The Episcopal Church

On the Episcopal Church being sanctioned by the Anglican Primates

On January 14, the Primates of the Anglican Communion meeting in Lambeth, England, voted to sanction the Episcopal Church for allowing for same-sex marriage throughout the church.  You can see the specific language of the sanctions in paragraphs 7 & 8 of this document

Here is the statement I wrote for the January 14 edition of Trinity Cathedral's enews:

There is breaking news from England.  As many of you know, the worldwide Anglican Communion is made up of 38 different autonomous provinces.  Each province is led by a primate; ours is our presiding bishop, The Very Rev. Michael Curry.  The Primates are meeting in London this week.  There has been tension in the Anglican Communion over the move toward acceptance of people who are gay and lesbian in some provinces.  There are several provinces who have moved toward inclusion, but The Episcopal Church seems to draw the greatest attention.  The primates have just voted to place a minor sanction on the Episcopal Church for three years.  We can not represent the Anglican Communion on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, we cannot be appointed or elected to serve on committees internal to the Anglican Communion.  Episcopalians who are already serving on such committees are not to vote on issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.  Since these committees don't govern doctrine or polity, this last sanction doesn't mean much.

While I will likely write a reflection on this after I have a chance to study the situation more, I would like to offer a few initial thoughts. First, our move toward marriage equality was the result of 40 years of hard, painful, prayerful and careful engagement with scripture and one another. I, and others who worked on this issue, firmly believe this is God's call to us, and that we are called to be a witness to the full dignity and inclusion of people and couples who are gay or lesbian. If we have to pay a price for this stand, then it is a price we willingly pay. That said, it isn't much of a price to pay.  This is not a very big deal in terms of our relationships with Anglicans around the world. Our real connection with the worldwide Anglican Communion is in our partnerships in mission on the local level.  Those will continue unchanged.

When reading this statement sanctioning the Episcopal Church, it is easy to react out of anger or fear.  I sometimes need to remind myself that Christ's love casts out fear. Our call is to love.  Love those sanctioning us.  Love the gay and lesbian persons who continue to be subjected to hatred and violence, who will see this statement as another spear in their sides.  Love and pray for one another.  

The following day I received a phone call at 5:30 in the morning from a reporter from the Guardian newspaper in England.  She didn't realize I lived on the West Coast.  I am not one of those people who wakes up at 5:00am so I was sound asleep.  We had a little chat that I can't remember.  I was pleased that in the article she only quoted my coherent speech.  

The following week I had many, many members of the Cathedral come talk to me.  They were upset at the actions of the primates.  On Sunday, January 24, I had the opportunity to address their fears in a sermon.





General Convention 2015 - Marriage Committee

DSC_2059In June and July of 2015 I was a clergy deputy to the triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  At this Convention, we were going to be considering important resolutions related to same-sex marriage.  A special committee was formed to handle all marriage-related resolutions.  I was appointed as the chair of the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage for the House of Deputies.  My dear friend Brian Thom, Bishop of the Diocese of Idaho, was the chair of the committee for the House of Bishops.  Both Committees met together with Brian and I alternating the responsibility of chairing the meetings.

Unlike other committees, some of which had many, many resolutions to consider, we had only 10, and several of those were identical or similar.  We really had only three questions to consider: 1) should we change the church canons to allow for same-sex marriage, 2) should we adopt rites (liturgies) with gender neutral language to be used to wed same-sex couples and 3) should the Marriage Task Force continue its work.  Rather than speeding through a host of issues, we were able to spend time focusing on these three.   We knew our task was important, and potentially history making.  We also knew that there was a good chance the Supreme Court of the U.S. would announce its ruling on same-sex marriage while we were in session.

At General Convention a hearing must be held on every resolution before the committee can act on the resolution.  We held three hearings at heard moving testimony on both sides.  After the hearings, we wrestled with how to move forward.  Continuing the work of the Task Force was an easier issue.  There are so many questions still to be considered when talking about marriage and the church's role that we unanimously supported its continuation.  (For example, the report of the first task force pointed out the preponderance of couples that choose to cohabitate as a prelude to, or instead of marriage.  Consideration of that trend and the church's appropriate response was beyond the scope of the work of the first task force.)   The bigger question was about authorizing same-sex marriage.  Should we change the nature of marriage by authorizing  same-sex marriage?  If so, should such authorization be church-wide, or only for dioceses whose bishops support same-sex marriage?  If the answer to the first question is yes, how can we do it in a way that honors our constitution and canons?


