Friday, April 20, 2018

Simon Says: "Let’s get the truth of the situation out there"

Yes. Let's do!

So I would say "it has begun" -- except it kind of never stops. The "it" would be on the ongoing spin of misinformation and polemic coming from the "sky is falling" contingent convinced that the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments in the Episcopal Church will be the end of the world as we know it in general and the Anglican Communion in specific.

The latest iteration is this Church Times piece by Madeline Davies making the rounds on social media and regarding the work of the TEC Task Force on the Study of Marriage.

From the article:
PROPOSALS to incorporate marriage rites used by same-sex couples into the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of the Episcopal Church in the United States will increase pressure in the Church of England to “dissociate” itself, the secretary general of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, has warned.

In a letter to the Episcopal Church’s Task Force on the Study of Marriage, which has produced the proposals, Mr Nye writes that, if the rites — written to be used by same-sex or opposite-sex couples — are incorporated into the BCP as the only marriage rite, “the pressure to dissociate the Church of England from TEC [the Episcopal Church], in all manner of ways, would increase”. Such a move would also be “potentially damaging” to work in the C of E to create a new teaching document on sexuality (News, 30 June), he writes.

He goes on to warn that, if provision is not made for traditionalists in the Episcopal Church, it would be a “serious blow for interfaith relations, negatively impacting Christians around the world especially in areas where they are persecuted minorities, as well as harming the stringent efforts to reinforce moderation in religious expression in countries like ours which are affected by terrorism”. The Episcopal Church’s promulgation of the new liturgies is, he writes, “at the least, unhelpful to those of us seeking to bring the Church of England’s deliberations to a good outcome.”
OK ... let's unpack a little.

#1 -- Everything we do as we continue on the journey toward making the 1976 promise of "full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church" to LGBTQ Episcopalians not just a resolution but a reality increases pressure on the CofE to go and do likewise. That's a given. That our differences on these matters become divisions is not.

#2 -- The "letter" written by Mr. Nye was in response to the Marriage Task Force's request for feedback ... and it has been duly received and included in our Task Force report. However -- and it's kind of a big however -- this clarifying caveat from Simon Butler ... a member of the Archbishop's Council Mr. Nye purports to speak for -- bears noting:
It’s worth making clear that, in my time on Archbishops' Council, we have never had a discussion on same-sex marriage, here or in the United States.

I’m not sure it is appropriate for a discussion among the Archbishops’ Council staff to be sent as a formal letter to another Province on AC notepaper.

If you have any connection with those who are doing the work on same sex marriage liturgies in TEC, please do let them know that, as a statement of the views of the Archbishops’ Council, it has no particular weight.

I have no problem with a statement of the current position of the Church of England being a broadly conservative one, but I am afraid it does not reflect the views of the Archbishops’ Council. We have never been asked.

Feel free to share. Let’s get the truth of the situation out there.

Simon Butler
#3 --  There has never, ever, for one single solitary moment been any question whatsoever that provision for what Mr. Nye names as "traditionalists in the Episcopal Church" is not being and will not continue to be provided.

No one ever has -- or ever will -- compel anyone to either participate in nor to preside at a marriage they do not believe is sacramentally efficacious. Canon 18.7 clearly states: "It shall be within the discretion of any Member of the Clergy of this Church to decline to solemnize or bless any marriage." Period. Full stop.

We currently have three marriage rites that may be used with couples who present themselves for marriage. The BCP rite has language that assumes one party identifies as a woman and one as a man; a second rite which patterns the BCP rite but uses gender neutral language; and a third rite Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage. The last two were approved for trial use by the 2015 General Convention and the proposals heading for the 2018 General Convention included continuing their use ... not incorporating them into the BCP as "the only marriage rite" as incorrectly stated by Mr. Nye.

The question on the table -- and one we will be deliberating and deciding in Austin at General Convention in July -- is not whether there is a place for traditionalists with a minority opinion on marriage equality in the Episcopal Church. It is whether those holding that minority theological perspective should have the power to deny access to the sacrament of marriage to couples seeking God's blessing on their marriage -- something that is currently happening in only 8 out of 101 dioceses.

