The Marriage Mess in the Episcopal Church

I haven’t blogged on issues around marriage and same sex blessings in the run-up to General Convention, for a couple of reasons. First, I found it difficult to wade through all of the materials and the extensive discussion around the various proposals. Second, knowing that the Supreme Court would weigh in on the issue of gay marriage in June, I suspected that its decision would have some impact on General Convention’s deliberations and I thought it best to wait and see.

Well, the Supreme Court has weighed in and yesterday, the House of Bishops weighed in as well. Yesterday, the bishops approved a number of things. They removed from the canons (church law) references to marriage that specified it is between a man and woman and they also approved for trial use beginning the First Sunday of Advent in 2015, two new marriage liturgies. Because they are “trial use,” they can only be used with the approval of the diocesan bishop. More details on the bishops’ actions are available here.

All of these resolutions will need to pass the House of Deputies, and the canonical changes will require approval at the next General Convention 2018. In the meantime, we’re left with at least two different liturgies, the possibility that dioceses will make different decisions about the use of those liturgies, and further strained relations within the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, and with many other Christians.

Still, the bishops’ actions are significant. Given the speed with which gay marriage has become legal and accepted in our country, and given the extent to which it diverges from practice in the Christian tradition and traditional biblical interpretation, it’s worth considering carefully what affect these changes might have on the world-wide Anglican Communion and our relations with other Christians.  I’m even more concerned about the precedent this might set for how we will go about our theological and ethical reflection in the future; especially how all this might affect any future prayer book revision (an idea that seems to be getting increasing traction in the church). No doubt wiser minds than I have considered all this and have put their minds at ease.

Jordan Hylden wrote an insightful commentary that explores how the Episcopal Church might continue to make room for dioceses and bishops who oppose same-sex marriage in the church, and leaves us with the question whether the Episcopal Church can develop a way forward that will embrace diversity in doctrine, worship, and discipline.

The liturgies as proposed and other materials related to marriage from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music are available here:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has weighed on the House of Bishops’ votes:

Archbishop Justin Welby said that its decision will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith relationships.

At a time of such suffering around the world, he stated that this was a moment for the church to be looking outwards.

An interesting back and forth hosted by The Anglican Theological Review provides theological perspective and is worth reading, for the way the issues are articulated and clarified.

Advertisements

Bishop Miller’s decision on same-sex blessings

Bishop Miller has finally published his response to the Standing Committee’s report from July, 2014. He has decided to permit clergy to bless the civil marriages of same sex couples:

As chief pastor, I have to balance my own theological conviction with humility, and a willingness to create space for those who disagree with me. I must also consider what is best for the diocese. My personal position is that, given the disputed witness of Scripture and Tradition in this matter, I see the blessing of same sex couples by the Church as a pastoral provision, informed by modern insights into human sexuality and human development, not unlike the blessing of marriages of persons who have been divorced.

Therefore, after much prayer, consultation, and reflection I am willing to allow clergy of this diocese to bless the marriages of same sex couples who are civilly married.

He has also issued a set of guidelines to be used by clergy and parishes for the blessings and a form to use. The complete document is available here: Response to Standing Committee Same Sex Blessings.FINAL

No doubt we will be talking about this at Grace in the weeks to come.

 

 

The Diocese of Milwaukee and the Diocese of Pittsburgh

The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Milwaukee has recommended to Bishop Miller that he permit clergy to preside over same-sex blessings, as I wrote a couple of days ago. For support, that document appealed to Bishop McConnell of Pittsburgh, who gave such permission in spite of his own reservations.

I was interested to read that Bishop McConnell recently granted clergy permission to officiate at same-sex weddings. Lionel Deimel quotes extensively from the opinion of the Diocesan Chancellor. It seems Bishop McConnell’s concerns centered around whether an Episcopal priest could officiate at a wedding that made use of the trial rite (which isn’t Holy Matrimony). The Chancellor’s opinion is yes, because Pennsylvania law does not stipulate the form of the rite, only that there has to be a marriage certificate. Bishop McConnell’s revised guidelines are here.

Although same-sex marriage is currently on hold in Wisconsin and civil law varies widely from state to state, these guidelines and questions will be helpful as we move forward.

Update on Same Sex Blessings in the Diocese of Milwaukee

The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee has published its report on the feedback it received from parishes on the trial liturgy for Same Sex Blessings. It has also made a recommendation to Bishop Miller on how he might respond to those findings.

I would like to highlight a few things in the report. First of all, most parishes responded in some way to the Standing Committee’s request. Second, out of the forty-three parishes that did respond, only one expressed itself strongly opposed to the authorization of the use of the liturgy (1 on a scale of 1-5). In contrast, 13 parishes were strongly in favor (5 on the scale of 1-5), and 11 were generally in favor (4 on the scale). 11 staked out middle ground (3). To put that in percentiles: 55.8% were either strongly or generally in favor; 18.6% generally or strongly opposed; with 25.6% in the middle.

When looking at how these parishes break down in terms of average Sunday attendance, a total of 16.1% of total Sunday attendance were either generally or strongly opposed over against 59.7% of total attendance in parishes either generally or strongly in favor (with over 40% attendance in parishes strongly in favor). What both of these figures show is wide-ranging and overwhelming support for the trial rite.

