Same sex blessings
Every time I get back from General Convention, there’s a least a few people who mention seeing the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the news. I always give the same warning: assume any article about the Episcopal Church contains at least one factual error. Most of the time it’s something seemingly small, like referring to us as “The Episcopal Church U.S.A.” or calling it our “annual” convention. While they might be big mistakes to someone like me, most non-Episcopalians could care less, and I understand that.
Perhaps it’s only that I’ve become aware of a lot more Christian and Episcopalian bloggers, but the news cycle this time around seems to be a lot more intense. Gene Robinson’s consecration got us more headlines, but for that, the headline was the story, “Episcopal Church Elects Gay Bishop.” That was it. It was a thing we did. This time however, it’s gotten rather personal.
It started with a laughable opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, which many are blaming on the Journal’s recent change in ownership. Despite being in the opinion section, the piece was written like a journalistic article and often mistaken for one. And despite being written like a journalistic article, it contained almost no actual facts. A cursory view shows at least one error per paragraph, ranging from the seemingly inconsequential (gathered “from around the country” discounts all non-U.S. diocese) to the outright false (the presiding bishop carrying a metropolitan cross). I see the primary benefit in this article as being an excellent teaching tool to illustrate how personal prejudice can skew a piece of writing without being explicit. After all, the author never actually says that his real problem is with women leadership in the church, but I would be a fool to believe otherwise.
To give you an idea of what I’ve been reading, here’s a list I compiled, starting with the aforementioned muckraking:
What Ails the Episcopalians – The laughable piece of fiction from Jay Akasie, printed in the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal.
What Ails the Wall Street Journal – A dismantling of Akasie’s article, exposing the most blatant errors.
Rum, Sodomy, and the Cash: The Episcopal Church 2012 – Lest you think I’m only quoting the liberals that pulled Akasie’s article apart, here’s one from a conservative blogger.
Wrong on Every Count – A bishop’s response to Akasie, also pointing out a few of the bigger flaws.
A Strongly-worded Letter about General Convention and Love – A response to Akasie regarding tradition and the Holy Spirit.
Episcopal Church is Radically Faithful to Its Tradition Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer for TEC, writes a letter to the editor at the Wall Street Journal arguing that our liberal values represent a true commitment to Jesus.
Why Is the Episcopal Church Near Collapse? – From Belief.net, an interesting exercise in using opinion as news.
Brazen Women, Cross-Dressers, and Canine Caskets – An unpacking of the patriarchical undertones in the articles by the Wall Street Journal and Belief.net
Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved? – A New York Times Op-Ed piece by Ross Douthat suggesting that liberalism is killing the TEC and other denominations like it.
Can Christianity Be Saved? A Response to Ross Douthat – Diana Butler Bass of the Huffington Post talks about the decline in church membership across all denominations, and suggests that liberal churches may not be the ones dying after all.
My Liberal Christian Church is Not Dying -A former Evangelical talks about TEC’s appeal to him and other young people in response to Douthat.
When “Liberal” Rhymes with “Theology” It’s Time for Evangelism – An argument for the theological basis of social liberal views in response to Douthat.
Liberal Christianity, Conservative Christianity, and the Caught-In-Between – In response to Douthat and Bass, Rachel Held Evans talks about what it’s like to feel caught in the middle, and how embracing the middle could help both sides.
The Glorious Episcopal Church – In response to Akasie, Douthat, and Ross, we see a different interpretation of what happened at General Convention from voting secretary Rev. Winnie Varghese, who just so happens to be my second favorite General Convention celebrity (second of course to Gregory Straub).
Originally I ended this blog post with a long diatribe with my two cents about why we’re losing members and what it all means and the inevitability of death and there was even some nice imagery in there. But I think perhaps that’s a rant for another time.
Instead, with regards to the possibility that our liberal values are killing the Episcopal Church, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes. It’s from John Paul Jones, a navel officer in the American Revolutionary War:
“I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.”
The Episcopal Church Welcomes Harm’s Way.
1. Openly transgendered black female priest Carla Robinson high-fiving the deputies from the conservative Diocese of Dallas in celebration after the unanimous approval of the restructuring resolution.
2. Casually walking by an older black woman sitting outside, glancing down at her badge to see the name Barbara Harris, and walking another 50 feet before having the sudden realization that “that’s Barbara Harris.”
3. The Very Reverend David Thurlow of South Carolina gracefully and respectfully asking to be excused from our final committee meeting after Same-Sex Blessings were approved by the House of Deputies. His diocese left one lay and one clergy member behind as a symbol that while they may disagree with our decision, they are not leaving the church.
