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After the Bp. Love Trial: Does the Episcopal Church Welcome Us?

By Jordan Hylden

As vocations director in the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, I talk with a lot of young people discerning a call to ordained ministry. Very often, they’re evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail, having discovered gifts God bestowed on the universal Church in our liturgy, sacraments, and order that were lacking in the traditions of their upbringing. It’s easy to see that the gifts these young people bring to the Episcopal Church (TEC) include a deep love for and knowledge of Scripture, gratitude for the life-transforming, atoning work of Christ, and zeal to proclaim the Gospel to all peoples and nations.

When talking with me, they often want to know: Can I have all of these gifts at the same time? Can I fall in love with the prayer book and the Eucharist without leaving behind what was best in the evangelicalism that introduced me to Jesus? In a hundred different ways, I try to tell them: Yes, you can! That’s what happened to me when I became Episcopalian, I don’t regret it for a second, and there’s room for you here, too.

The conversation often turns to whether or not there is actually room for them in this church. If their Canterbury Trail took them through the Anglican Church in North America, they likely will have friends and mentors who genuinely believe that there isn’t room for them in the Episcopal Church, and so they come to me with questions that I wish weren’t so difficult to answer. Lately, those questions have revolved around the trial and resignation of Bishop Love of the Diocese of Albany.

I believe that their questions have answers. There is room for theologically traditional evangelicals and catholics in TEC, and the last General Convention charted a course for finding a “lasting path” forward for us in the church. Many of us are linked together in the Communion Partners movement, not only with one another in TEC but also with Canterbury and the wider Anglican Communion. If I didn’t think that their questions had good answers, I couldn’t in good conscience do my job as vocations director. I admit, though, I sometimes wish that my church didn’t give me so many opportunities to answer these kinds of questions.

Of course, there is no perfect church (see Ephraim Radner), only different varieties of sinners being saved by God’s amazing grace, elect from every nation and one o’er all the earth, even while scattered, divided, and chastened like the people of Israel into whom we have been grafted. Other churches — say, ACNA or the Roman Catholic Church — pose their own set of questions to answer, arguably questions that are at least as difficult to answer as our own. In that spirit, I thought it might be useful to write down my answers to some frequently asked questions that I’ve been receiving about the Bp. Love trial. (Some of what follows gets lengthy and technical, since much of it consists of my analysis of the hearing panel’s ruling against Bp. Love. I encourage you, dear reader, to skip around to the questions that matter to you!)

  1. Did Resolution B012 revise the Book of Common Prayer to include rites for same-sex marriage?

No. This is a misconception encouraged by the hearing panel that ruled against Bp. Love, but the ruling itself was inconsistent on this point. Bishops McConnell and Provenzano, two of the proposers of B012, helpfully clarified this point recently in an important, public statement:

In its initial summary, the report describes B012 as properly constituted and passed as an authorized revision to the BCP as expressly provided for in Constitution Article X (b). (Report, p.3). B012 did not revise the Prayer Book. B012 merely set the terms for the trial use of the liturgies in question as specified in Article 10. Indeed, later in its report, the Panel concludes that Resolution B012 was properly passed as a proposed revision to the BCP. (Report, p.41). This is correct. The wording of the summary should be understood in the light of the later wording, that B012 established a proposed revision, not a revision per se.

My assumption is that whoever wrote the executive summary of the hearing panel’s ruling was a bit sloppy, and simply wrote in a way that elided key concepts that are in reality very different. TEC’s constitution has an extensive process for revising the BCP, which takes at least two conventions. In 2018, all General Convention did was authorize “trial use” liturgies, which may in theory be authorized at some future date as revisions to the BCP, but also may not. In truth, the trial use canon was used in 2018 not because General Convention was ready to authorize rites for same-sex marriage as revisions to the BCP; that was proposed by the Task Force for the Study of Marriage, but voted down. Rather, the trial use canon provided in this case a secure constitutional place for rites that could be available in all dioceses where civil law allowed. Moreover, it allowed General Convention to set “terms and conditions” for their use that gave latitude for theologically traditional dioceses, bishops, clergy, and congregations that did not wish to practice same-sex marriage.

