Friday, July 13, 2018

Episcopal Church Says "We Do" to Marriage Rites for the Whole Church

Making all sacraments available to all people was a key goal at this 79th General Convention -- and with the action today by the House of Deputies on Resolution B012 that goal was achieved. It was, however, a hard won compromise.

Because it fell short of changing the language regarding marriage in the current prayer book there are for those who believe our actions continue to fall short of the full and equal claim for the LGBTQ baptized promised in 1976. And because it removes the ability for dissenting bishops to prohibit same sex couples from access to the liturgies in their home churches, there are those who see our actions as a bridge too far away from their belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

And yet, it was a compromise that received overwhelming support from both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops: something those of us who have been at this work for quite literally decades could not have imagined even a few short years ago.

Eighteen years ago at its 73rd General Convention in Denver the Episcopal Church adopted a resolution acknowledging "there are currently couples in the Body of Christ and in this Church who are living in marriage and couples in the Body of Christ and in this Church who are living in other life-long committed relationships." And today we adopted a resolution stating that "provision will be made for all couples desiring to use these marriage liturgies in their local congregation or worshipping community."

We have gone from being a church where simply acknowledging the existence of same-sex couples in our midst was a controversial and deeply divisive issue to being a church where an overwhelming majority embraced marriage for all, ending what was de facto sacramental apartheid for same-sex couples in some dioceses.

We have done that over many years, with many steps forward and some steps back and -- in the action today -- we have done it in a resolution that protects both theological conscience and sacramental access for all.

In his opening remarks to this 79th General Convention, our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry challenged us to stay as focused on Jesus as Starbucks is on coffee.  Adopting  B012 will better equip us to do precisely that. It will enable us to move forward from Austin more fully the church we are striving to be. It will help us become a church where love truly is the way: a church where whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on the journey of faith there is a place for you.

Whether you're a double espresso or a mocha frappuccino ... or a grande drip with room for cream -- as Bishop Curry keeps reminding us:  there's plenty good room in God's Kingdom and in the Episcopal Church.

The hard won compromise achieved today finally making all sacraments available to all people in the Episcopal Church is work well done.  I am both deeply proud to be an Episcopalian and deeply grateful to all those on whose shoulders we stand as we start this new chapter -- moving out of the trenches of the Inclusion Wars and forward together into God's future as part of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.

Monday, July 09, 2018

B012 -- "Marriage Rites for the Whole Church" -- Adopted by #GC79 Deputies



The work of continuing to make the full and equal claim promised LGBTQ Episcopalians in 1976 not just a resolution but a reality continued on legislative day five of the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. By an overwhelming majority, the House of Deputies adopted an amended version of Resolution B012 entitled "Marriage Rites for the Whole Church." The resolution will now go to the House of Bishops for action.

Questions are still swirling about the intent and impact of this important resolution. Here is what I said when I spoke to it on the floor:
I rise in favor of B012 — a resolution that will move us beyond the seemingly intractable challenge of living together as a church where the sacramental marriage that has been authorized for all couples in the Episcopal Church is irreconcilable with the theological conscience of some members of the Episcopal Church.
Make no mistake about it: it contains costly compromises that come with very real pain. Pain for those who will experience this action as falling short of the full and equal claim for the LGBTQ baptized we have been striving for since 1976. And pain for those who will experience this action as a bridge too far away from their belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

The question for this General Convention is whether the gift of walking together forward into God's future as members of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement is worth the painful compromises we are mutually being asked to bear in order to make that possible.

I believe the answer is yes and I urge support for Resolution B012 as Proposed by Committee 13 so that we may continue to walk forward together.
One of the primary questions I'm getting is a form of "What about DEPO?"

Here's what I've got ... a bit on the fly between legislative sessions:

DEPO -- Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight -- was part of the original version of B012 and was changed via amendment by Legislative Committee 13. As a member of that committee, I can attest that the changes we made were in response to hours of testimony from both proponents of same-sex marriage from the eight dioceses where marriage for all is not yet a reality and from seven of the eight bishops with jurisdiction in those dioceses.

What we heard was that the relationships between the bishop and dissenting parishes are not irreparably damaged -- simply challenged on this issue of sacramental marriage. In response, this carefully crafted compromise language -- crafted in consultation with bishops from across the theological perspective -- recognizes that reality and seeks to provide an option that protects both theological conscience and sacramental access for all.

For more clarity, I turn to these wise words from Deputy Christopher Hayes:
B012, if adopted by the House of Bishops in the same form, gives the Rector or Priest-in-Charge of the congregation full authority to use the marriage liturgies for same-sex couples. If the officiating priest or the couple for some reason need pastoral support of a bishop, and the diocesan bishop has theological objections, another bishop should be invited to provide that pastoral support.
This is not DEPO, which presumes a broken relationship between the bishop and the congregation, so that another bishop must take over the pastoral relationship and ecclesiastical authority over that congregation for all purposes. B012 does not provide for that. It provides only for another bishop to be invited in if, and only if (1) the officiating priest needs pastoral support for the particular marriage (rarely), or (2) permission is needed for marriage after prior divorce.
Note that the priest officiating at a marriage rarely needs to consult with the bishop for any reason whatsoever (as long as neither of the betrothed was previously divorced)
Some other important points to note:
  • B012 is a carefully crafted compromise that balances couples' access to liturgies for marriage, including same-sex couples, with room for all to agree or disagree. 
  •  While this decision defers adding the trial liturgies for marriage until prayer book revision is completed, it provides improved access to the liturgies in the meanwhile.
  • It clarifies role of Rector and provides options for bishops to invite other bishops to assist in pastoral work, without prescribing exactly what that looks like in every situation.
Finally, there's this:



As Rachel would say: Watch this space.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Dear #GC79

Dear #GC79,

We came to Austin to address -- among other things -- the seemingly intractable challenge of living together as a church where the sacramental marriage that has been authorized for all couples in the Episcopal Church is irreconcilable with the theological conscience of some members of the Episcopal Church.

