Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Keeping Some Perspective

Today was, indeed, a big day for the Episcopal Church. At General Convention, the House of Deputies (lay people, deacons, and presbyters/priests) voted to restructure the church in some substantial ways. By approving those resolutions, we have sent them to the House of Bishops for their debate and approval. We also considered two resolutions on marriage, and we concurred with the House of Bishop's actions to approve them, which means that they have now offiially been adopted by the Episcopal Church. As one deputy said from the floor, he had already been offered the sacraments/sacramental rites of Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, and Ordination, but now he finally was allowed to participate in marriage. I cannot imagine how anyone could deny that this is a big deal for our church and for individuals like him.

In the midst of all this much-deserved excitement, I would like to highlight a few things that may not be apparent to those people who are not present at General Convention--interested individuals who may be watching the webcast or reading about this in the news or on social media. I believe that these less evident observations are very important for the whole church to keep in mind.

For starters, what did we do? We concurred with the Bishops on two resolutions: A054 and A036. The first focused on permitting "trial use" of several liturgies that are written to offer marriage to same-sex and opposite-sex unions. The second changed the section of our canons that defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman, replacing gender-specific language with references to "two people." Yes, there's a lot more to it--like changing the language we use when asking couples to sign the Declaration of Intent--but those are the basics. Here's a little more about what that means.

The use of the phrase "trial use" pulls from Article X of the Constitution of our church. That article has to do with amending the prayer book. Yes, that means that these liturgies are being used with the idea that someday they might be added to the prayer book, but there are no current plans to amend the Book of Common Prayer (1979). That takes acts of two consecutive General Conventions, and there are no proposals being considered to that effect at this Convention. We could use these liturgies for 3 years, 6 years, 15, years, 90 years before considering whether to make them part of an amended prayer book. That part is uncertain, but what is certain is that, for now and for at least the next six years, the prayer book will look just the way it has--with a service of the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage that still refers to men and women, husbands and wives. 

Yes, that means that our church is living in two conflicting principles of canon law. The canons say "two persons," and the prayer book, which is part of our Constitution, says "man and woman," but we've decided to live with that ambiguity. I don't think it will result in any substantial conflict or Title IV (disciplinary proceedings) actions.

Resolution A054 also makes it clear that no one will be penalized for his/her support of these actions or for his/her objection to them. That's very important. It means that clergy--including bishops--and lay people alike will not be discriminated against because they are pro-same-sex marriage or because they are against it. The resolution makes it very clear that this is because our church is still not of one mind (even though the resolutions pased roughly 80/20). There is and will be a place at the table for those who disagree. That was very important. I think it changes the nature of this conversation. I am grateful to those who overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage for remembering to leave room for their brothers and sisters who disagree.

Keep in mind that it does not necessarily mean any change for our diocese. As before, the use of these liturgies is subject to the permission of the diocesan bishop. In our case, that is Kee Sloan. He has already expressed to the deputies from Alabama that he will not immediately make any change to the policies currently active in the Diocese of Alabama. Instead, he will reconvene the Commission who addressed the issue of blessing same-sex unions for conversation and advice. That meeting will be a few months away. Until then--and possibly after--there will be no same-sex marriage in the Diocese of Alabama. I support our bishop in the intentional and deliberate and patient way he is approaching this. Another part of the same resolution calls upon all bishops with ecclesiastical authority or supervision to make sure marriage is available to all their people. Again, that is conflicting language. No, the bishop doesn't have to offer the liturgies, but, in my opinion, the resolution does suggest that he should not attempt to stand in the way of parishioners seeking marriage in other juristictions. (I would also argue the same thing should be true of the clergy in our diocese, but that's anoter point for another day.)

Lastly, let me say that the disagreement in the House of Deputies was extremely respectful. Dioceses and deputies who are opposed to these resolutions were heard without any bitterness or resentment from the rest of the House. There was no applause when the resolutions were passed--no matter how jubilant many deputies must have felt in their hearts. Why? Out of respect for our differences of opinion. Those who spoke against these resolutions expressed their appreciation for the manner in which the debate was conducted. In the midst of great passion and great disagreement, love and respect and mutuality carried the day. I applaud those in our house for the spirit of unity with which our disagreements were discussed, and I hope and pray that unity will prevail throughout the wider church.

In the coming days and weeks, I may have more to say about this. For now, though, I wanted to share with others a little bit more about what is happening in these conversations. I remain hopeful for our church and am proud of the way today's debate was held. 


  1. Thanks Evan. A concise and clear explanation of what all of this legislation means to us on the local level. I'm passing along to our Vestry for further data.

  2. Thank you, Evan. Excellent.


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