Based on these findings, the Standing Committee made the following recommendation to Bishop Miller:

The Standing Committee recommends that Bishop Miller authorize a local option for a rite of blessing of same-gender couples living in committed, lifelong, covenant
relationships. A local option would give permission for individual clergy of the diocese to decide to use the rite or not in his or her own parish.

The entire document is available here: Standing Committee Report2 (1).

Here is Grace’s statement of inclusion: LGBTstatement_revised_01292014, developed in response to the conversations we held over the fall and winter.

Of course, we’ve been talking about this for much longer than that. General Convention 2012 approved the trial use of the liturgy; we had conversations among bishop and clergy in the Diocese of Milwaukee in  the months after General Convention and again in 2013.

Meanwhile, the courts continue to act. Constitutional bans in Kentucky and Indiana have been overturned and just today the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (a court that also has jurisdiction in Wisconsin) ruled in favor of an emergency request by an Indiana couple to have their marriage recognized in Indiana. The story is here:

More court decisions, but in Wisconsin, Episcopalians still wonder..

In Indiana, a federal judge struck down that state’s ban on gay marriage. A Federal Appeals court yesterday overturned Utah’s ban, putting it on the fast track for appeal to the Supreme Court. In Louisiana, a suit to force the state to recognize out-of-state same sex marriages was expanded to include the state’s ban. As the Indiana judge wrote:

In less than a year, every federal district court to consider the issue has reached the same conclusion in thoughtful and thorough opinions – laws prohibiting the celebration and recognition of same-sex marriages are unconstitutional. It is clear that the fundamental right to marry shall not be deprived to some individuals based solely on the person they choose to love. In time, Americans will look at the marriage of couples such as Plaintiffs, and refer to it simply as a marriage – not a same-sex marriage. These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street. The Constitution demands that we treat them as such.

The Episcopal Cafe asks: Should the Episcopal Church embrace marriage equality?

The article links to two other pieces, one a report on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music’s recent meeting where they discussed the provisional rite for the blessing of same sex couples. The other is a study guide on marriage produced by the Task Force on Marriage.

Meanwhile Christian Piatt offers Five Reasons why Churches need to “come out” on LGBTQ rights.

The first one is this:

Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpufgm
Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpuf

Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow.

Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpuf
Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpuf
Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpuf
Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpuf

Still dithering in Wisconsin

An article in today’s Wisconsin State Journal profiles the responses of two of my Madison colleagues to last week’s court decision striking down Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage. Andy Jones, Rector of St. Andrew’s, had this to say:

The Rev. Andy Jones, pastor of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, would like to perform same-sex marriages but his denomination does not allow it. The Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, of which Madison Episcopal churches are a part, also prohibits same-sex blessing ceremonies, although other Episcopal dioceses allow them.

“Longtime members of St. Andrew’s — faithful, committed couples — long to have their church community affirm who they are and to have their church bless their relationship,” Jones said. “It pains me that I can’t do that.”

The article also quotes Miranda Hassett, who showed her support at the City-County building last Friday: “It was really important for me to be there as a priest and as a progressive Christian,” she said.

I share their views and point out this from Bishop Miller’s letter of 2013 on same-sex blessings:
Furthermore, I stated my belief that the right to a civil marriage should be available to all people, regardless of sexual orientation and that I would support those seeking to overturn the ban on same-gender marriage in Wisconsin.
 You can read it all here:
Meanwhile, the Attorney General is threatening to prosecute County Clerks who issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. My friend, Scott McDonnell, Dane County Clerk, responds:

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said the possibility of prosecution “doesn’t keep me up at night.” McDonell, a Democrat andthe first clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Wisconsin, called Van Hollen’s claim of possible charges ridiculous.

“He needs to call off the dogs and turn off the fire hoses,” he said, invoking extreme police responses to some civil rights protests of the 1960s.

In Wisconsin, Episcopalians dither while #lovewins

We knew it was coming. After last summer’s Supreme Court decision and the series of decisions throughout the country throwing out state bans on gay marriage, it was bound to happen in Wisconsin as well. And it did yesterday afternoon.

I’ve documented the conversations at Grace Church and in the Diocese of Milwaukee regarding same sex blessings on this blog. Grace’s public statement of full inclusion is available here: LGBTstatement_revised_01292014. But those conversations occurred with little reference to the larger legal context. We submitted our responses to the Standing Committee’s survey in December and are waiting to hear what other congregations and clergy throughout the diocese had to say.

More telling, perhaps, is the almost total silence around our collective response when gay marriage became a legal reality. In my recollection, I had only one conversation with fellow clergy in the last months about how Episcopalians might proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ’s love when marriage equality became a reality in the state of Wisconsin. My colleague Miranda Hassett and her family went down to the City-County Building last night to be present among the celebrations:

10455840_10152495073941197_4862980709642208811_n

I’m grateful to her for that.

As Episcopal clergy and as a church, we have painted ourselves into a very small corner. It’s going to be increasingly difficult for our congregations to claim to be open and welcoming to LGBT Christians when we refuse to extend the sacrament of marriage to them. As clergy, we are no longer going to be able to use the excuse that same sex marriage is forbidden in the state constitution when couples approach us to solemnize their vows. In retrospect, it would have been helpful to have had frank conversations about this in the past months. Instead, we dithered and kept our mouths shut.

And don’t get me wrong. I’m not pointing the finger anywhere except myself. I dithered, kept my mouth shut, and didn’t raise questions when opportunities presented themselves.