By a 3 to 1 margin, the House of Deputies of the 77th General Convention has endorsed “provisional” local rites for the blessing of same-sex unions, concurring with the resolution adopted the previous day by the church’s House of Bishops.
While opponents of the measure objected to the gay-marriage-like blessings as being contrary to Scripture, the church’s prayer book and canons, as well as the undivided witness of the universal church for the past 2000 years, supporters believed that blessing gay relationships was a matter of simple justice and fairness.
The provisional rites were not intended to change to the Book of Common Prayer’s liturgy on marriage, the Rev. Dr. Ruth Myers, Deputy from Chicago and chairman of the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Church Music told Anglican Ink, but to permit local trial usage for the next three years. “The church has not authorized prayer book change,” she explained. The historical practice had been an “overall” update to the prayer book rather than “rather than revising one liturgy at a time.”
However, the Rev. Charles Holt, Deputy from Central Florida, noted the nuance of a “provisional” local rite that did not change the doctrine of the church would not be appreciated outside of the convention hall. “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck … it is a duck,” he observed.
Debate on Resolution A059 “Authorize Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Sex Relationships” was presented to the House of Deputies by Dr. Myers on 10 July. She outlined the mandate given to the Liturgy Committee at the last General Convention and summarized the legislative history of the resolution, then asked the Deputies to concur with the House of Bishops and adopt the resolution.
Before debate began, President Bonnie Anderson recognized Liturgy Committee member the Very Rev. David Thurlow, Deputy from South Carolina, who was given permission to read a minority report that “takes issue with the theology” being introduced.
For “2000 years the one holy catholic and apostolic church -- the undivided church -- has had clear teachings on marriage,” he said, which were now being repudiated. A059 was a slap in the face to the church’s ecumenical and Anglican partners and a repudiation of the Episcopal Church’s pledge not to take action on gay blessings “until the Anglican Communion had reached a consensus” on this issue, he continued. It was also a “clear departure from the doctrine and discipline” of the Episcopal Church and propounded a “new theology of marriage” that was “inconsistent with Scripture, the Book of Common Prayer and the Constitution and Canons” of the church.
“Consider what is at stake,” Dean Thurlow said, and urged his colleagues to reject the resolution.
The President of the House of Bishops, Dr. Bonnie Anderson, opened debate stating she would alternate between supporters and opponents in recognizing speakers. Deputy Simon “Pete” Ross of Michigan was the first to speak, saying the resolution “asks us to include all our members in the sacraments of Christ.” Citing the Episcopal Church’s Baptismal Covenant introduced in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Mr. Ross said marriage remained the sole sacrament closed to gays and lesbians.
“Gays and lesbians are human beings who fall in love and make lifelong commitments like other people,” he said, asking the convention to “honor these commitments” by “endorsing resolution A049.”
Mr. Holt disagreed. Reading from the Epistle of James, the Central Florida priest said the church should not seek to bless the ungodly “cravings within you.” Endorsing same-sex blessings did not strengthen “but divides the church,” he said.
The Rev. John Zamboni of New Jersey stated he had been part of the team that tested the liturgy. He believed the text was well-written “and wished I and my wife had this when were married.” However, an argument from aesthetics was insufficient to justify changing church teaching, the Rev. Sharon Lewis of Southwest Florida said.
A temporary provisional rite for the blessing of same sex unions “envisions far more than a pastoral response,” but seeks to change the teachings of the church. She offered an analogy of a ship at sea to illustrate her concerns. When a barge recently sought to change course quickly in Tampa Bay it lost control and slammed into the Skyway Bridge, knocking cars into the sea. The “church is like that barge,” she said, and “cannot turn on a dime.
“Please do not press this issue.”
The Rev. Ernesto Medina of Nebraska stated that he believed gay blessings were an appropriate “pastoral response” to the needs of same-sex couples who sought the validation for their lifestyle from the church. “There is never anything wrong with celebrating love,” he said, and nothing wrong with “celebrating a blessing.”
Deputy Steven Horst of Connecticut said the resolution “doesn’t make sense to me.”
“At the present time, some priests are already blessing gay couples and marrying gay couples,” Dr. Horst said. The proper way forward was to adopt a new liturgy for the prayer book, he argued, as the “provisional rite proposed is contrary to the canons.”
“I’m surprised that no motion to amend the canons has been proposed,” he said, adding that would be the “honest way forward.”
Miss Jenna Guy, Deputy from Iowa, said that she took “great pride in the inclusive nature of the church.” Amongst her generation of college-aged students, “some would leave the Episcopal Church if the resolution fails.”
“For the sake of the future growth of the Episcopal Church we must vote in favor” of gay blessings, she argued, as “my generation supports it.”
The Ven. David Collum of Albany told the convention that the “resolution would not change what is happening on the ground.” Those who support gay blessings and gay marriage are already using these rites, while those who opposed gay blessings as un-Scriptural will never use these rites.