The 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church meets from July 5-13. We covet your prayers for our work on behalf of the Gospel.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Making Full and Equal Claim Full and Equal: The Journey Continues

I have had the privilege over the last six years of being part of the Episcopal Church's Task Force on the Study of Marriage. Our report and recommended resolutions have just been published -- and will be the source of debate and decision at our upcoming 79th General Convention in Austin, TX (July 5-13). Here -- for what it's worth -- are my two cents on what we're proposing and why.

Good people of deep faith can and do read the same Scriptures and come to a variety of conclusions on a whole host of issues — and what God’s best intentions are for God’s beloved LGBTQ people is definitely on that list.

In the Episcopal Church we have been on a 40+ year journey from the 1976 declaration that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.”

Since that time the church has moved forward — again and again — to turn that resolution into a reality. Just as with the ordination of women in the 1970’s not everyone has agreed … but part of our charism as Anglicans has been to claim our big tent heritage by making room for minority theological opinions. And the resolutions coming forward to the 79th General Convention in Austin maintain that trajectory.

No one will be compelled to participate in nor to preside at any marriage. Period. Full stop. At the same time, no one will be denied access to the sacramental rites for marriage offered by this church to its members. Period. Full stop.

It really is that simple. And it really is that Anglican.

As Anglicans we were formed in the crucible of the 16th century Reformation into a particular body ecclesial uniquely capable of being both protestant and catholic in a time when such a possibility was beyond imagining. We are, therefore, uniquely wired by our DNA to be a church that can hold together the tension of being both gay and straight in the 21st century.

In the end the Gamaliel principle will determine the efficacy of the choices we have made as we respond to where we hear the Holy Spirit calling us into her future — and it will be God’s job to judge how we have responded to that call.

In Austin the Episcopal Church has the opportunity to lift up “fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God” as the values that make a marriage holy. It has the chance to talk about marriage as vocation of holy love, grounded in biblical values of faithfulness and forgiveness.

And it has the opportunity to say we are a community of faith focused on supporting all who are called into the vocation of marriage – not discriminating against some who are called into the vocation of marriage. It’s a privilege to be part of that work.

Read the Blue Book Report here.
Read the Q&As prepared by the Marriage Task Force here.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Looking Ahead to Austin: Update from the Task Force on the Study of Marriage

It has been my privilege over the last three years to be part of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, appointed by the presiding officers of the Episcopal Church in response to General Convention Resolution 2015-A037

The expansive charge called for the Task Force to look at a broad range of relationships and households other than marriage that currently reflect the experience of one half of society and Church today, by means of a wide range of methodologies, disciplines and perspectives. At the same time, the Task Force was charged with the exploration of particular issues regarding marriage: the impact of the marriage of same-sex couples on our Church, and the relationship between Church and state in officiating marriages.

The Blue Book Report from our Task Force on the Study of Marriage -- reporting our findings and including our recommendations to the 2018 General Convention -- was posted to the General Convention website on April 3, 2018. That report ... in its entirety ... is available here.

In addition, the Task Force on the Study of Marriage prepared a document as a companion to its Blue Book Report to the 79th General Convention.

It serves as an executive summary of the key pieces of the Report, but does not presume to take the place of a thorough reading and study of the Report itself. In the experience of the Task Force, highlighting key points of the work and anticipating some questions the Report may raise has proven helpful to those who will receive the Report and be asked to respond to it. But the full Report gives depth and breadth to the work of the Task Force and contains links to the raw data that informed the Report’s conclusions and resolutions.

The work of the Task Force during the 2015-18 triennium builds on the work that preceded it. The proposed resolutions chart a course toward the conclusion of this work. Careful discernment by the Task Force now yields to careful discernment by the 79th General Convention. The Task Force modeled a process of thoughtful and caring listening to each other, of respectful disagreement while remaining together around the table of work and worship. We pray that our work meets a similar process as General Convention takes up the work we are given to do.

