The approval of General Convention resolution A049, to authorize the provisional use of the rite for the blessing of same sex relationships has created an interesting dynamic in TEC. The resolution placed authority for the use of such rites in the power of diocesan bishops.
In the weeks since GC, bishops have slowly been making public their plans. Not surprisingly, as they respond from their own theological perspectives and in their particular local contexts, the roadmaps they lay out are varied and reflect to a large degree the breadth of Anglicanism, and the Anglican penchant for finding a middle way. As more proposals come out, no doubt partisans on both sides will be disappointed, even angered, but what I find most interesting, and most promising, is the way the bishops are searching for a “generous pastoral response” to the people among whom they minister.
The Rt. Rev. Ed Little (Northern Indiana) will not permit the rite in the diocese, but will allow clergy to celebrate it in parishes in adjoining dioceses: 2012GCPastoralLetter.
The Rt. Rev. Kee Sloan (Diocese of Alabama) voted in favor of the resolution at General Convention, but will not permit the rite in his diocese.
The Rt. Rev. Philip M. Duncan II (Central Gulf Coast) voted against the resolution but has this to say:
The Rt. Rev. Philip M. Duncan II, bishop of the 63-congregation Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, stated in a letter to his flock of about 19,000 people: “I will consider each request for blessing individually, and I shall permit it where it has pastoral warrant.”
Many bishops (like my own) have announced a process of discernment that will involve clergy and lay people in an effort to determine what a “generous pastoral response” might be.
We live in a world of sound bytes, partisanship, and easy answers to complex problems. Life is messy and complex. Negotiating a path of faithful discipleship is difficult. So too is trying to discern how to respond to particular pastoral needs. In the abstract, decisions may seem quite easy and clear-cut, but when addressed in the context of one’s own understanding of what it means to be faithful, and in the particular context of one’s ministry, the way forward may not be obvious at all.
We may find a bishop’s decision to vote in favor of the rite, but not permit it in his diocese, or to vote against the rite but and permit its use, or even to forbid it in the diocese while allowing clergy to travel outside, wrong, hopelessly muddled, or proof positive of the moral bankruptcy of the Episcopal Church and Anglican theology. Looked at from another perspective however, these varied responses may be evidence of the genius and continuing vitality of the Anglican way.
I look forward to reading about what other dioceses come up with.