Bishop C. Andrew Doyle

The Diocese of Texas has removed a canon that said its clergy “are to abstain from sexual relations outside Holy Matrimony” and defined matrimony as “the physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman.”

The diocese’s 167th Annual Council, meeting Feb. 12-13, removed Canon 43 at the urging of the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, Bishop of Texas since 2009. The diocese had adopted the canon in 1997.

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Much has changed in even in the past year, as the U.S. Supreme Court has declared marriage for same-sex couples a constitutional right and the Episcopal Church’s General Convention authorizing wedding rites for same-sex couples.

Bishop Doyle said in his address to the council that Canon 43 has caused regular conflicts since its adoption, and that he has worked to defuse those fights.

“In 2012, having worked for over three years, we came up with a Unity and Mission document,” Doyle said of a 124-page document, Unity in Mission: A Paper on Common Mission and the Challenge Posed by Division [PDF]. That document authorized congregations to extend blessings to same-sex couples.

Canon 43

Moral Discipline

Section 43.1 Obligation

All members of the clergy, having subscribed to the Declaration required by Article VIII of the Constitution of the Episcopal Church, shall be under obligation to model in their own lives the received teaching of the Church that all of its members are to abstain from sexual relations outside Holy Matrimony.

Section 43.2 Definitions

As used in this Diocese, Holy Matrimony shall mean the physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman, entered into within the community of faith, by mutual consent of the heart, mind, and will, and with intent that it be lifelong; and the moral qualifications of a person, as that term is used in the Canons of the Episcopal Church, shall include conformity to the obligation set forth in Section 43.1 hereof.

“This unity in mission held our diocese together, protected the variety of different worldviews, and moved us to the center stage in our communion as a place where liberals and conservatives had managed to work together on mission,” Doyle said.

Leading conservatives in the diocese supported Unity in Mission. An appendix of the document included a question and answer: “Will gay and lesbian clergy in the Diocese of Texas be permitted to have their same-gender relationships blessed? No, in the Diocese of Texas we have Canon 43, which keeps the diocese from allowing clergy in same-gender partnerships to be deployed as priests-in-charge in the diocese.”

Nineteen Communion Partner priests within the diocese issued a statement that affirmed their loyalty to Bishop Doyle but called on the council not to strike Canon 43.

“While we do understand and affirm the need for a comprehensive revision of our Diocesan Canons, we must dissent from any change that excludes or deletes Canon 43, also known as the ‘Moral Canon,’” the statement said.

“In a time of changing views on traditional marriage and sexual mores, we feel removing Canon 43 will send the message to those we are called to serve, that our Diocese is abandoning in part, or in full, the Biblical teaching on marriage; as traditionally understood by Christians, and as summed up in the words of the Book of Common Prayer.”

The Rev. Russell Levenson, rector of St. Martin’s, Houston, read the statement aloud during the council meeting, with Bishop Doyle’s permission.

Doyle thanked the Communion Partner clergy for their statement, and distributed a copy within the transcript of his council address.

“I really want to thank — not just Russ, but the other authors of such a thoughtful and, quite honestly, prayer-soaked statement,” Doyle said. “Thank you for your support of me, thank you for understanding how important the reordering of the constitution is and the importance of parishes to be able to chose their own rector. Thank you also for your continued commitment in time, treasure, and talent to this diocese and the mission of Christ in Texas.”

The council approved Bishop Doyle’s recommendation by a supermajority of 77 percent.

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Communion Partners statement

Diocese of Texas Annual Council

As clergy serving the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, we support the leadership of our Bishop, The Right Reverend C. Andrew Doyle, and we take seriously the necessity to work shoulder to shoulder with our fellow presbyters and all Episcopalians in our Diocese toward the cause of serving the mission and ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

While we do understand and affirm the need for a comprehensive revision of our Diocesan Canons, we must dissent from any change that excludes or deletes Canon 43, also known as the “Moral Canon.”

In a time of changing views on traditional marriage and sexual mores, we feel removing Canon 43 will send the message to those we are called to serve, that our Diocese is abandoning in part, or in full, the Biblical teaching on marriage; as traditionally understood by Christians, and as summed up in the words of the Book of Common Prayer:

“The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored by all people.

The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord” (BCP, p. 423)

The nature, purpose, and meaning of marriage are linked to the relationship of man and woman. The promises and vows of marriage presuppose husband and wife as the partners who are made one flesh in marriage. This understanding is a reasonable one, as well as in accord with Holy Scripture and Christian Tradition in their teaching about marriage.

When we were ordained as clergy in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, we vowed to “be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them” (BCP, p. 526). We renew that promise; and in light of the actions of the 78th General Convention sanctioning same-gender marriage, the 167th Diocesan Council of the Diocese of Texas which includes a proposal to remove Canon 43, and of our own deep pastoral and theological convictions, we pledge ourselves to:

  • “Maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). The bonds created in baptism are indissoluble, and we share one bread and one cup in the Eucharist. We are committed to the Church’s unity, even in the midst of painful disagreement.
  • “Speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). We are deeply disheartened that the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Texas have chosen to extend the sacramental rite of marriage to same-gender couples; however, when we disagree with the Church’s actions, we will do so openly and transparently and – with the Spirit’s help – charitably. We are grateful that Resolution A054 of the 78th General Convention which includes provision for bishops and priests to exercise their conscience regarding the sacraments of marriage without fear of discipline or penalty. We are grateful for the pastoral oversight of our Bishop who has affirmed the same. In this season in which the tensions over these difficult matters may grow within our Communion, we pray for the grace to be clear about our convictions and to love brothers and sisters with whom we disagree.
  • “Welcome one another . . . just as Christ has welcomed [us]” (Rom. 15:7). Our commitment to the Church includes a commitment to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. We will continue to walk with them, pray with and for them, and seek ways to engage in pastoral conversation. We rejoice that Jesus’ embrace includes all of us.

We are mindful that the decisions of the 78th General Convention, or the actions of this Council, do not take place in isolation. The Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion. We remain committed to that Communion and to the historic See of Canterbury, and we will continue to honor the parameters and principles of Lambeth 1.10 and those outlined the Windsor Report and affirmed by the Instruments of Communion.

Submitted by:

  • The Rev. Howard Castleberry, Christ Church, Nacogdoches
  • The Rev. Stuart Bates, St. Frances, Houston
  • The Rev. Bob Wismer, St. Frances, Houston
  • The Rev. David Luckenbach, Christ Church, Tyler
  • The Rev. Clay Lein, St. John the Divine, Houston
  • The Rev. Doug Richnow, St. John the Divine, Houston
  • The Rev. Darrel Proffitt, Holy Apostles, Katy
  • The Rev. John Himes, Trinity, Marshall
  • The Rev. Russell Levenson, St. Martin’s, Houston
  • The Rev. Robert Wareing, St. Martin’s
  • The Rev. Nick Dyke, St. Martin’s
  • The Rev. Scott Thompson, Holy Cross, Sugar Land
  • The Rev. Bill Laucher, St. Alban’s, Houston
  • The Rev. Ted Smith, St. Stephen’s, Liberty
  • The Rev. David Browder, St. Thomas’, Houston
  • The Rev. Geoff Gwynne, Good Shepherd, Friendswood
  • The Rev. Stuart Shelby, St. Richards, Round Rock
  • The Rev. Ted Welty, St. Philip’s, Palestine
  • The Rev. Michael Wyckoff, St. Luke’s, Austin

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