Here's a link to the PDF of the Q&A document. | Here's the text of the document:
Q&As on Marriage Task Force Report: GC2018

1. Q. What was the Task Force on the Study of Marriage (TFSM) asked to do?
A. Resolution 2015-A037 directed an expanded Task Force on the Study of Marriage (TFSM) to continue exploration of biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage, as well as contemporary trends and norms, work that was begun by a task force appointed after the 2012 General Convention. The resolution also directed the TFSM to “study and monitor, in consultation with the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, the impact of same-sex marriage and rites of blessing on our Church.”

2. Q. How did the TFSM organize its work?
A. The Task Force organized the assigned work into four working groups based upon the various tasks set forth in the enabling resolution. Phrases in quotes, below, are taken from Resolution 2015--A037.
● Pastoral: “consult with individuals and groups” across a variety of relationships statuses “about their experience of faith and church life.”
● Ecclesial: “study and monitor … the impact of same-sex marriage and rites of blessing on our Church” and promote and study “the results of diocesan and parochial study of ‘Dearly Beloved’ toolkit” presented by the previous Task Force on the Study of Marriage to the 77th General Convention in 2012.
● Academic: “explore biblical, theological, moral, liturgical, cultural, and pastoral perspectives” on the contemporary trends and norms identified by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage in the previous triennium; “develop written materials about them which represent the spectrum of understanding in our Church”; and “provide educational and pastoral resources for congregational use on these matters that represent the spectrum of understandings on these matters in our Church.”
● Functional: explore, study and monitor “the continuing debate about clergy acting as agents of the state in officiating at marriages.”

3. Q. How did the TFSM consult with the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) on the impact of same-sex marriage and rites of blessing?
A. A member of the SCLM was appointed as a liaison to the TFSM. The liaison met regularly with the Task Force and some of its subcommittees.

4. Q. What did the pastoral working group accomplish?
A. The pastoral working group received 170 responses to a survey on relationships, providing stories that reflect a variety of theological and political opinions on marriage and relationship. Vignettes from several of these stories are woven into the essays developed by the academic working group.

5. Q. What did the ecclesial working group accomplish?
A. The ecclesial working group learned that bishops in 93 of the 101 domestic (US-based) dioceses authorized use of the trial liturgies for marriage authorized in 2015. In some but not all of the 8 dioceses where the bishop did not authorize use of the rites, the bishop made provision for all couples seeking marriage in the church to have access to the liturgies, as directed by 2015 Resolution A054.

In response to a survey of leaders of other Anglican provinces and of full-communion partners, 6 Anglican provinces reported a negative impact in their context or that they do not approve of the marriage of same-sex couples, 1 Anglican province reported a positive impact and that it had taken similar action itself, and 3 full-communion ecumenical partners reported a positive impact.

A survey of the use of the “Dearly Beloved” toolkit for studying marriage, prepared by the TFSM during the previous triennium, found that 18% of respondents had used the toolkit, and the majority of those who used it found it helpful. Reasons for not using it included not knowing about it, deciding to use a different resource, or finding the toolkit not suitable for their context.

6. Q. What did the academic working group accomplish?
A. The academic working group developed a series of short essays exploring contemporary trends and norms: Biblical and Theological Foundations for Relationships; Culture, Ethnicity, and Marriage; Householding; Singleness; and Sexual Intimacy: A Complex Gift. To develop these essays, the working group consulted with faculty at all ten Episcopal seminaries as well as other scholars and pastors. Each of these essays concludes with a series of questions designed for groups that use the essays as a basis for study and discussion.

7. Q. What did the functional working group accomplish?
A. The functional working group examined the historical role of the Church in officiating marriage, studied the current debate about clergy acting as agents of the state, and recommended recasting the role of the clergy as agent and advocate for the couple rather than agent of the state.

8. Q. What does the report of the TFSM contain?
A. The TFSM report to the 79th General Convention brings together the work of these groups and proposes three resolutions. Two of the resolutions propose new liturgical and pastoral resources, and these are appended to the report.

