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Bishops: a provisional yes

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By Joe Thoma

The House of Bishops authorized a provisional rite July 9 for blessing same-sex relationships. The vote was 111 to 41, with three bishops abstaining. Resolution A049 asks General Convention to authorize the liturgy for provisional use, which replaces the word trial.

The resolution, which proceeds to the House of Deputies July 10 for debate and voting, also calls for a review of provisional use before the next General Convention in 2015.

“This is clearly a work in process, and there is a place in that process for all Episcopalians, whether or not they agree with the action we are taking today,” said the Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music’s report accompanying the resolution.

But most people who have spoken publicly about the resolution consider it more than provisional, and say it plainly authorizes same-sex blessings in the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Gregory Brewer, Central Florida, spoke against the measure at the bishops’ meeting July 9.

He said that he has heard from close friends, Anglicans who live in totalitarian countries, who say that they fear retaliation for being associated with the Episcopal Church’s policies on marriage and sexuality.

“These decisions could be catastrophic for them, and I have to oppose the resolution,” Bishop Brewer said.

One member of the committee, the Very Rev. David Thurlow of the Diocese of South Carolina, submitted a minority report recommending rejection of the resolution.

“Whereas, for two thousand years the Church has had clear teaching regarding Christian marriage and Biblical norms of sexual behavior; and has upheld a standard consistent with God’s Word as taught by Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,” he wrote.

Thurlow added: “And whereas, through previous statements and resolutions the Church has pledged itself not to make any change to this traditional teaching until such time as the Provinces of the Anglican Communion and other ecumenical partners have reached a consensus on the subject in accordance with Holy Scripture and guidance of the Holy Spirit;

“And whereas, Resolution A049 is a clear break and departure from ‘the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them’ (BCP, p. 526) introducing and acting upon a new theology of human sexuality inconsistent with the clear teaching of Scripture, the Book of Common Prayer, the Constitution & Canons of The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion and the wider Church,

I recommend rejection of this resolution.”

The resolution would authorize using “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” from ‘Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing’ beginning the First Sunday of Advent 2012, under the direction and subject to the permission of the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority.”

Bishop Thomas Ely, Vermont, episcopal co-chairman of the committee, introduced the resolution and said it allows for wide local interpretations. The resolution does not make the rites mandatory, but leaves it up to each diocesan bishop to implement them, adapt them for local use or not use them at all.

“That will mean different things in different locales,” Bishop Ely said. “There is a place in this process for every Episcopalian regardless of their level of support for the material. Read it, digest it, reflect upon it, use it, but please don’t ignore it.”

The Rt. Rev. John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee, asked that the vote on A049 be taken by roll call, then spoke against the resolution.

“I speak in opposition to Resolution A049 for a number of reasons, but most specifically on this account: I think it is reasonable to believe that exclusive and lifelong fidelity to one other person is predicated on sexual difference, on the fact that there is but one ‘other’ sex. When our Lord Jesus Christ commends lifelong fidelity to one person, in Mark’s Gospel (10:1-12), he appeals to the story of the creation of our first parents. In other words, the basis for monogamous relationship is sexual difference itself. There is one ‘other’ sex. One wife espouses one husband; one husband espouses one wife. Genesis provides the scriptural warrant. What sure warrant of Holy Scripture is there for requiring this form of exclusive and lifelong fidelity for two people of the same sex? I think this liturgy does not have sufficient basis in either Scripture, Tradition, or Reason for us to authorize its use.”

The Rt. Rev. Edward Little II, Bishop of Northern Indiana, asked the bishops to defeat the resolution.

“This will put us out of the Christian mainstream,” Bishop Little said. “The Christian world is going to understand us as having changed the nature of the sacrament of holy matrimony,” he said. “The Christian world will look at that liturgy world and see vows, and exchange of rings, a pronouncement and a blessing and they will understand that to mean the Episcopal Church has endorsed same-sex marriage and changed a basic Christian doctrine. I do not believe that we are free to do that.”

“To head down this path of legislation is simply not necessary,” said the Rt. Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard, Bishop of Florida, because such blessings were already taking place in the church as a pastoral response.

But the Rt. Rev. Nathan Baxter, Bishop of Central Pennsylvania, said the measure will encourage people in his diocese to learn about their diverse neighbors.

Many in Baxter’s diocese disagree with the Episcopal Church’s move to create the rites, he said. “And in my case many, many African American pastors are upset with me. But I really believe this is God’s call to us to continue the conversation as we go forward.”

The Rt. Rev. Bill Love, Bishop of Albany, said that the resolution’s passage, plus the defeat of the Anglican Covenant and reduced giving to the Anglican Communion, would be a “triple whammy” to the Episcopal Church’s position in the Communion.

The Rt. Rev. Leo Frade, Bishop of Southeast Florida, supported the resolution. “People will say that Hispanics will be upset with this vote,” he said. “But we have gay children, uncles and friends. Please do not generalize that Hispanics will run from the Episcopal Church” because of this vote.

The Rt. Rev. Duncan Gray III, Bishop of Mississippi, said he would not authorize the provisional rite in his diocese, but that it probably will be adopted General Convention.

“I know I see through a glass darkly,” he said, asking that people who are for the rites “walk beyond this vote with a sense of humility and less of a triumphant note.”

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