By Kirk Petersen
After a great deal of discussion on legislative floors, in committee meetings, and behind the scenes, the 79th General Convention reached a compromise on same-sex marriage than enables pastoral delegation on the matter — increasing access to weddings for same-sex couples while maintaining space for conservatives to remain in the church.
The road to compromise was not without bumps and potholes. Efforts began in April after the Task Force for the Study of Marriage, charged by the 78th General Convention to consider expansion of trial-use liturgies for same-sex marriage adopted in 2015, issued its final report. The group drafted Resolution A085, which would have allowed for such liturgies to be used throughout the church, even without the support of the local diocesan bishop. The liturgies would be integrated into the Book of Common Prayer, as well.
A lone voice from the committee issued a minority report expressing concern about this plan and the conservative dioceses it would affect: the Rev. Canon Jordan Hylden, canon theologian for the Diocese of Dallas and a contributing editor of TLC. With talk of dioceses leaving the church, especially some among Province IX, an ad hoc group began seeking a compromise that would eventually become Resolution B012, Marriage Rites for the Whole Church.
The proposed mechanism of compromise: Designated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight, or DEPO, the practice of bringing in a bishop from another diocese to oversee a priest or congregation in conflict with the diocesan bishop. This would allow conservative bishops to hand off pastoral oversight of a parish seeking to use same-sex marriage liturgies to a fellow bishop, and recognize the theological divisions informing the conflict.
Once B012 was released into the wild, talk of A085 was largely abandoned. The awkwardly named Committee to Receive the Report on Resolution A169 — CtRtRoRA169, or “Committee 13” — revised B012 heavily before sending it to the House of Deputies, effectively removing designated oversight. In the first pass July 9, deputies passed a floor-amended version 96-10 in the clergy order and 97-8 in the lay order. The amendment was moved by Deputy Christopher Hayes, chancellor of the Diocese of California, and restored B012 closer to its original form, with an element of designated oversight restored.
The day after, the House of Bishops overwhelmingly passed the amended Resolution B012, which says that a bishop who holds “a theological position that does not embrace marriage for same-sex couples … shall invite, as necessary, another bishop of this Church to provide pastoral support to the couple, the Member of the Clergy involved, and the congregation or worshipping community in order to fulfill the intention of this resolution that all couples have convenient and reasonable local congregational access to these rites.”
Because the bishops made an additional amendment to B012, the House of Deputies had to vote on it again. That amendment clarified that rectors and priests in charge have the authority to disallow same-sex marriages in their own churches. All versions of resolutions on same-sex marriage have restated the canonical right of any priest to decline to participate in any marriage ceremony for any reason.
On July 13, the final day of convention, deputies concurred with the House of Bishops, 99-3 in the clergy order and 101-5 in the lay order — margins even more lopsided than the previous vote.
The original version of B012 emerged from discussions between liberal and conservative bishops that were brokered by Christopher Wells, editor of TLC and executive director of its foundation. Bishop Lawrence Provenzano of Long Island, one of the sponsors of B012, has described himself as one of the most liberal bishops in the church. He told TLC that Wells “helped build the platform of trust.”
“Sitting in a conference room in the Mercer School of Theology in Garden City was Christopher, Greg Brewer, and Larry Provenzano. You couldn’t get those three people in a room. And John Bauerschmidt was linked in,” among others, Provenzano said. Brewer is Bishop of Central Florida and Bauerschmidt is Bishop of Tennessee. Both are among the eight Communion Partner bishops who have declined to authorize same-sex marriage rites in their dioceses.
“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.”
The final version of B012 threaded a lot of needles, to the satisfaction of many advocates on both sides. But as with all compromises in the church, especially on a hot-button issue like same-sex marriage, B012 did not meet with universal acclaim.
LGBT people and their allies ensured that same-sex marriage rites will be available in every diocese where such marriages are allowed by civil law. They were unsuccessful in adding the rites to the Book of Common Prayer, which left some complaining on social media about being “second-class citizens.”