  1. Did Resolution B012 require the use of rites for same-sex marriage in every congregation?

No. Again, this is a misconception encouraged by the hearing panel, but Bishops McConnell and Provenzano provide the needed correction:

The panel states that B012 requires Rectors or Clergy in charge to make provision for same-sex couples, where civil law allows, to use the liturgies in their local congregation or worshipping community. (Report, p.11). In support of its interpretation the panel cites the seventh resolve of the resolution:

Resolved, That under the canonical direction of the Rector or Member of the Clergy in charge and where permitted to do so by civil law, provision will be made for all couples desiring to use these marriage liturgies in their local congregation or worshipping community, provided that nothing in this Resolve narrows the authority of the Rector or Priest-in-Charge (Canon III.9.6(a)). (Emphasis is ours.)

Many will recall that this particular resolve was originally put forward by members of Committee 13 who also had served on the Task Force on Marriage, though without the final clause. That language was added in consultation with the Presiding Bishop’s chancellors to make clear that the General Convention was not abrogating the final authority of rectors to decide what liturgies could or could not take place within their churches.

Bishop George Sumner of Dallas described what B012 accomplished as the declaration of “the truce of God”:

As your bishop, I declare to you the Truce of God! If you forget all the details of our working out of the arrangement based on Resolution B012, remember this: the time has come for the Truce of God. Many on both sides have some wound, or perceived wrong, or suspicion, or strategy of advantage. Each of us must lay these down, not the other, but you and I. I am not calling on you to lay down your theological commitments, no: I think our Church needs more theological seriousness, not less. I am saying that we need, with God’s help, as Churchmen and women, to find a way for us to live together, in these times, as ‘Communion across Difference.’ A taskforce with this name was created by General Convention to find a way forward together… Before even addressing how theologically, and how practically, we can do this, we need to start, in each of our hearts, with the Truce of God. We need to banish rancor, anger, and fear with the help of God’s grace. We need to pitch our tents in the demilitarized zones around our churches… I am committed to the unity of the Church, the traditional teaching on marriage, and proceeding together with charity and hospitality one with another.

Speaking for myself, I believe that B012 has indeed made “the truce of God” possible in the diocese of Dallas. Any attempt to impose same-sex marriage on every congregation would have proved untenable for most of our leaders, lay and ordained, including the bishop, as a matter of both conscience and settled catholic teaching. On the other hand, our three congregations that moved ahead to offer same-sex marriage after B012 had clearly been in support of such a move for years. And what’s true in Dallas is true as well in several other Communion Partner dioceses around the church.

To be sure, the B012 settlement comes with its own problems, but one of its chief merits is that it lays down the principle that we will no longer impose our views of marriage on one another, neither at a diocesan nor at a congregational level. Yes, we will continue to bear witness to one another, contending for the truth as we discern it under the authority of Scripture and within the discernment of the wider Church catholic. But we will not impose that discernment on a diocese or a congregation that has not come to it for themselves.

  1. Even if the hearing panel’s ruling against Bp. Love is in error, doesn’t it set precedent that the church now needs to follow?

No, not at all. In our polity, hearing panels do not set binding precedent for the rest of the church to follow in their interpretation of canon law. The hearing panel itself notes this, writing that “while the Righter case can always provide guidance to this Panel, hearing panels are not bound by any prior decision of a former Title IV panel or Ecclesiastical Court. This is because the polity of the Church is structured so that our primary source of canon law is legislative action” (Report, 34-35). In other words, General Convention is interpreted authoritatively by General Convention, rather than looking to a Supreme Court (we have no such court) to authoritatively interpret laws passed by Congress.