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Gay in Ghana

A few weeks after the Supreme Court of the United States made marriage equality a reality throughout the U.S. and the Episcopal Church changed the marriage canons to allow for gender neutral marriage rites, I joined other Episcopal priests, bishops, and laypersons and went to Ghana to meet with gay rights advocates, bishops and other clergy advocates from Sub-Saharan Africa.  This was the third African consultation in four years sponsored by the Chicago Consultation.  While there are countries in Africa that make accommodations for gay and lesbian couples, others criminalize gay and lesbian relationships and advocacy.  In some countries being gay is punishable by death.  Sadly, some of this animus toward people who are lesbian and gay is fueled by Anglican clergy.  

For four years the Chicago Consultation has been facilitating consultations in which clergy and advocates come together to pray, study scripture, tell their stories and talk about how they can be mutually supportive.  After the consultation in 2013, we endeavored to create a Bible study resource that will be published soon.  

We were hosted by Bishop Victor Atta-Baffoe, of the Diocese of Cape Coast.  His staff provided extensive support and the Bishop participated fully.  

Our time alternated between meeting as one large group, beginning of course, with ice breakers, and meeting in category groups (clergy, bishops, advocates) and Bible study groups.  In the large group we heard a variety of people's stories.  Each day our Bible study group met to read and discuss scripture and pray together.  We also met daily in our category groups so we could talk about issues that related to our particular vocations.

This consultation was held in Elmina, Ghana, just a mile or so away from Elmina Castle - a fortress used by Europeans in the slave trade.  During the consultation, we took a trip to Cape Coast Castle, another slave fort.  The trip was a sobering reminder of our ability to be horribly cruel.  We walked through the dark dungeons where Africans where held for weeks or months while they awaited the next slave ship.  The rooms that held hundreds of slaves had no bathroom and only one tiny window.

A Cape Coast Castle, we couldn't help but be shocked by the location of the chapel, established and supported by the Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, right above the first male slave dungeon.  So Anglican Christians gathered to sing their hymns and pray their prayers while Africans were held in torturous conditions immediately below them.

For me, the trip to Cape Coast Castle helped me see the importance of our work - creating greater acceptance and lessening hatred. It was an invitation to be sensitive to cruelties we don’t even see. Upon returning from the Castle, one of the African participants said, "These were Christians who thought they were doing the right thing, they were just blind to their cruelty.  I wonder in what way we are blindly harming others and our world."  

One of the enlightening insights from the consultation was that in much of Africa, gay and lesbian relationships had been tolerated if not accepted.  We heard of one culture in which a woman can choose to be with another woman as a life partner.  They can choose a man to sire a child, and after birth, the child is part of the family of the women.  In that culture it is completely accepted.  Much of the hatred that now exists toward same-sex relationships was imported to Africa from the U.S. culture wars in the past decades.  

The consultation was a great opportunity to make and deepen friendships across the Anglican Communion. These friendships are essential as we strive to strengthen communities as they organize against violence directed toward people who are lesbian, gay or transgender.

You can see our official statement from the conference here.

Here are some of my pictures:



Ghana Consultation 2015


 And the sermon I preached after I returned:

After Ghana, Sermon 9/20/15 from Trinity Cathedral on Vimeo.

Episcopal General Convention Resolutions Referred to Dioceses

 At the 78th Triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church, a number of resolutions were referred to dioceses and congregations for action, consideration or information.  Below is a list of those resolutions as they appear in A Summary of Actions of the 78th General Convention.  I have included links to the resolutions in English.  You can search for any resolutions in English or Spanish here.  There is a box in the top right corner for searching by number, if you want to see the Spanish translation of the resolutions below.


A001     Restructure for Spiritual Encounter
A011     Recommit to Criminal Justice Reform Study and Advocacy
A012     Continue Funding of Mission Enterprise Zones

A013     Continue Financial Support for Global Missions, Young Adult Service Corps, and Episcopal Volunteers in Mission
A014     Celebrate Episcopal Relief & Development’s 75 Years of Healing a Hurting World
A018     Encourage Interfaith Engagement

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Video of General Convention Marriage Debate

The 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church authorized two rites for marriage that can be used for same-sex couples and changed the canons of the church to support their use.  These resolutions were handled as a special order of business with a presentation of the resolutions, Q&A and debate on each of the two resolutions. 