4. Learning that even if General Convention participants are staying in non-union hotels, those hotels are required to pay union wages for the duration of our stay.
5. Highly liberal deputy Susan Russell and highly conservative Bishop Daniel Martins trending on twitter after finding TWO things to agree on while discussing Same-Sex Blessings.
Dear Conservative Episcopalians,
I wish there was some other way.
I wish there was a way that we could truly honor and respect our differing theologies. It pains me to hear your quiet voices echoing the word ‘no’ in the House of Deputies. It used to be because I didn’t like what you believed, and hated that everyone didn’t agree with what I was sure was right. But now I hear it and I’m sad. I’m sad because I know that you know that you are standing alone in a sea of people with whom you disagree. I hear you speak at the podium and it’s no longer anger. It’s a plea. “Please don’t do this. You don’t know what it means to me.”
As an Episcopalian I hold high the idea that all of us can carry our own personal theology as we walk the same path. So often we are able to settle our disputes by simply voicing our opinions, agreeing to disagree, and going back to our respective homes. But this time, we cannot. And I wish there was another way.
The problem is that if homosexuality is not a sin, then the people in these unions are not sinners. There is nothing wrong with them. Which makes denying them the ability to bind themselves together in fidelity an injustice. I am called to fight against injustice where ever I see it, and I see it in this.
The Blessing of Same-Sex Unions has no place in your theology, but it is essential to mine. And this is where the real problem lies. We cannot have both be true in the church at the same time. For a long time we did it your way, and that caused pain to our LGBT brothers and sisters. Now we are doing it different, and it causes pain for you.
So I wish there was some other way.
I am honored by your presence. You are the faithful remnant. When others gave up, you stayed. I do not envy your position, and I can’t imagine what it’s like to walk into that room knowing you are the minority and will not win the vote. And now that we have passed this resolution, you have to go back to your diocese and explain why you couldn’t stop it. Explain that you did all you could. Explain the small victories you were able to accomplish. And I’m sorry.
I used to worry that honoring your opinions was some how giving in to them. Sometimes these talks about sexuality remind me of the civil rights movement, and I used to wonder if trying to look out for you and your needs was like trying to accomodate racists. So I asked someone who would know. She is black, American, and old enough to have first hand knowledge of the civil rights movement. And she told me no. No, what is happening in this church is nothing like that. She told me the difference was that we’re talking about it. We’re willing to talk and we’re able to talk. When she was fighting for her rights in the 1960s, the people she fought against had no interest in talking.
You are still here. You re still talking. Thank you so much.
Since I first began coming to General Convention in 2006, I have both witnessed and been involved with countless discussions about sexuality. But what happened this morning in committee was different than everything I have experienced thus far.
After the Blessings hearing on Saturday night, the Blessings sub-committee met to discuss changes and amendments to the resolution. As we were finishing up we reminded everyone how important it was to get the resolution through committee in one session, to make sure it would get to the legislative houses in time. At every General Convention there are dozens of resolutions that die simply because we ran out of time and everyone had to go home.
So this morning we introduced the proposed amendments to the committee, and we let our parliamentary-procedure-hair down just a bit in terms of how we organized the conversation. But something extraordinary happened during our meeting. For the first time, it felt like we were all genuinely putting the needs of others ahead of our own. We had stopped fighting about what to do, and started asking each other what the other side needed. Our most liberal members were working together with our most conservative ones to ensure that there were provisions in the text to suit everyone’s needs. For example, many in the church who oppose these blessings are very concerned about being forced to perform them. Our canons include rules specifically saying they would never be forced to do such a thing, but many said making that explicit in the resolution would be helpful for the people in their diocese who held those fears. So we did.
Possibly the greatest moment happened when the Susan Russell, arguably the most publicly liberal gay rights supporter on our committee, finished speaking about one of the proposed amendments. Once she was done, Bishop Martins of the Diocese of Springfield (one of the more conservative dioceses) raised his hand to speak. He said, “Alert the presses: I agree with Susan Russell.” With laughter and applause the question to end debate was immediately called, for fear that we might keep talking and ruin this perfect moment. Later on Susan had the chance to agree once again with Bishop Martins, and I knew we were doing something right.