9. Q. What do the resolutions call for?
A. (A085) Trial Use of Marriage Liturgies extends trial use of marriage liturgies first authorized by the 78th General Convention for the 2018-21 triennium; amends for trial use “Concerning the Service” for the Book of Common Prayer liturgies; adds Rite 1 and Rite 2 versions of a Preface for Marriage 2, and amends and expands the Catechism’s section “Other Sacramental Rites” concerning marriage. It also outlines options for how General Convention might proceed to make these proposals permanent additions and revisions to the Book of Common Prayer.

(A086) Authorize Rites to Bless Relationships, proposes adding two liturgies to the “Enriching Our Worship” series: “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” as revised from the liturgy first authorized by the 77th General Convention and “The Blessing of a Lifelong Relationship”, responding to the experiences of Episcopalians who desire to form and formalize a lifelong, monogamous and unconditional relationship, other than marriage, in particular circumstances. The first of these (The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant) addresses same-sex couples who live in parts of the Episcopal Church where it is still not legal to marry; the second (The Blessing of a Lifelong Relationship) addresses those for whom marriage would constitute a financial hardship (especially elders); and immigrants for whom a marriage could invoke legal problems.

(A087) Develop Pastoral Resources, recognizes the rising rate and number of U. S. adults in sexually intimate relationships other than marriage and calls for the development of resources that provide spiritual, teaching and pastoral guidance for these relationships.

10. Q. What exactly is “trial use?”
A. Under the provisions of Article X of the Constitution of The Episcopal Church, trial use means that the church is considering revision of a section of the Book of Common Prayer. Revisions to the Book of Common Prayer must be approved by two successive General Conventions.

11. Q. Since General Convention approved these liturgies for trial use in 2015, why aren’t they coming back for a second reading?
A. Article X of the Constitution requires that revision of the Book of Common Prayer must be proposed in one meeting of the General Convention, then sent “by resolve” to the secretary of the convention of every diocese, to be made known to the diocesan convention at its next meeting. Resolution 2015-A054 authorized trial use of the marriage liturgies but did not include a clause directing that the proposals be sent to every diocese. The resolution that the TFSM is proposing includes a clause directing that the proposed liturgies be sent to every diocese. It also proposes revision of other sections of the BCP (“Concerning the Service” of marriage, the catechism, and proper prefaces of marriage), so that the language about marriage is consistent throughout the book. Thus, this proposes the “first reading” of this material.

12. Q. Does General Convention have the Constitutional and Canonical authority to adopt the proposed revisions to the Book of Common Prayer?
A. Yes. Article X of the Constitution allows the General Convention to amend the Book of Common Prayer at any time. The provision for trial use explicitly allows a proposed revision to any section or office of the BCP, and Canon II.3.6, which stipulates conditions for trial use, indicates that these proposed revisions can be subsequently adopted as alterations or additions to the BCP. General Convention did just that in 2012 (A059) and 2015 (A067), amending the Proper Liturgies for Special Days (pp. 271-295) to incorporate readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.

13. Q. How does the work of the TFSM relate to resolutions coming from the SCLM regarding revisions to the Book of Common Prayer?
A. The current proposal for trial use of the marriage rites continues a process begun in 2009, when the General Convention directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to develop liturgical resources for blessing same-sex relationships (Resolution 2009-C056). The proposal for trial use, with the possibility of a “second reading” and incorporation into the BCP in 2021, would bring this process to its conclusion. In contrast, the resolutions coming from the SCLM propose processes related to the entire BCP, either beginning a 12-year process of revising the entire BCP, or engaging more deeply with the 1979 BCP.

14. Q. The TFSM reports that in 8 out of the 101 US dioceses, the bishop with jurisdiction has not authorized the liturgies for trial use. What would be the expectation in those dioceses if A085 is adopted?
A. The resolution proposes that the liturgies be available for use in every diocese of the Episcopal Church, without further conditions. If the resolution is adopted, these liturgies could be used in any diocese where the marriage of a couple is permitted by civil law.

