Same-Sex Blessings and Marriage: Bishop Miller’s statement

Last week, Bishop Miller sent clergy in the Diocese of Milwaukee a draft letter in which he laid out his thinking on the proposed liturgies for the Blessing of Same Gender Unions, and the evolving understanding of marriage. A week ago today, he met with diocesan clergy to talk about the letter, our perspectives on it, as well as about our pastoral and theological concerns leading up to General Convention and how we might respond to decisions made at General Convention.

It was a very powerful afternoon. Clergy spoke from their hearts, from a wide variety of theological perspectives, and asked hard questions of Bishop Miller and of each other.

Today, Bishop Miller has released a position paper in which he lays out his views and how he expects to vote on the pertinent resolutions. It’s an important document, available here on his blog.

The key elements of his proposal are this:

  • I am wondering if they best way forward would be the proposal and adoption of a substitute to Resolution A049 calling for the amendment of the Book of Common Prayer and the Constitution and Canons to allow for marriage between two persons regardless of sex while at the same time requiring that both parties be baptized, and removing any role of the civil authority. Those who wished to be civilly married could do so if they considered a civil marriage to be most advantageous for them but the Church would have no part of it.  This proposal provided the additional advantage that those who could not be civilly married because state law forbade it or it would cause economic hardship could be married in the Church. As I stated earlier in this letter I propose this because, “it is my opinion that the blessing rite falls short of our call as Christians.”
  • I realize that this means the authorization of a blessing rite would be delayed and that those who have waited for this Church to do so will be told again to wait. However, the provision for generous pastoral response from Resolution C056 would still be in effect, a provision which has allowed for some bishops whose dioceses are in states that have approved same-sex marriage in the civil realm to permit clergy in their diocese to officiate at these marriages and others to allow blessings.

My earlier blog post was in part a response to Bishop Miller’s earlier draft and to the clergy conversation. I repost the pertinent parts:

A theological rationale for same sex marriage has to begin with the nature of God and with human nature. God created us in God’s image, to be in relationship, just as God in Godself is in relationship, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Life-giving, holy relationships are based in mutuality, love, and commitment, and some people can only experience such relationships with people of the same gender. Our fallen human nature and our society make any committed relationship difficult, almost impossible, and any couple needs the support of a loving community and the grace of a loving God to thrive. The church should do all in its power to help such relationships flourish. To forbid the sacrament of marriage to a group of people who need it to thrive and flourish is an offense to God who created us in God’s image, and who created us to be in relationship with others.

The proposed liturgy for same-gender blessings is inadequate. I find it lacking precisely because it fails to locate the basis of human relationship in the imago dei. Instead, it speaks of covenant and blessing (I find it ironic that the same people who praise the liturgy and its theological rationale based in covenant are for the most part opposed to the Anglican Covenant). Frankly, I think the theological rationale for the liturgy is deeply flawed. The liturgy itself is adequate although confusing, but there is a question at its heart, namely why blessing? Why not marriage? On the other hand, the SCLM was specifically charged with developing proposed blessings for same sex unions, not a marriage rite

Given the cultural climate, with many of those who most vigorously oppose same-sex marriage having themselves made a mockery of the sacrament by their own lives (Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich come to mind). Would not a more sacramental, a holy witness be of a couple living out a life-long commitment? Would the church’s blessing of such relationships be a witness and symbol of what marriage might be in this world, instead of the dominant cultural models of short-lived relationships like the recent ones of whichever Kardashian it was, or Brittany Spears? In other words, is there a sense in which two living out a committed relationship for a lifetime, are a sacramental witness to the Christian virtues of love and fidelity, and a symbol of Christ’s love for the church to the whole world?

The question facing General Convention 2012 and the Episcopal Church is how to work with what’s facing us. On the one hand, we have this proposed liturgy for Same Sex Blessings. On the other, there is a continuing push to move toward marriage, and another resolution urging an examination of our theology of marriage. This is work that urgently needs doing. It may be that the outcome of that examination is a revision of our marriage rite, and perhaps our canons. I would like to see us freed from the obligation of serving as agents of the state. I would like to see marriage only as a sacramental rite, which might help us offer an alternative to the contemporary marriage business.

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