Sunday, March 20, 2011

Working Out the Same-Gender Blessing Challenge

Part Two of a Report on the SCLM Churchwide Consultation on Same Sex Blessings
The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall

If you missed Part One of the report you can read it here.

This morning the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) reconvened its consultation with General Convention deputies with Morning Prayer followed by a presentation by the task force responsible for educational and pastoral resources – which includes our very own past President, Canon Susan Russell. This task force is collecting and developing resources which will help dioceses and parishes in discernment about same-gender blessings and also provide resources for clergy preparing gay and lesbian couples for a blessing.

They collected information from across the church using surveys and table discussions at the House of Bishops. Of those congregations who responded, 23.2% had already held blessings and more than half of those ha d prepared the congregation beforehand with some kind of educational program. Just over 25% of the clergy said that they do prepare couples before a blessing; one third said that they do something different for lesbian or gay couples than they do for straight. Susan Russell said that they intend to provide resources that will help churches who have been doing same-gender blessings for twenty years or more as well as resources for those whose dioceses are not going to do them anytime soon, to help them understand the position of those who do.

Then the plenary session ended and the deputies worked in small groups. Since I was following on the live streaming webcast, I had no small group to go to, so I switched channels. Our friends at Stand Firm didn’t even bother to cover this consultation, having abandoned TEC, but they did cover Theo Hobson’s article in the Guardian. Under a not-so-great picture of the Bishop of New Hampshire, Hobson criticizes +Gene for overusing the language of civil rights, “as if the struggle for gay equality is just as righteous as the struggle for racial equality.” Mr. Hobson isn’t paying attention if he thinks LGBT people are not struggling for civil rights – even if in his own homeland of England things are looking pretty good, they’re pretty ugly elsewhere - especially in Uganda where the anti-gay bill looks set to come up again next week.

I do agree with Mr. Hobson that all forms of loving relationship should be celebrated (I would add the word committed). This is one drawback of the plan that has developed from the carefully worded Resolution CO56. It treats same-gender blessings as a stand-alone item, without any relationship to cross-gender marriage. The difficulties this perpetuates came up in the final session on Canonical and Legal Considerations and then later in the Press Conference.

Thank goodness there are lawyers and people in the Episcopal Church who seem to like this kind of thing! They are compiling information on the different laws in different states which apply to same-gender couples (not to mention the laws of the countries where there are Episcopal churches in Province IX). They seem to have reached two important conclusions so far; firstly that the first amendment protects clergy doing same-gender blessings even where they are state laws against same-gender marriage, and secondly that a trial basis rite for same-gender blessing will not require changes to the Constitution and Canons or the BCP.

In his remarks, Tom Little, Chancellor of the Diocese of Vermont, commented that we don’t often unbundle church marriage from civil marriage regulated by the state. I think this must have been the basis for a question from The Living Church reporter who thought that clear legal/canonical differentiation had been made between “Christian marriage” and same-gender blessings and asked Bishop Tom Ely about the theological differentiation. +Tom was quick to point out that although there are those who want to expand the conversation about marriage, it was not part of the task of the SCLM in this triennium.

It may not have been part of their task, and heaven knows, their task was pretty extensive for people who have day jobs, but it is surely part of the task of the church. I defy anyone to tell me that my marriage isn’t a Christian marriage. Rethinking marriage for our time is a vital task awaiting us, and the theological principles developed by the SCLM this year seem to be a great place to start.

The Rev Dr. Caroline Hall is the rector of St. Benedict's Episcopal Church in Los Osos, California. She is the former Vice President of International Affairs for Integrity USA. She is a frequent contributor to Walking With Integrity and is the author of the recent Anglican Covenant Series.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for providing these reports and reflections. They fill me with hope!