This morning the legislative committee charged with the high calling of addressing that challenge responded by reporting out a compromise resolution which will be a bridge too far for some and a disappointment to others.

According to Merriam Webster, a compromise is defined as "an agreement or settlement that is reached by each side making concessions" -- in other words, a profoundly Anglican solution to intractable challenges. And that is precisely what will be brought to the House of Deputies for its consideration on Saturday morning, July 7.

Entitled "Marriage Rites for the Whole Church" Resolution B012 protects the conscience of those who cannot embrace the marriage of same-sex couples while making liturgies for marriage available to all couples in all dioceses in their home churches.

To achieve this compromise, those who had hoped to finally see the Book of Common Prayer revised with gender neutral language for marriage will be asked to concede that goal at this time. And those who had hoped to continue diocesan policies of sending same-sex couples to other dioceses to be married will be asked to change that policy.

The resolution provides bishops who do not embrace marriage for same sex couples the creative option of inviting another bishop to assume episcopal oversight on matters-relating-to-marriage for congregations in their diocese wishing to make marriage available to same-sex couples. It allows the bishop to exercise his or her conscience while allowing all couples seeking Holy Matrimony in the Episcopal Church equal access to the sacrament of marriage. It continues the trial use of the liturgies authorized in 2015 and preserves the canonical authority for any member of the clergy to decline to solemnize or bless any marriage.

Make no mistake about it: these are costly compromises that comes with very real pain. Pain for those who will experience this action as falling short of the full and equal claim for the LGBTQ baptized we have been striving for since 1976. And pain for those who will experience this action as a bridge too far away from their belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

The question for this General Convention will be whether the gift of walking together forward into God's future as members of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement is worth the painful compromises we are mutually being asked to bear in order to make that possible.

I believe the answer is yes and I urge support for Resolution B012 as Proposed by Committee 13.

I am convinced that just as 16th century Anglicans were able to walk forward together in spite of the seemingly intractable challenge of being together in a church that is both protestant and catholic, 21st century Episcopalians can walk forward in spite of seemingly intractable challenge of being together as a church where the sacramental marriage that has been authorized for all couples is irreconcilable with the theological conscience of some members.

We've got this. We're Anglicans.

Faithfully,
Deputy Susan Russell
Diocese of Los Angeles

Monday, July 02, 2018

We're Anglicans. We've Got This.


It has been over 40 years since the Episcopal Church declared 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.” [1976-A069]

Since that time the church has been moving forward — sometimes an inch at a time — 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 resolution (A085) coming forward to the 79th General Convention in Austin from the Task Force on the Study of Marriage maintains 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.

And yet, as we gather in Austin there is an effort afoot to push back on that profoundly Anglican, both/and proposal. Seductively entitled "Marriage Rites for the Whole Church" an alternative resolution (B012) is described as seeking to "find a lasting way forward for all Episcopalians in one Church."

What it actually does is enshrine a separate and ergo inherently unequal status to the sacrament of marriage for same-sex couples. And it does that by privileging the theological consciences of some Episcopalians over the baptismal covenant of others. B012 is hardly a “compromise” when it proposes that dissenting bishops will agree to provide access for all couples (as they were charged to do in 2015 by A054) in return for consigning marriage for same-sex couples to perpetual second-class trial use.

The question on the table in Austin in 2018 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.

And it is a patently false dichotomy to suggest otherwise.  The inability to exercise a right created by General Convention results in discrimination. The inability to impose one's theology on everyone else in the diocese is not discrimination, it is simply a  denial of unearned privilege.

Conservatives are free to believe whatever they wish and -- under the current canon law --free to decline to engage in rites they see as untenable. But they are not free to impose their vision on everyone else.  As Juan Oliver put it so concisely: The conscience of individual bishop does not go beyond the individual. It may not be used to refuse their diocese what the assembled Church has decided. There is in fact an ontological difference between feeling excluded because you're disagreed with and being excluded because of who you are.

Theology — by definition “the study of God” — is at its core the yearning of finite creatures to understand the infinite creator of all being … something arguably ontologically beyond our capacity to understand to begin with. And yet we try. We study. We conjecture and we come up with our best guesses. Where we go astray is when we start investing our best guesses with the authority of the God we’re best guessing about. And in the process we can end up with a kind of “theological fragility” which — like its second cousin white fragility — sees diversity as threat rather than blessing and in so doing rejects the very comprehensiveness that is a hallmark of Anglicanism. 

The late, great Urban T. Holmes wrote in "What Is Anglicanism: " We often speak of Anglican "comprehensiveness." If this is a way of making relativism palatable or a means of accommodating all shades of opinion with no regard for truth, then it needs to be rejected. If by comprehensive we mean the priority of a dialectic quest over precision and immediate closure then we are speaking of the Anglican consciousness at its best.

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 folks were being burned at the stake over disagreements about doctrines and dogmas. We are, therefore, uniquely wired to be a church that can hold together the tension of being both gay and straight ... and everywhere in between ... in the 21st century. We can do that because theological diversity is part of our DNA ... theological fragility is not.

We're Anglicans. We've got this.