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Mixed Support for Communion Across Difference in Deputies

The House of Deputies on June 27 declined to appoint a new Communion Across Difference task force, after two task forces have worked since 2018 to foster “mutual flourishing” between supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage.

Progressive deputies also took aim at two other resolutions the task force sponsored, both of which had been approved by the House of Bishops. One resolution passed, while the other was defeated. A third resolution was approved by both houses on the consent agenda.

The Communion Across Difference task forces were established with equal representation by members who hold that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman, as described in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and those who support the definition established at the 2018 General Convention that marriage is a covenant between two people.

TLC Editor-in-Chief Mark Michael was a member of the second task force, and former TLC Executive Director Christopher Wells was a member of the first. Both support the traditional definition of marriage.

Resolution A092 was designed to prohibit discrimination in employment or ordination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or other factors. It passed despite objections to a provision that allows bishops who are “unable, for reasons of conscientiously-held theological belief, to ordain a person who holds” an opposing view of same-sex marriage, to “invite another bishop of this Church to provide access to the discernment process for ordination.”

Katie Sherrod of Texas testified that this provision was analogous to the “conscience clause” adopted by the House of Bishops “to appease opponents of the ordination of women” in the 1970s. In a handful of dioceses, many years passed before the ordination of the first female priest.

Deputy Scott Haight of West Tennessee identified himself as a married gay man, and spoke in favor of the resolution. “Those theological conservatives who cannot accept LGBTQ+ persons have long since left our church,” he said. “Those conservatives who are with us now, who wish to stay with us in our church, which is their church — they should be afforded the same protections as LGBTQ persons in ordinations and deployment.”

Opponents called for a vote by orders, a parliamentary maneuver that makes it more difficult to pass a resolution, because either the clergy order or the lay order can defeat a resolution even if it is overwhelmingly favored by the other order. A092 was approved in each order by a majority of dioceses.

Deputies also voted to end debate on all three motions after only a few deputies had spoken, reportedly leaving some deputies confused about the meaning of the resolutions. Numerous resolutions about secular topics have been debated by the deputies for more than an hour during the current convention.

Resolution A091, which was defeated, would have added language to the Title IV disciplinary canons reading: “For the purposes of this canon, the [1979] 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.” The explanatory text said the purpose is to ensure that “members of the clergy who believe that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman” would not be “in violation of Title IV or their ordination vows.”

TLC reported on the weaponizing of the Title IV canons against young theologically conservative priests in an article published in April.

“In the case of the Book of Common Prayer 1979, it defines our doctrine in a way that is actually contrary to our canons, and contrary to who I am as someone in a legal marriage to a person of the same sex,” said Newark Deputy Cynthia Black, arguing against the resolution.

Deputy Megan Castellan of Central New York supported the resolution: “We already have a book that comprises much of our doctrine that is contradictory. Complex. Says one thing and then another. That requires us to think and discern together to figure out what God would have us do, and that is the Bible. So we know how to do this.”

After another call for a vote by orders, A091 was narrowly defeated in both orders.

A fourth resolution submitted by the task force, A093, which protects the consciences of bishops who hold a traditional understanding of marriage by allowing them to delegate pastoral oversight of parishes that desire same-sex marriages, was passed by both houses on the consent agenda. This resolution added to the church’s canons a compromise reached in 2018, when General Convention removed the previous right of bishops to deny same-sex marriages in their dioceses.

“I was so pleased to see Resolution A092 pass the House of Deputies,” said the Rev. Kelli Joyce, a member of the Task Force on Communion Across Difference who is married to another woman.

“I was disappointed about the failure of A091, but encouraged to see how much support there was, and from what a diverse range of Episcopalians that support came,” she said. “I am still optimistic about the goal that the resolution was designed to achieve. I think we can go back to the drawing board and perfect the language a little bit, and then come back to the 82nd General Convention that will address those same concerns.”

In a recent episode of The TLC Podcast, the Rev. Kelli Joyce and the Rev. Jordan Hylden, who represent both sides of the same-sex marriage issue, discussed their work on the Communion Across Difference task force.

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