Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Asked and Answered: Tick Tock #GC78

Yes, we are on final countdown to #GC78 (otherwise known as the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church.) You can tell because both blog posts and anxiety are multiplying like rabbits.

The Living Church shared a reflection today by Bishops Benhase and McConnell (of Georgia and Pittsburgh respectively) contending that the proposals by the Marriage Task Force were contrary to "good order." You can read that here.

Happily, Tobias Haller offered a clear and concise rebuttal to their premise, writing:
"... this canon change actually advances the "good order" the bishops are calling for. It introduces no new conflict with the BCP -- that conflict is already there, if you accept their logic -- but it does remove the canonical dissonance, which is actionable under Title IV, in spite of the wink and nod of "generous pastoral provision." That no one is going to take clergy to ecclesiastical court, in those dioceses in which the bishop has permitted use of provisional rites for solemnizing same-sex marriages, is a nice promise, but from a canonist's perspective it is disorderly. We desire good order rather than ambiguity."
You can and should read it all here.

All of this engendered this question from a FB friend -- which I submitted to Tobias for a response and which he quickly provided. Because I think it's a commonly asked question am re-posting it here in hopes that it will be illustrative for others either asking or being asked about the "conflict" between the canons and the prayer book. Hope you find it as helpful as I did!
Q. I've heard concern raised over the proposals for marriage equality because it would be a *canonical* change and not a *constitutional* change. The canons and the constitution would then be out of compliance. I understand that a change to the constitution (aka the prayer book) would require a resolution be adopted at this convention, and then the exact same language would have to pass at GC79 in 2018.

A. This comes from a misunderstanding of the place of the BCP (Book of Common Prayer.) It is not "constitutional." Only the Constitution is constitutional. The BCP is sometimes mistakenly called constitutional because its amendment process takes two conventions -- but unlike the Constitution itself, amendments to the BCP can be "tried out" -- real amendments to the Constitution are null until approved by two conventions, then they are the law.

The problem arises when people treat the BCP as a lawbook instead of a liturgical book. Beyond that, the BCP itself provides (on page 13) for other liturgies to be authorized. These liturgies would not be needed if they were not in some way different to the BCP, so to argue that such liturgies have to be congruent to the BCP doesn't stand. Besides that, the SSM liturgies do not "contradict" the BCP; they simply offer a liturgy for something the BCP did not conceive of.

The BCP is descriptive, not proscriptive, when it comes to marriage -- otherwise all those second marriages would be ruled out because the BCP says marriages are "life-long."
Asked and Answered! (More later, I'm sure!)

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