As such, this ruling applies to the specific matter at hand, but its reasoning and outcome does not set further legal precedent. Should another similar case arise, there is nothing that legally binds a future hearing panel to follow this hearing panel’s precedent. It may very well reach a different outcome, with different reasoning.

While this point applies most directly to other hearing panels in a strictly legal sense, it can be taken by extension to apply more widely. The wider church is under no obligation to regard this hearing panel’s construal of B012 as an authoritative interpretation. Again, Bps. McConnell and Provenzano are simply correct on this point.

  1. Did Bishop Love actually break his ordination vows to be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church?

In a sense, yes, insofar as Bp. Love exceeded his authority as a diocesan bishop under the discipline of the wider church. At the same time, finding someone guilty of breaking the solemn vows they made at ordination is a very serious charge, and I firmly believe that Bp. Love was doing his best to keep the solemn vows he made to God. And, as I’ve written earlier, I agree with the Communion Partner bishops that it at best creates the appearance of bias to have come down on Bp. Love with the full weight of the law for a canon violation in a conservative direction, while many other bishops and clergy who violate canons in a progressive direction are given wide leeway.

That said, I’ll address the three components of the church’s ordination vows one-by-one in some detail.

  • Doctrine

Notably, Bp. Love was not charged with violating the doctrine of the Episcopal Church. Here, it is likely that the higher bar for doctrinal charges in disciplinary matters, in addition to the central place of the BCP in adjudicating doctrine, stayed the hand of the church attorney. The hearing panel’s ruling makes no definitive claim one way or the other with respect to the doctrine of the Episcopal Church on marriage.

However, Bp. Love did claim that the BCP teaching of marriage controls as a matter of doctrine, rendering B012 void (Report, 34ff.). Were this the case, the only option open to the church, by intending to permit the marriage of same-sex couples, would be to revise the BCP. From the opposite viewpoint, the church attorney contended that the revision of Canon I.18 to allow same-sex marriages, along with the authorization of liturgies for same-sex marriages, “had the effect of modernizing Doctrine to include same-sex marriages” (35).

The hearing panel in effect seems to have followed a middle course, although its language is unclear. Instead of agreeing with the church attorney that doctrine has been changed, it argued that Resolution B012 “creates multiple, separate canonical marriage rites for same-sex couples that are not restricted” by the language of the BCP (36). The panel’s argument is that the BCP need not be revised in this case, for its language refers to the marriage rites contained in the BCP, but not to further rites authorized by General Convention. In effect, what we are left with is neither Bp. Love’s argument nor the church attorney’s argument, but instead a historic “memorialized” doctrine of marriage set alongside an extension of that practice by newly authorized liturgies. Two practices are set alongside one another, without excluding one another. General Convention ensured that the new, expanded practice of marriage is available churchwide. At the same time, General Convention memorialized the church’s established prayer book, and protected the continued practice of traditional marriage in dioceses and congregations of our church.

In other words, the church has not changed its doctrine of marriage, but has opened up its practice of marriage to include same-sex couples. Again, General Convention has not understood the church’s received doctrine of marriage to prohibit such an extension of the practice of marriage. Given the recent vintage of the extension and the substantial number of Episcopal communities that continue to teach and practice the traditional view, this is prudent. At present, both progressives and conservatives can rightly claim to be practicing the church’s teaching on marriage, because the church has allowed two construals of the teaching. Conservatives can point to the 1979 prayer book, and progressives can point to changes in canon and liturgies that have been authorized for use in all dioceses by General Convention. Both parties must acknowledge that their view is not the only one extant in the church. Their positions are construals of the church’s doctrine, admittedly in some tension with one another, but for the time being sitting side-by-side in a wider process of reception and debate within the universal Church.

In effect, Bp. Love was incorrect to argue that the BCP rules out the practice of marriage most widespread in TEC, and the church attorney was incorrect to argue that canonical and liturgical revision has produced one new modernized doctrine. Here, the hearing panel’s position is of real merit, although it may not have achieved a high level of clarity in articulation.

