By Kirk Petersen

A proposed compromise on same-sex marriage has met a skeptical reception from some of the proponents of Resolution A085, which seeks to force bishops throughout the church to permit same-sex marriages in their dioceses. The resolution also calls for adding the liturgies to the Book of Common Prayer — a particular sticking point for some on both sides of the disagreement.

Same-sex liturgies were introduced for trial use at the 2015 General Convention, but only with the consent of the local bishop. Bishops for 93 dioceses gave consent, while eight did not.

Five of the eight dissenting bishops have now signed a pledge to support a compromise proposal submitted by three bishops late last week. Resolution B012 would provide Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight from another bishop in the church to priests in the eight dioceses who want to perform same-sex marriages. The House of Bishops established a DEPO process in March 2004 in connection with the looming schism touched off by the consecration of an openly gay bishop in 2003.

B012 was proposed June 28 by three bishops who already permit same-sex marriages: Long Island Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, Pittsburgh Bishop Dorsey McConnell and Rhode Island Bishop Nicholas Knisely.

Under B012, there would be no change to the prayer book.

Members of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, which developed A085 as part of a three-year study launched after the 2015 General Convention, quickly objected to the proposed compromise.

Joan Geiszler-Ludlum, a deputy from East Carolina who chaired the task force, said in a statement: “Resolution B012 offers open-ended trial use without any eventual amendment of the Book of Common Prayer. Providing the liturgies for marriage for trial use in this manner relegates the liturgies for marriages of same-sex couples to perpetual second-class status.”

“I think there is some genuine well-intended effort behind this resolution, but I think it is limited in scope and effectiveness,” said the Rt. Rev. Thomas Ely, Bishop of Vermont, who also served on the task force.

The Rev. Canon Susan Russell, a task force member and longtime LGBT activist, said on her blog that “B012 is a well-intentioned but badly framed effort at compromise that creates more problems than it solves. … We can do better.”

In a subsequent post on Facebook, she asked: “How is B012 a ‘compromise’ when what the bishops are doing is agreeing to do what they were already charged to do (and have steadfastly refused) in 2015-A054 … provide access for all couples … and in return we agree to consign marriage for same-sex couples to perpetual second-class trial use status? Am I missing something?”

The eight bishops who have not authorized same-sex marriages in their dioceses are:

  • Albany Bishop William Love
  • Central Florida Bishop Greg Brewer
  • Dallas Bishop George Sumner
  • Florida Bishop John Howard
  • North Dakota Bishop Michael Smith
  • Springfield Bishop Dan Martins
  • Tennessee Bishop John Bauerschmidt
  • Virgin Islands Bishop Ambrose Gumbs

Of those, Bishops Bauerschmidt, Brewer, Martins, Smith, and Sumner signed a statement promising that if B012 is passed, they would entrust congregations that wish to perform same-sex marriages “to the care of other bishops in the Episcopal Church with whom we remain united in baptism.”

Bishops Gumbs, Howard, and Love did not sign the document, and could not be reached for comment.

In an interview with TLC, Provenzano discussed the aims of the working group that developed B012 during the past several months. “We were trying to deliver a way forward for the whole church” by bringing together people of differing opinions, he said.

One of the people in the small working group in the past several months was Christopher Wells, editor of TLC and executive director of the foundation that publishes TLC.

Provenzano, who described himself as “one of the most liberal bishops in the church,” said “having someone like Christopher in the room was very helpful, because it helped make some connections that we otherwise may have stepped over.” Bishops Bauerschmidt and Martins both serve on the foundation’s eight-member board of directors — Bauerschmidt as president and Martins as secretary.

“I’ve made it a vocation to sustain relationships with folks on all sides of these questions,” Wells said. “The conservatives don’t have any power anymore, so we just are putting this out there as a proposal, recognizing that we are theological minorities.”

Provenzano’s involvement demonstrates that there are more than just two sides to the debate about same-sex marriage rites. He strongly supports same-sex marriage, and on the evening that such marriages became legal in New York, he gave permission to the priests in the Diocese of Long Island to begin preparing same-sex couples for wedding ceremonies.

Yet he is strongly opposed to changing the prayer book at this time, in this way. If the church proceeds with the “cafeteria-style” changes to the prayer book envisioned by A085, “clearly we’re going to wind up getting ourselves into a theological and maybe even pastoral quagmire.”

The other provinces of the Anglican Communion are overwhelmingly opposed to the way the Episcopal Church has been charting its course on this matter. In January 2016, the primates suspended TEC from full participation in the Communion for three years. Provenzano said making piecemeal prayer book changes would inflame the conflict and amount to saying, Well, we’ve got it right and we’re moving ahead regardless of our relationship with everybody else.

He believes same-sex marriage rites should be considered as part of the broader movement toward comprehensively revising the Book of Common Prayer. Two resolutions for considering prayer book revisions, A068 and A069, will be debated in the coming days.

Through that process, Provenzano believes, it’s likely that “a revision of the prayer book will happen, and that these rites will be included.”

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