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Conflicting passions

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By Matt Townsend

Same-sex blessings emerged again as a subject of complex and fervent debate July 7, as the Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music heard testimony on a resolution that would authorize such blessings in the Episcopal Church. The hearing on Resolution A049 drew a capacity crowd, with more than 30 Episcopalians sharing their thoughts, concerns and hopes on the issue.

Those testifying discussed the resolution’s potential effects on the growth of the church, its theological nature, its relationship with the Anglican Communion and the time required to discern truth.

Marie Alford-Harkey, alternate deputy from the Diocese of Connecticut, said Resolution A049 is necessary for growth in the church and this issue has been discussed for too long. “If we want to grow, we need to make this so,” she said. “It is time for the Episcopal Church to demonstrate healing and love to the LGBT community.”

Jonathan York, a student from Duke, said many young, gay Christians are watching the church in this moment to see if they will have a church home. “We’re sending a message to them,” he said. He supported the resolution, expressing hope that General Convention would tell these young people that they have a place in the church.

Sonya Shannon, deputy from Central Florida, expressed concern about the church alienating parishioners. “I’m here to stand against A049 for what this resolution will do to my church. My children don’t understand now why their friends have already left several years ago. If this passes, I’m afraid they will lose even more friends.”

The Rev. Eric Turner, also from Central Florida, said church and society need to repent of mistreating gay and lesbian people. “But I don’t think that we need to bless the relationships,” the alternate deputy said. “I’m not concerned with what’s going to grow or shrink the church. I think when people argue that this will grow the church or this will shrink the church, it usually says more about that person’s bias … than any kind of statistically dependable analysis. Furthermore, we’re not a secular corporation that is worried about market share.”

Theological Interpretation

Turner cited obedience to Scripture as key in his opposition to the resolution.

Others who testified, such as the Rev. Alex Dyer of Connecticut, said the sanctity of all should be respected. “If we believe that God made me gay, and that’s who I am, then we have no choice but to go forth on this,” he said. “Imagine a conversation where you told somebody that they could not get blessed. We are dealing with real, human people.”

The Rev. Canon Jim Lewis of South Carolina opposed the resolution, saying it is based on flawed theological foundations. “It came from the theological premise that certain positive qualities found in same-gender relationships make them functionally equivalent to marriage, and thus worthy of blessing,” he said. “Specific examples that could be given — incest, polygamy, or polyamory — should actively demonstrate the failure of such reasoning.”

The Rev. Michael Burke, deputy from Alaska, said same-sex couples are helped by the gospel and are supported by the grace of God meditated through the faith community. “It is only their steadfast faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ that has given them the strength … to endure,” he said.

Effects on Anglican Communion

Several meeting attendees addressed the effects of A049 on the Anglican Communion.

A visitor from Tanzania, the Rev. Mote Magomba, spoke in favor of the resolution. “Each church needs context, whether it is in the West or in Africa,” he said. “[The church] everywhere in the world should be able to do whatever is fitting and appropriate for its setting.”

One deputy from the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe said the resolution will harm the global church. “We’re stepping ahead of the Anglican Communion worldwide,” the Rev. Carola von Wrangle said. “I ask us not to step ahead. I’d ask us to listen to God, the Holy Spirit — not to where the world is going and following the world, but to be a leader to the world.”

The Rev. Danielle Morris of Central Florida expressed concern that this resolution would endanger Episcopalians and Anglicans elsewhere in the world. “I speak against this amendment for one special reason,” Morris said. “We haven’t thought of the global ramifications. We are putting people in jeopardy. Our actions today can have dire consequences in Muslim-majority countries.”

Morris said people live in terror. “Make no mistake, they will be put to death,” she said. “And we will have blood on our own hands.”

T.J. Geiger, a visitor from Central New York, responded directly to her concerns. “People are already dying. LGBT youth, LGBT couples are dying. They’re being killed by hate crimes. They’re taking their own lives.” Geiger said the resurrection message of Jesus provides hope for a world transformed and healed.

Time for Discernment?

Some who testified expressed concern that the church has not discerned same-sex blessings adequately.

The Rev. Sharon Lewis of Southwest Florida opposed the resolution, saying it was more than a pastoral position. “It is really representing a different definition of marriage,” she said. “It is bringing in a different definition that we have not even had the opportunity to sit down and discuss.”

Michael Coburn of the Diocese of the Rio Grande said he supported this resolution as it reflects his love, life and faith now. “My husband is a 20-year survivor of AIDS,” he said. “Though he is healthy today, neither of us knows how much longer he has. Neither of us knows how much longer I have. We would love to have the same love and support from our church that all of our other friends in our church have.”

Discuss this post at Covenant, the weblog of The Living Church.

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