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Bishops Back Communion Across Difference Canons

By wide margins, the House of Bishops passed resolutions that amend the Episcopal Church’s canons to acknowledge two teachings on marriage, and to protect access to ordination, deployment, and canonical residency for clergy irrespective of their conscientiously held belief that marriage is between a man and a woman or between two persons.

Resolutions A091 and A092 were proposed by the Task Force on Communion Across Difference, half of whose members hold the Episcopal Church’s traditional understanding of marriage, and half of whose members hold an inclusive understanding of marriage. The Task Force’s work was profiled in a recent episode of The Living Church Podcast.

No bishop spoke against either resolution, and there was no audible dissent when the voice votes were taken.

The Rt. Rev. John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee and one of the task force’s chairs, described A092 as “one of those canonical amendments that has purchase in both directions, for folks that may feel they are in the theological minority in their diocese.” A092 states that “no one should be denied access” to discernment and employment processes, and that no clergy should be denied access to licensure or canonical residence, because of their beliefs about marriage.

Resolution A091 adds a sentence to the definition of doctrine in the church’s disciplinary canons, specifying that “For the purposes of this canon, the Book of Common Prayer and any Book of Common Prayer memorialized by General Convention are understood as sufficient statements of the doctrine of this Church.”

At the 2018 General Convention, both houses of convention approved Resolution A068, which memorialized the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, with a view to the likely prospect that gender-neutral marriage rites would be added to the prayer book in the near future.

Indeed, Resolution A116, proposed for this convention by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, begins the process of adding an inclusive rite to the current prayer book, effectively giving the church two teachings on marriage. The prayer book would be formally amended in 2027, when the rite passes a second reading.

“In terms of our definition of doctrine, what this adds is some greater latitude and inclusivity,” Bauerschmidt said.

“Some of us will remember the Lambeth Conference in the summer of 2022, when Justin Welby made (for me, at least) an electrifying statement — that there are two doctrines of marriage in the Anglican Communion.

“This is a gracious way of acknowledging that we have two not dissimilar doctrinal definitions in of marriage in the Episcopal Church. They are related — indeed, they are very similar — but they have their distinctions.”

“In some impossible to imagine future in which someone might actually be held to be holding false doctrine about marriage, by broadening this understanding, [we] will offer protections to folks that have conscientiously held belief that marriage is between a man and a woman or between two persons.”

Referring to Resolution B008, which proposes a series of canons about the authorization of liturgical texts, Bishop Andy Doyle of Texas said that “there are definitions coming in other legislation to define what memorialization is and what books are included in a memorial statement.”

However, he said, “The use of the term [memorialization] is old and the General Convention has used it a number of times to make a statement about what is important to both houses of convention, and in 2018, both houses voted to ensure [the 1979 Book of Common Prayer’s] continual use.”

A third resolution proposed by the Task Force on Communion Across Difference, A093, has been placed on the House of Bishops’ consent calendar for approval on June 24. It enshrines in the canons a series of conscience protections for bishops who hold a traditional understanding of marriage.

These provisions, which include the delegation of pastoral oversight of same-sex marriages by clergy of their dioceses to other bishops, have been developed since 2018 under the terms of resolution B012, which removed the previous right of bishops to not allow same-sex marriages in their dioceses.

An additional resolution from the Task Force, A094, which renews the body’s work for another triennium, had been slated as “take no action” by General Convention’s Committee on Governance and Structure on the House of Deputies’ consent calendar, due to technical irregularities. Deputies from several dioceses petitioned to remove it from the consent calendar today and have filed amendments to address the technical issues.

Mark Michael served on the Task Force on Communion Across Difference from 2022 to 2024.

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