The provisional rite for the Blessing of Same-Sex Couples adopted by the 77th General Convention in July is theologically deficient as it does not “distinguish between Holy Matrimony and a Blessing,” the Bishop of Georgia has told his diocese.
In a 16 November 2012 pastoral letter, the Rt. Rev. Scott Benhase said he would permit clergy to use a locally adapted rite for the blessing of same-sex unions, but would not permit the rite to be used for same-sex marriage.
The bishop said that his views on same-sex blessings were well known and during the search process to elect a Bishop of Georgia he had “articulated my support for the Church establishing a Blessing Rite for same sex couples. That support remains and has not wavered.”
Bishop Benhase stated that he believed “Holy Matrimony” can “only be between a man and woman, regardless of what secular governments understand it to be” and that “any Blessing Rite that is authorized in the Diocese of Georgia had to be plainly distinguished from Holy Matrimony in order to receive my approval.”
The bishop stated that since the July vote by General Convention, he had been “praying to God and listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I have also been listening to the voices of clergy and lay leaders around the Diocese of Georgia.”
The rite adopted by General Convention “failed, in my judgment, to plainly distinguish between Holy Matrimony and a Blessing,” he said. However, the General Convention permitted bishops to “adapt” the rite for local use.
“I have discerned that we in the Diocese of Georgia will offer a Rite of Blessing for our homosexual sisters and brothers” that addressed these theological concerns. Bishop Benhase said the local rite “will be the only Rite authorized in the Diocese of Georgia.”
The use of the rite will be governed by guidelines. However, “these criteria are not suggestions. They are expected provisions and guidelines required of clergy and lay leaders who discern within their congregation that they should offer the Rite.”
The bishop added that “no congregation or priest is required to offer such a rite.”
Vestries and parochial clergy in congregations that wish to offer the right must undergo a period of “discernment,” but that “discernment must be first initiated by the parochial priest. That means I will not allow non-parochial priests (or any deacon) to preside at such a Blessing Rite disconnected from a pastoral cure in a congregation.
“For some my decision will go too far.,” Bishop Benhase said. “For others my decision will not go far enough. I understand. Nevertheless, as your Bishop I must lead us through this in the best way I can given the constraints present and the diversity of positions we respectively hold in the Diocese of Georgia.”