  • Discipline

The hearing panel was correct to rule that Bp. Love violated the discipline of the Episcopal Church, since B012 was a resolution setting terms and conditions for a Trial Use rite, as specified by Canon II.3.6a. Here again, I agree with Bps. McConnell and Provenzano. As the ruling correctly points out (and as the Communion Partners’ website argues), this resolution carries with it canonical force, because it specifies the terms and conditions under which this canonically authorized Trial Use rite shall be available in the church.

Significantly, this is not to say that a bishop or priest may be brought up on Title IV charges for violating any resolution of General Convention. General Convention resolutions do not generally speaking carry the force of canon law or BCP rubric, and so failing to follow them does not rise to the level of an offense against the doctrine, discipline, or worship of the church. In Resolution B012, we are met with a very particular kind of resolution that does carry canonical force, unlike many if not most resolutions.

  • Worship

This component of the ordination vow poses a difficult question in the present case, since Canon IV.2 does not specify what the “worship of the Church” consists in, unlike its concise definitions of doctrine and discipline. Arguably, for the purposes of Title IV, our definition of the worship of the church should track closely with our definition of doctrine, keeping to the time-honored principle lex orandi lex credendi. According to Canon IV.2, doctrine is defined as “the basic and essential teachings of the Church and is to be found in the Canon of Holy Scripture as understood in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds and in the sacramental rites, the Ordinal, and Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer.” Notably, this definition does not assume that doctrine can be taken from liturgical texts other than the BCP. Moreover, it limits itself to the “basic and essential teachings of the [universal] Church.”

With this definition as our guide, it would seem reasonable to infer for the purposes of Title IV matters that the “basic and essential” elements of the worship of the Episcopal Church are to be found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. To vow conformity to the worship of the Episcopal Church is then at a basic level simply what Canon IV.1.c requires: “In exercising his or her ministry, a Member of the Clergy shall… conform to the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer.”

In the widest sense, the ordination vows ask whether the candidate will be “loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them” (BCP, 526). The distinction between loyalty to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ, and conformity to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church, is a subtle yet significant one. The ordinal rightly recognizes that the deepest loyalty of our souls is owed to Christ, while the Episcopal Church can only demand our conformity. We can see here a subtle acknowledgement that, as Article XXI professed long ago, a council of the Church is “an assembly of men,” and such councils “may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God” (BCP, 872). Undoubtedly, at this deepest level, no one would or should accuse Bp. Love of being disloyal to the worship of Christ as this church has received it. What is at issue is Bp. Love’s conformity to the worship of the Episcopal Church.

If this analysis of what “worship” means for Title IV purposes is correct, Bp. Love cannot have failed to conform to the worship of the Episcopal Church. He did not break the rubrics or alter the services of the BCP, nor conduct worship according to any service not authorized by the church. While he violated the discipline of the church by issuing a pastoral directive at odds with canons, he should not be judged to have violated the vows he made at ordination to conform to the worship of the church.

It is clearly in the whole church’s best interest to define worship violations in a de minimis fashion, particularly as we are now going through what may be an extended period of bottom-up liturgical experimentation and revision. Such a de minimis course, we should recall, was taken in the Righter trial in its distinction between doctrine and “core doctrine.” The vows made at ordination are solemn indeed; they should not be extended any further than strictly necessary. To find someone guilty of breaking vows made to God is a weighty matter, demanding great caution.

Moreover, extending our definition of what one vows when making the vow of conformity is a dangerous game, insofar as we do in fact intend to “honor the theological diversity of this Church” with respect to marriage. We do not want to create a crisis of conscience at ordination for those who cannot assent to same-sex marriage. Thankfully, the hearing panel is incorrect in its judgment on this score—and, again, does not set precedent on this matter that future ordinands should feel bound to follow.