“What will happen is that more will leave the Episcopal Church,” he said, adding that “this really is about the majority wielding power – saying ‘we don’t care’ to the minority,” Archdeacon Collum said.
Following the first 15 minutes of debate, President Anderson invited amendments to the resolution to be put to the floor, and recognized Canon Neal Michell of Dallas. Dr. Michell introduced an amendment asking the resolution be returned to the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Church Music.
The Liturgy Committee “has not done all the work” assigned to it by the 2006 General Convention, Dr. Michell said. The committee had been “asked for theology. Preparation of the rite is only one part” of their mandate, he argued, and “theology must be addressed” before the resolution is adopted.
The “pastoral, canonical and theological” implications of the rites had not been addressed by the committee. “There was no sense of divorce” or “closure” or “beginning again” in the relationships that the church was now seeking to bless, Dr. Michell said, arguing that it was improper for the church to act without understanding the consequences of its acts.
However, the Rev. Andrew Cooley of Colorado said “we’ve been at this for 33 years” and have “looked at the theology” already. The Episcopal Church had been “deeply blessed by gays and lesbians” and it was time to return the favor, he argued.
Province II Youth Representative Andrew Karpf urged rejection of the amendment and support for the resolution saying that this was “the most important resolution before the Convention.”
“More young people were coming out at a younger age,” Mr. Karpf said, and as a consequence, there was no “more rejection of gays and lesbians because there are more of us,” he said, urging the Episcopal Church to be “pro-LGBTQITA”.
A deputy from Dallas, concurred that “no question was more important” to the convention than the gay-blessings resolution. “However this implies an additional obligation to follow our own procedures,” he said.
The 2006 General Convention Resolution A008 which authorized the creation of the liturgy task force “had not fulfilled” its mandate, he said in support of the Michell amendment.
There had been “gamesmanship all round” this resolution he said. “The bishops had substituted language to avoid Article X of our own constitution, substituting ‘trial’ for ‘provisional’” so as to avoid the super-majority voting threshold that mandates majority support from all bishops – serving and retired -- not merely a majority of those present at a meeting.
“If we are going to do this, let’s do it right,” the deputy said.
Debate on the amendment closed and it failed on a voice vote.
Deputy Caroline Christie of Newark rose to speak in support of the resolution, stating as a child she had wondered “why her ‘aunts’ could not marry. And as I grew up I came to see it as an issue of discrimination” that the Episcopal Church must fight.
The Rev. Doug Scharf of Southwest Florida then rose and stated that he was speaking on behalf of the Dioceses of Honduras, Venezuela, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Southwest Florida, Central Florida, Western Louisiana, South Carolina, Dallas and Albany and asked that the resolution be put to a vote by orders, which was granted by President Anderson.
Mr. Scharf said this “liturgy is intentionally not called a marriage rite” but it “espouses a theology of marriage that is premature.” He urged rejection of the resolution on Scriptural and doctrinal grounds and reminded the deputies that if they endorsed the resolution, it would “make local ecumenical work much harder.”
Deputy Ian Hallas of Chicago rose and spoke in favor of the resolution. He said he “will be part of my sister’s civil ceremony.” As emotion welled in his throat, he said his sister’s same-sex relationship “speaks to the ideal relationship that all of us ought to have.”
“I want to return home from this convention with this gift for my sister,” and ensure that she has “the same rights, the same privileges as myself.”
The Very Rev. Timothy Kimbrough of Tennessee rose and asked the resolution be divided for voting, so that the deputies might vote on lines 45-49 of the resolution, dealing with the language of the authorization of provisional rites separately from the main body of the resolution.
President Anderson ruled the motion to divide was in order. Questions were directed to the president on what dividing the resolution would entail should one portion be defeated. She responded that if one part failed, the whole would have to be returned to the bishops for concurrence.
Deputy Ross of Michigan rose and challenged the president’s ruling. Deputy Joan Gunderson of Pittsburgh rose in favor of the challenge to President Anderson’s ruling, followed by the Rev. Evan Garner of Alabama who moved that debate on the matter be closed. The request was in order, the president ruled, and the motion to end debate was passed on a voice vote.
Deputy Kevin Rabb of Springfield rose and on a point of personal privilege objected to ending debate before a speaker who supported dividing the resolution could be heard. President Anderson responded that she could not reopen debate on the challenge to her ruling, but in her discretion as president of the house she would grant Mr. Rabb permission to speak.
The president’s ruling that the resolution be divided was overruled on a voice vote, and a vote by orders was taken on the resolution.
The vote in the lay order was 86 yes, 19 no, 5 divided, with 78 per cent in favor. In the clergy order the vote was 85 yes, 22 no, 4 divided, with 76 per cent in favor. As the total yes voted exceeded the two-thirds margin, the roll call votes by diocese were not released to the house.
A spokesman for the national church office stated the results would be made available in the journal of the convention.