We stayed 20 minutes passed our planned time because everyone wanted to get it done. After the vote was taken and the decision to recommend adoption was reported, one of the conservative members asked to file a minority report (which gets attached to the end of the committee’s report and can be requested by any deputy or bishop if their conscience leads them to do so). We were packing up to rush off to the worship service when someone asked if the minority report would slow down the legislative process. Our chair said it wouldn’t if the deputy could write the report right now. “I’ll have to miss church,” the deputy said with a smile. We all agreed that the Lord would forgive him, and he wrote it right then. This to me is the ultimate example of the difference between honest and dishonest disagreement. I can’t help but think that if such a thing happened in the U.S. congress, a congressman might take advantage of the opportunity to tie up legislation he didn’t like. But this deputy didn’t. Because we’re all at the table again.
You can’t simultaneously have and not have gay bishops, or same-sex blessings, or transgender clergy. The church is either doing things things or it’s not. Even when you allow different dioceses to make their own rules, it doesn’t matter. We are still one church, and as a church we either allow it or we don’t. And so we fought. And as the liberals started to win, the conservatives started to leave. And it was awful.
And so the remaining church is mostly liberal now, which means something like same-sex blessings stands a very good chance. And the conservatives know that. The ones who remain are not going anywhere. They are committed to keep trying, even though they know they are the minority. But in (somewhat) resigning to the idea that these things will happen, there is less anger. The liberal side has changed too. There is less anger there as well. So the conservatives can come to the liberals and say, “Look, we know this is going to happen. You know we don’t like it. But how can we turn it into something we can take back home with us?” And the liberals step up to that challenge.
I have gained such deep respect for the conservative members of our committee. They are in a difficult position that I don’t envy. But I’m so glad they’re here. I don’t want to become a church of the fundamentalist left. Diversity brings health. It’s easy to acknowledge that truth when you’re talking about including racial minorities or young people, it’s hard when you’re talking about including people you know will vote opposite you in every thing you can imagine.
I told Stephen Moore about my experience in committee. He said, “You know if you were a more theology inclined person, you might say it was ‘Spirit-filled’.” Sometimes the Holy Spirit comes with wind and fire. But perhaps more often, it’s with peace.
I’m on the committee for Liturgy and Music here at GC, which gets the first look at the resolution to approve and use the Same-Gender Blessings created over the last three years by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM). Tonight was our public hearing, which all of us on the committee were anxiously awaiting. This was our big night.
When trying to work out the guidelines for how to run the hearing (order of speakers, time limit, etc), there was a lot of speculation about what would happen. Would we have too many people? Or barely any? The Church has been talking about this for awhile now. A LONG while. Years. Some wondered if all the talking people wanted to do had already happened, especially at the last GC in 2009 when we first approved the development of these rites. In addition, I think we were all a bit wary of sitting in a room for two hours watching people yell at each other about something most people take quite personally.
So it is with great happiness that I tell you the hearing went well, the speakers were all civil, and we even ended early. Some speakers said that we’ve been talking about this for too long. Others said we’re going too fast. Neither argument is new, which is part of why to me they are both right.
Yes, this is slow. This is painstakingly and annoyingly slow. We only have convention every three years, so anything that can’t be made in eight days (such as an entire liturgy) has to be given to committee and come back three years later. Changes to big things like the constitution or canons are even worse, because they require passage at more than one convention. We have hearings and more hearings. We talk about it in the House of Bishops and in the House of Deputies. We have special consultations and our own weird network of insider blogs that I’m only just discovering myself. And for those who are waiting, it is an eternity. Imagine getting engaged, and then planning the wedding for 15 to 30 years.
But it’s slow for a reason, and in the end I think it’s a good one. The easier it is to change something, the easier it is to change back. Just think of fad diets. Sure it’s simple to drink nothing but juice for a week, but you’ll be back to french fries in even less time. It’s a lot harder to change your whole pattern of diet and exercise, but in the end the change is more likely to be permanent. This is why it takes two General Conventions to change a canon. This is why we’ve been talking about Blessings for years. We need to be sure that if we do this, it will stick.
How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb?
That depends, how many people are on the Change Committee?
I thought it best to give a brief overview of what are expected to be the hot button issues this year:
Denominational Health Plan
In 2009 the General Convention passed A177, which called for a Denominational Health Plan to be implemented for all clergy and lay employees working 1500 hours annually (three-quarters time). The implementation was set to be no later than the end of 2012, but many are asking for a postponement, if not an out right rejection, of A177. The basic argument: it’s too expensive, it hasn’t been thought out, it won’t work for everyone, we need more time, etc. The argument against: providing health care for all church employees is a justice issue, time won’t solve these problems, etc.