15. Q. Doesn’t trial use have to be under the direction of the Bishop with jurisdiction?
A. Article X of the Constitution, which allows the General Convention to authorize proposed revisions to the BCP for trial use, does not set any limits or conditions for trial use. Canon II.3.6(a) permits the General Convention to specify any special conditions for trial use, but it does not require that there be any terms or conditions. As the 1979 BCP was being developed, liturgies were authorized in 1970 and 1973 for trial use throughout the church and did not require that they also be authorized by the diocesan bishop.

16. Q. What are the new resources proposed in the resolutions?
A. Liturgical Resources 2, proposed in (A085) Trial Use of Marriage Liturgies, includes
➢ the liturgies proposed for trial use, which may be used by any couple, same-sex or opposite-sex, where the marriage is permitted by civil law;
➢ short essays developed by the TFSM during this triennium, offering Christians perspectives on marriage and family life today;
➢ essays on marriage developed by the TFSM during the 2012-2015 triennium;
➢ the “Dearly Beloved” toolkit for studying marriage, developed by the TFSM during the 2012-2015 triennium;
➢ pastoral resources for preparing couples for marriage, adapted from materials in Liturgical Resources 1.

A new volume in the Enriching Our Worship series, proposed in (A086) Authorize Rites to Bless Relationships, would include:
➢ The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant, a revision of the liturgy for blessing same-sex relationships first authorized in 2012, for use in jurisdictions where the civil marriage of same-sex couples is not permitted;
➢ The Blessing of a Lifelong Relationship, for couples in particular circumstances who seek the church’s blessing on their lifelong, monogamous relationship without entering into a civil marriage; ➢ essays on the blessing of same-sex relationships developed by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music during the 2009-2012 triennium and published in Liturgical Resources 1;
➢ an essay about the rite for blessing a lifelong relationship, prepared by the TFSM during this triennium;
➢ pastoral resources for preparing a couple for a liturgy of blessing, developed by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music during the 2009-2012 triennium and published in Liturgical Resources 1.

17. Q. Will the proposed changes create greater challenges for our relationships within the Anglican Communion?
A. There are those in our wider Anglican family who will disagree with any changes we make to be more inclusive and there will be those in our wider Anglican family who are watching us for leadership to help them move forward with similar changes. While there continue to be tensions and challenges around a variety of issues – including gender equality and human sexuality – the climate in the Anglican Communion has improved dramatically in recent years and we believe the ties that bind us are stronger than the differences that challenge us.

18. Q. Were the recommendations in the report unanimously agreed to by the TFSM?
A. During the triennium the TFSM was blessed with multiple opportunities to meet both in person and virtually for deep engagement across significant differences. The final report was adopted by all but one dissenting member, who filed a minority report. We are profoundly grateful to be part of a church where we can grapple with theological differences and which provides opportunity for minority perspectives to be registered and received.

19. Q. What does the minority report say?
A. The author of the minority report raises three areas of concern. First, a concern about deliberative process: that if the presiding officers of the Episcopal Church had added to the task force more people of color, representatives of Province IX, and those committed to a traditional view of marriage, the conversation may have been more beneficial. Second, two concerns about Prayer Book revision: that proposals for trial use liturgies typically come from the SCLM; and that in the minds of some Episcopalians, the proposed rites put the Church’s teaching in tension with Holy Scripture. Third, a concern about Anglican relations: that new rites that depart from traditional norms might have less of an impact on Anglican unity if they were given an authorized place that stops short of Prayer Book revision, or if they were the product of a Communion-wide prayer book revision commission.

20. Q. Where does the TFSM see the evangelism opportunity in its report to the Church?
A. The Episcopal Church has the opportunity to lift up “fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God” as the values that make a marriage holy. It has the chance to talk about marriage as vocation of holy love, grounded in biblical values of faithfulness and forgiveness. And it has the opportunity to say we are a community of faith focused on supporting all who are called into the vocation of marriage – not discriminating against some who are called into the vocation of marriage.