  1. But isn’t the writing still on the wall? While the hearing panel was technically wrong about some things, doesn’t the result show that what mattered — getting rid of Bp. Love — not due process? Doesn’t all this show that there really isn’t room for theological conservatives in the Episcopal Church?

In my experience, this is the emotional core of the questions that I get from young evangelicals. Canonical hair-splitting aside, the deeper question really is: Is this a church that actually wants me?

Here, my honest answer is: Yes, on the whole, I think that what the signs say are true: “the Episcopal Church welcomes you!” At the last two General Conventions, the Episcopal Church has acted in a “both/and” manner. It both moved forward with the inclusion of same-sex married couples, and did its level best to include theologically traditional Episcopalians who want to go on believing and practicing what their church has always taught.

Resolution A227, which created the Task Force on Communion across Difference (on which I serve), asked the church to

seek a lasting path forward for mutual flourishing consistent with this Church’s polity and the 2015 “Communion across Difference” statement of the House of Bishops, affirming (1) the clear decision of General Convention that Christian marriage is a covenant open to two people of the same sex or of the opposite sex, (2) General Convention’s firm commitment to make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have access to authorized liturgies; and also affirming (3) the indispensable place that the minority who hold to this Church’s historic teaching on marriage have in our common life, whose witness our Church needs.

Notably, the last of these points was taken from a unanimous “mind of the house” resolution of the House of Bishops in 2015. Much of the rest of the language of the resolution mirrors the “Five Guiding Principles” settlement of the Church of England, in which it was both acknowledged that the church had come to a clear decision to begin ordaining women to the episcopate and that those who did not agree with this move would have a lasting place in the church. Like the Church of England, the 2018 General Convention made a clear decision without de-churching those communities that disagreed with it and set “mutual flourishing” as our shared goal for the path forward.

Other key actions of the 2018 General Convention fit with the foregoing. The convention “memorialized” the 1979 BCP (in Resolution A068), ensuring its continued use. And the convention had the option of revising the BCP’s marriage rites; this had been the proposal of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage (on which I served as the lone theologically traditional voice; see my dissenting minority report). It chose, however, to go in another direction, in order, I believe, to remain an authentically “big-tent” church.

In general, this remains the sense of TEC on the whole, and all the more as one encounters the everyday life of dioceses and parishes. It’s the sense of our presiding bishop, Michael Curry, and the sense of many other bishops besides—like Andrew Waldo of Upper South Carolina, who some years ago convened a task force to seek mutual flourishing among theological progressives and conservatives in that diocese.

Admittedly, this isn’t the view of everyone in TEC. I am not confident that some dioceses would provide the young evangelicals who come to Dallas with a pathway to ordained ministry. I find this regrettable. But for some, the traditional view of marriage is analogous to racism, and as such there should be no more room for it in the church than there should be room for racism. For my part, I think that it is fairly difficult to hold that the majority position of the Anglican Communion is morally analogous to racism, especially given that most of those who hold it are people of color from the Global South. That said, I recognize that there are people who hold this view in good faith, and have a difficult time imagining how the church of Jesus Christ could be any other way.

It is difficult to imagine how that position, if it were the majority position of TEC, could coexist with the continued flourishing of theological conservatives on marriage. But as I have indicated, I do not think that it is by and large actually the majority view of TEC. Rather, it seems to me that the majority position of TEC is something like that of the diocese of Texas: corporately committed to marriage access for same-sex couples, but also genuinely committed to the flourishing of the many theologically traditional congregations in that diocese that do not practice same-sex marriage. Applying the analogy to TEC as a whole, this would apply not only to congregations but also to the fairly small but meaningful number of dioceses that remain corporately committed to the traditional teaching and practice of marriage.

We will, to be sure, still need to do a fair amount of work to build the “lasting path forward” toward “mutual flourishing” that A227 called us to as a church. Speaking as a member of the Task Force on Communion across Difference, I am encouraged by the report that we have just completed, which will be published shortly. On the whole, I think that the will exists to keep on moving in the pluralized manner that General Convention has proposed. By God’s grace, we will be able to do so all together, however duly differentiated in some ways.

