that is respectful of one another, where it’s safe to disagree.”

A key difference is that the Anglican Church of Canada is part of a global entity dealing with this question, Cantwell said.

The Anglican communion based in the Church of England, with about 85 million members worldwide, has fractured in recent decades over women’s ordination and same-sex marriage. The Episcopal Church — the U.S.-based Anglican body — voted last year to authorize gay weddings in their churches. Members in other countries such as South Africa and Brazil have also said they’re open to the idea.

Follow @suebailey on Twitter.

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