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Conversation Across Difference

Jordan Hylden, Kelli Joyce, and Matthew S.C. Olver

The Living Church Podcast host Amber Noel welcomed the Rev. Kelli Joyce, the Rev. Dr. Jordan Hylden, and the Rev. Dr. Matthew S.C. Olver, TLC’s executive director, to discuss some common questions about Communion Across Difference, a task force of the Episcopal Church commissioned to protect a place for differing perspectives on same-sex marriage.

Hylden and Joyce both serve on the task force, as a traditionalist and an affirming member, respectively. This conversation has been lightly edited for readability.

What is Resolution B012? It is not a Star Wars robot.

Joyce: It is not a Star Wars robot. This resolution simultaneously made provision for Episcopalians in every diocese to have access to the new trial-use marriage rites [for same-sex marriages] if their rector or priest in charge was agreeable, and provided for the delegation of episcopal oversight in cases where the bishop held a theological position about marriage that didn’t allow them to provide pastoral oversight.

It was part of a broader compromise, because General Convention had made a decision that Episcopalians in every diocese were going to at least potentially have access to these services. In 2015, it had required the bishop’s permission to use them, and in 2018 that restriction was being removed.

But as it was removed, they wanted to say, “What kind of safeguards are we going to put in place? What kind of compromises are we going to make so that this is workable, not just for some of us, but for all of us?”

It was about providing access and conscience protections throughout the whole church. So that was B012, and as a kind of supplement to that, they created a task force on Communion Across Difference.

Jordan was on the first iteration of that group. Jordan, what was it like?

Hylden: A little bit of the backstory: when the Episcopal Church moved forward on [making provision for same-sex] marriage, there was simultaneously, I think, a unanimous resolution of the House of Bishops entitled “Communion Across Difference,” with some language about the indispensable place that the theological minority will continue to have in the Episcopal Church.

So it’s really been trying to place flesh and bones on something that General Convention has affirmed again and again. The resolution says three big things: that the General Convention has made a clear decision about marriage, that they have made a firm commitment to make marriage rites accessible, and that there is an indispensable place for the theological minority in this church. And the language used is “mutual flourishing” — to seek each other’s flourishing instead of to seek each other’s defeat and diminishment, which is not always the way that things go in the wider world and sometimes even in the church.

We did a lot of theological and historical work the first go around, showing how this is something that we’ve done in different ways before as Episcopalians and Anglicans with our ecumenical heritage.

It’s sort of like, we’ve done this before, can we equip ourselves with things that we’ve used in the past?

Hylden: That’s right, like the major differences that we’ve had over eucharistic theology. We’ve had to struggle before to be a broad church over things that everybody agrees are really quite important. So it was really just a deep dive into how we’ve done this before and why we’ve done it before, and then seeking to apply it to ourselves here and now, to make it concrete in our common life.

Olver: This has me thinking of the five guiding principles that the Church of England has used around the question of the ordination of women. And it began by saying, the Church of England has made a decision to move forward on this question. Nonetheless, there are two convictions or positions or teachings that are both present and that we want to try to find a way forward for there to be real communion while acknowledging that these differences are not insignificant, that they’re actually substantive differences.

And I think it’s also noteworthy that this isn’t how the Episcopal Church moved forward, say, on the ordination of women. And it seems to me that this is an interesting and a sort of self-conscious correction. We’re coming to another place, a decision where there might be significant division. How might we come at this in a way that tries to keep folks together, without compromising conscience?

Hylden: In the first task force, there were some people who’d lived through those earlier debates, who were in favor of the changes, but who said explicitly, “We can do this differently this time.”

Joyce: It makes me think about something that I’ve said a number of times to people who’ve asked me about my experience on the task force, which is that it’s really a self-selecting kind of group. We’re the people who say, we have had enough of schism, and I would rather compromise than hold on to everything I want.

I sort of have a commitment that if someone is willing to be in communion with me, far be it from me to be the one who says, “I’m not willing to be in communion with you.” I’ve been through that. I’ve been through that plenty on the other side.

I also think this is a little bit different than the issue of women’s ordination. There is a conscience question in terms of whether a bishop feels that they can personally put their hands on someone’s head and ordain them, if that person holds a theology of marriage that is different from their own. But it’s not been my experience, actually, that there’s a big question about the validity of the orders of LGBTQ persons, whether they’re in a marriage or not.

And the other thing that I want to express is that it has been my consistent experience that the individuals on the task force have been unfailingly respectful of my dignity and have spoken with me on a personal level about my life in ways that take seriously the life I’m actually living, even though my family includes me having a wife.

So that makes a huge difference for me. I don’t need you to agree with me about marriage, if you can be here with me, if you can support my civil and legal rights. If you can be kind to me and talk about my day-to-day life without wincing, that’s what I need.

There’s a real distinction, I think, between a theological position about the nature of marriage and how people deal with cultural homophobia and civil issues. And they don’t always come together in the ways people sometimes assume that they do.

For a lot of people, if you don’t agree with me, you do not respect my dignity. And so in issues that involve justice, it’s very difficult to have dialogue, and difficult to have a relationship.

Joyce: I’m sympathetic, because when you have experienced hand in hand a particular theology of marriage and a sustained assault on your dignity and legal protections, it’s not unreasonable to hear the one and expect the other. It’s an ongoing process of work that we will have to do together, to show that they are separate, by continually living out the truth.

Both sides have members who believe that everybody on the other side is committing or endorsing serious sin. It’s a two-way street. We really wanted there to be mutuality in every protection or every change that we made, to apply both to conservative clergy and progressive clergy. That two-way street aspect is really important for me.

Hylden: We are seeking to follow Christ, to follow our consciences under God. And I have no doubt a certain, not insignificant, proportion of my theological and political beliefs are wrong. I just don’t know what those are. And the importance of civil and legal protections, and treating everybody with respect — you need that if you’re going to be able to do anything. I hope that that message doesn’t get lost in the resolutions, because that’s the spirit the resolutions come from. It’s such a big part of what Community Across Difference really means as a movement, not just as a set of resolutions, as important as those are.

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