In 2009 the General Convention passed C056, which instructed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to develop liturgies for same-gender blessings. The results of their work (both the blessing services themselves as well as educational and theological resources) are being presented to this year’s GC, and the SCLM is putting them forward with two related resolutions. The first is a resolutions that would allow the blessings to be used over the next three years at the discretion of the bishops of each diocese. The second calls for the creation of a task force to “explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage.” Just tell me where to sign up, because I have never wanted to be on a committee more.
Very rarely does any governing body of any kind pass a budget without a lot of arguing first, and we intend to uphold that noble tradition. The draft budget that was released in January showed serious cuts, most notably in faith formation (youth, young adult, new comers, continuing education, etc.). While explanations have since come out that some of those cuts were clerical errors (proven by the fact that the budget doesn’t balance even though it is required to do so), the 90% cut originally proposed, mistaken or not, has gotten a lot of people worried.
Restructuring (aka Sauls’ Proposal)
Stemming from some of the same issues that have been causing budget troubles, there are several resolutions heading for General Convention calling for restructuring of the church. One of the loudest voice’s is that of Bishop Stacy Sauls, which is why the resolution he is putting forth tends to bear his name, despite his objections. However it’s not the only resolution asking for restructuring, and one of them is almost sure to find its way out of committee and onto convention floor.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of what’s to come, nor is it anywhere near a full explanation on any one issue, but it is a start. More than likely each of these will have a post of their own as I encounter them in Indiana.
For now, I just need to make a packing list.
This entry was originally posted June 25, 2009 as part of the website “Slouching Towards Anaheim.”
“Don’t stir the pot if you don’t know the recipe.” -Pete Strimer
So far, there are at least 11 resolutions on the subject of Same Sex Blessings and Marriages. All of these resolutions are C Resolutions, meaning they come from a diocese or a group of some kind (as opposed to an individual deputy or bishop). Up until this point, the Episcopal Church has maintained a policy of “never authorized, never prohibited” on the subject. This means that it is up to individual bishops in their own dioceses to decide whether or not to bless same sex marriages. This policy is actually rather fitting with the general attitude of the Episcopal church, which respects the differing opinions of its members.
It should be made clear that there is a difference between blessings of same sex unions and same sex marriages, and there are separate resolutions on each. Resolutions on blessings fall into two categories: 1) resolutions stating that there should be no restrictions on a bishop’s authority to use such rite, and 2) authorizing the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to create such rites. The first would support the policies that have been in place, the second would fully legitimize Episcopal blessings of same sex unions by giving them an official service to conduct.
The marriage resolutions also fall into two similar categories. The first ask for an amendment to the marriage canons, the second ask the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to develop gender-neutral language for the existing marriage rites.
The problem is that currently none of the resolutions for either blessings or marriages ask for changes in the canons AND the prayer book. Having contradictions between the canons and the prayer book would weaken the issue, like telling the police to enforce different laws than are set up in the constitution.
My personal conviction is that the Episcopal Church should establish some form of official same sex marriage rites. However I worry about the politicking that could muddy up the issue. For example, there is not clear consensus as to whether we should be approving the blessing of unions or full inclusion into the sacrament of marriage. Obviously the United States has not come to a clear decision, which is certainly part of the problem. How does a couple respond if their state says they should be married and their church says they have a union? It seems like semantics but disregarding such distinctions allows a loophole for “separate but equal” thinking.
A huge part of the problem is the response from the Anglican Communion on the issue. There has been a lot of formal and informal pressure from the Communion in the last several years to slow down, if not stop, actions that would lead to full and equal inclusion of homosexuals into all parts of the church. Many worry that passing these kinds of resolutions at this time would show a disregard for our Anglican sisters and brothers, and further “strain the bonds of affection” between us. The painful fact is that for the Episcopal Church, there are consequences to approving any sort of homosexual unions or marriages. I believe this is a huge part of why we do not have any sort of united front on this issues, and why the proposed resolutions seem incomplete and contradictory.
Hopefully, by the time these resolutions get out of committee and onto the convention floor they will have been combined into a clearer, more complete resolution. The likelihood of that resolution getting approved is still slim, both because of theological differences in the church and concern over the reactions in the Anglican Communion.
I agree that we should show understanding towards the other Anglican churches who oppose homosexuality, but I also believe that if “understanding” means denying rights and sacraments to any of God’s children out of fear than this is not a communion but an oligarchy. For now, I think we are just bidding time, waiting for more people to come around and for the decision to be made easier. It is possible that this is how this must be done: carefully, slowly, and methodically. After all, if we do something drastic enough to cut ourselves off from the Anglican Communion, we will have ended all conversation on the issue, and I do not think that is healthy for either side.