  1. If I join TEC, will I be isolated in my theological convictions? Will I be a lonely voice crying out in the wilderness, or is there anyone to support me and back me up?

You will not be alone. Since I entered seminary thirteen years ago, what I’ve found is a lively fellowship of like-minded partners in ministry who have become lifelong friends. I’ve found them here, in the group of writers associated with Covenant and The Living Church; and I’ve also found them in the Communion Partners movement, a fellowship of dioceses, congregations, and individuals throughout North America that is about the same size as ACNA, but within TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada instead of outside of it.

Three successive Archbishops of Canterbury have commended and encouraged us. This leads me to think that we’re both providing a faithful way forward for theological conservatives within our provinces and serving as bridges to the Communion for the provinces themselves. When Archbishop Welby preached at our RADVO conference in 2018, he remarked that “I’m so grateful for the Communion Partners… because you have continued to be fully part of our wounded Communion, with its many struggles, over serious matters. But your full communion with Canterbury is a model for all of recognizing that we are one by vocation not by choice; that we belong to one another because of God’s sovereign and gracious action, not because we choose to be one.”

The 2015 “Communion across Difference” statement of the TEC House of Bishops affirmed: “We give particular thanks for the steadfast witness of our colleagues in the Communion Partners. We value and rely on their commitment to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. We recognize that theirs is a minority voice in the House of Bishops in our deliberations with respect to Christian marriage; and we affirm that despite our differences they are an indispensable part of who we are as the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church. Our church needs their witness.”

I carry around no assumption that my more progressive brothers and sisters in TEC aren’t Christian, nor that our differences are so vast that we can’t coexist in the same church while we discern God’s will together. Instead, though our relationships are indeed strained in some ways, there are all kinds of concrete ways that I’ve been able to rejoice in the common bonds we share in Christ and as fellow Episcopalians. I also do not assume that we Communion Partners are the only Episcopalians who care about partnership with the Anglican Communion; I know that many others care. That said, I think that partnership in any Anglican Communion worthy of the name, to say nothing of discerning God’s will, should commit us to the kind of cross-cultural, multinational consultation and decision-making that The Windsor Report and the Anglican Covenant called us to.

Within the Episcopal Church, I agree with my bishop’s recent suggestion that we have a vocation of memory, reminding our more progressive brethren of the witness of our shared doctrinal inheritance and of our global family and its proper bonds and claims. We also, as he always says, have a vocation of friendship and solidarity with those of our brothers and sisters in TEC with whom we disagree on significant theological matters. In a deeply divided and angry USA, this is no small thing. We are committed to the path of shared life instead of separation, and therefore we go on talking and walking with one another, even at a distance, praying for each other, examining ourselves, and by God’s grace repenting on the way to reconciliation.

It’s hard to squeeze all this into a phone call with a young evangelical on the Canterbury Trail, hence my writing all this down. It will be easier from now on to say, “Hey, great questions! Go and read my 5,000-word essay and call me back tomorrow.”

In all seriousness, I’ve arrived at the foregoing after more than a decade of active engagement in TEC — since my days as a young whippersnapper when I came across books by George Sumner, Philip Turner, and Ephraim Radner, and began writing for First Things. There have been times when I’ve seriously wondered whether or not there was place for me. I’ve had to ask myself some of the above questions, more than once. But even more now, I think the basic answer to the questions I was asking as a young evangelical on the Canterbury Trail is yes. Yes, you should do this, the Lord is calling you here, even though your family thinks it’s crazy and you wouldn’t have dreamed of it just a little while ago.

Much more than I imagined, the Episcopal Church welcomed me. By the grace of God, I believe it will welcome you too.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Jordan Hylden is canon theologian for the diocese of Dallas and priest associate at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Dallas.


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