Conservatives were horrified by the idea of enshrining the rites in the prayer book. Bishop Daniel Martins of Springfield has said that including same-sex marriage rites in the prayer book would cross the line from erroneous practice to heresy. The rites will be considered in deliberations about prayer book revision, but any such revision has been taken off the fast track.
The Rev. Susan Russell, a longtime LGBT activist, backed the compromise. “I was vociferously critical of B012 as it was originally drafted,” she said, because it “fell dramatically short of providing the kind of access we wanted for couples in dioceses. The amended version, for me, solved that.”
She was unfazed by the last-minute amendment that clarified the prerogatives of rectors. “That’s canonical — whether we like it or not, that’s how the church works,” she said, adding that rectors have broad authority, and could forbid political rallies or any kind of activism in a congregation’s building. The new language “is not separate but unequal, it is inherently the same.”
Albany Bishop William Love, who passionately but unsuccessfully urged the House of Bishops to stop the advance of same-sex marriage rites into all dioceses, said he has no plans to leave the Episcopal Church. Love’s anguished afternoon presentation July 11 raised concerns about further division in the church, which has seen tens of thousands of members and tens of millions of dollars lost to infighting and litigation since an openly gay bishop was consecrated in 2003.
In an exclusive interview with TLC, Love said, “I have not sensed that the Lord is calling me to leave the church. What I have sensed the Lord calling me to do thus far is to remain where I am, and continue to speak the truth as best I understand it, in as loving a way as I can, and just try to be an instrument through which He can work, in this time of confusion for the Episcopal Church.”
Love welcomed the final version of B012, but said, “I don’t believe we’ve done the clergy a favor by this.” He added that “up until now, the clergy in the diocese could actually use the bishop as the excuse as to why they can’t go along with or approve a request for a same-sex marriage in their parish.”
Now, he explained, clergy with traditional views on marriage will have to draw that line themselves. Love estimated that 80 percent of the 117 congregations in the Diocese of Albany hold traditional views, while 20 percent are “more in line with where the rest of the church is.”
In addition to the question of clerical choice, there was much debate behind the scenes about the concept of DEPO.
Wells described the final language of B012 as “DEPO by another name.”
Hayes, the deputy who introduced the language, had previously denied that it was the same as DEPO. He said DEPO was intended for situations involving a “broken relationship” between a bishop and a priest, whereas B012 envisions bishops and priests continuing their relationships in every way except on same-sex marriage.
Martins, another of the eight Communion Partner bishops, said he found the language of B012 “to be sufficiently broad as to be able to find something like DEPO in it, even though we’re not using that term.” In the debate on the floor, Martins spoke in favor of the version that Love voted against. He said the compromise allows conservative bishops to continue in their roles as chief liturgical teachers in their dioceses, and to avoid direct involvement in same-sex marriage.
In addition to Bauerschmidt, Brewer, Love, and Martins, the bishops who have forbidden the use of same-sex marriage rites in their dioceses are Ambrose Gumbs of the Virgin Islands; John Howard of Florida; Michael Smith of North Dakota; and George Sumner of Dallas.
Both legislative houses also passed Resolution A227, Communion Across Difference, establishing a task force to “seek a lasting path forward for mutual flourishing” among proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage.
The long-term success of B012 may depend in part on whether all parties adhere to the spirit of its provisions. The phrase “shall invite, as necessary” implies a judgment call on what is necessary.
Love said he did not know exactly how he would respond to the provisions of B012. “I need some time to think and pray, to consult with the standing committee and get a clear sense of how we might best move forward.”
He said he would not change his belief that sexual intimacy is only appropriate within the marriage of a man and a woman. “Whether it’s diocesan canons or church canons, I would argue that God’s word trumps all of the above,” he said.
Russell acknowledged that no minds are likely to change on that core issue. “We live with that tension, because we’re Anglicans,” she said. “And for some of us, that’s why we’re Anglicans, because we want to hold that tension together.”
She expressed hope that, after General Convention, “We can stick a fork in the inclusion wars and move on with being the Jesus Movement.”