To: The HoB/D List Community
From: Susan Russell -- Kibbitzer from the Diocese of Los Angeles & President of Integrity USA
I write today to ask those who both contribute and monitor this listserve to remember is that there are those among us who have been at these conversations for a VERY long time.
I beg forgiveness from those offended by our sometime impatience at explaining ourselves one more time, at offering our relationships up to the microscope for one more look, at being asked to accept "no offense" as a footnote as if it neutralizes what has gone before it.
And I beg your indulgence by presenting -- one more time -- the following response to the question, "What does it mean for the church to give its blessing?" It is the answer we have been giving since its publication in 2003. It's the answer we'll take to Anaheim. And it's the answer we'll keep giving until -- like the persistant widow in the parable Our Lord gave us to show us how to fight injustice -- we no longer have to gird our loins and come back "one more once" to make our case.
"What Does It Mean for the Church to Give Its Blessing?" [from the 2003 "Theology of Blessing" published by the Claiming the Blessing collaborative ... still available in PDF here ]
“Blessing” is perhaps the most controversial word in the Church’s consideration of the treatment of same sex households in its midst. Because of this fact, we must take great care to be precise about what we mean when we use the word.
The following are the building blocks for a theology of blessing: Creation, Covenant, Grace, and Sacrament.
Creation itself is the fundamental act of blessing. Creation is a blessing (gift) to humankind from God and humankind blesses (gives thanks to or praises) God in return. The Hebrew word for “blessing,” barak, means at its core the awesome power of life itself. A fundamental claim of the Bible in regards to creation is that there is enough, in fact an abundance, of creation, and therefore of blessing, to go around.
“Blessing” is a covenantal, relational word. It describes the results of the hallowed, right, just relationship between God and humankind. Blessing is what happens when God and humankind live in covenant. It is important to remember here that the relationships between human beings and the relationship between God and human beings cannot be separated. “Blessing” and “justice” are inseparable biblical concepts.
When we ask for God’s blessing, we are asking for God’s presence and favor. In Christian terms this favor is what we call “grace,” God’s disposition toward us that is not dependent upon our merit, but is a sure and certain gift to the believer in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In our tradition, the Sacraments are the primary ways the grace/blessing of God is communicated to us (“a sure and certain means,” BCP, p. 857). The two “great” Sacraments “given by Christ” (BCP, p. 858) are Baptism and Eucharist. In them we see the two fundamental aspects of blessing: the blessing of life from God and the blessing of God for that life.
Five other rites are traditionally known as sacraments, but they are dependent for their meaning on the two Sacraments and are not “necessary for all persons.” A whole host of other actions in the life of the Church, and of individual Christians, are “sacramental” in nature, i.e., they mediate the grace/blessing of God and cause us to give thanks and praise/blessing to God.
In our tradition, priests and bishops have the authority to pronounce God’s blessing within the community of faith. They do so not by their own power, but as instruments of the grace (blessing) of God within the Church. Their authority to bless, too, finds its meaning in the two great Sacraments.
When the Church chooses “to bless” something it is declaring that this particular person or persons or thing is a gift/blessing from God and his/her/its/their purpose is to live in (or, the case of things, to assist in) covenanted relationship with God (and with all creation), i.e., to bless God in return.
To bless the relationship between two men or two women is to do this very thing: to declare that this relationship is a blessing from God and that its purpose is to bless God, both within the context of the community of faith. If the Church believes that same-sex relationships show forth God’s blessing when they are lived in fidelity, mutuality, and unconditional love, then this blessing must be owned and celebrated and supported in the community of faith.