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General Convention 2012 Report II: Marriage

In the early 2000′s we started working hard to be able to bless same-sex relationships.   We wanted all of the sacraments of the church to be available to all of the members of the church.  At the time, marriage was not a legal option anywhere in the U.S., so instead we wanted authorization to have blessing services.  For me personally, living in the DOMA state of Idaho, legal same-sex marriage was inconceivable.  literally.  I could only concieve of same-sex blessings.

In 2009 we reached a milestone when we passed a resolution giving bishops wide latitude in allowing blessings to take place and asking our liturgical commission to craft a blessing liturgy that we could consider in 2012 (which we just approved!)  This was a very big deal.  The goal of same-sex blessings was in sight.

AND THEN . . .

A funny thing happened on the way to blessings.  Same-sex marriage became legal.  In 2009, the same year our General Convention met in Anaheim and we were only inches away from meeting our goal of blessings, the goalposts were moved.  Once we saw same-sex couples being married, it became clear that blessings were a poor, non-equal substitute.  What we were really talking about was marriage.

Now marriage is more complicated.  With blessings we are doing something new.  With marriage we are changing something old.  Not that we hadn’t changed it in the past, most recently allowing remarriage after divorce and, as a culture, interracial marriage.  But still, changing something as foundational and as old as marriage is a big deal.   And technically complicated.  Because our church constitution and canons were written in a time when opposite-sex marriage was normative, they contain “man and woman” language.  The same is true for the marriage service in our Prayer Book.  The Constitution and Prayer Book take 2 consecutive conventions (each three years apart) to change.

As we began to consider changing our marriage rite, and other documents, to allow for same-sex marriage, we realized that we needed a deeper study of marriage.  Marriage has changed dramatically in our culture.  Does the state mean the same thing by the word “marriage” as the church?  For us, it is a sacrament.  For the state it is a contract.  Marriage in our divorce-prone culture seems to have become a form of serial monogamy.   Do we, as the church, want to continue to be an agent of the state, solemnizing this contract?  Or do we want to have our own rite we can offer apart from the civil contract given by the state?  What can we do for older couples who want to be “married” by the church but can’t, for financial reasons, be married by the state.

The question of same-sex marriage has really forced us to do what we needed to do anyway, which is to take a deeper look at marriage, both in our culture and as a sacrament.  It is my expectation that the end result will include a rite for same-sex marriage, but it will also create many other possibilities as well  –  perhaps a rite for holy matrimony that is available to all couples and that is separate from the state’s contract of marriage.

In the meantime, the blessing rite we approved in Indianapolis can be edited by bishops so it can be used as a marriage rite.  Bishops do have the latitude in the blessing resolution we passed to allow their clergy to officiate at marriages.

As for the marriage conversation, here’s what we approved at the General Convention:

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 77th General Convention
respectfully request that the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of
Deputies jointly appoint a task force of not more than twelve (12) persons,
consisting of theologians, pastors, and educators, to identify and explore key
theological and historical dimensions of marriage; and be it further
Resolved, That the task force work with Episcopal Church staff, and other experts
as consultants and coordinators; and be it further
Resolved, That the Task Force engage with the issues raised by changing social
norms and legal structures in American and other societies; and be it further
Resolved, That it consult with married couples, lesbian and gay couples living in
commitment or, where laws permit, in civil marriage – and single adults; and be it
Resolved, That in these discussions it consider perspectives from a variety of
cultures; and be it further
Resolved, That it consult with our partners both in and beyond the Anglican
Communion; and be it further
Resolved, That it deeply engage with the rich resources of moral theology in our
Anglican tradition; and be it further
Resolved, That it develop and design tools for theological reflection and norms
for theological discussion at a local level; and be it further
Resolved, that the Task Force report back to the 78th General Convention with
annual reports to the Executive Council; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on
Program, Budget and Finance to consider a budget allocation of $30,000.00 for
the implementation of this resolution.


General Convention 2012 Report I: Same-Sex Blessings

I did not have time during the Convention to blog as I had hoped.  My intention is to report on some of what I considered the most important aspects of our time together.  I’ll start with something I had been working on for years, the approval of same-sex blessings in our church.  Keep in mind that since the Convention only meets every three years, and only for a few days, our progress is always incremental.  That said, this convention’s actions were a milestone on our long journey.

I was surprised by how emotional I was when this finally passed in the House of Deputies.  It had already passed in the House of Bishops, so when we approved it, it was approved by the General Convention.  I had every expectation that it would pass, but when it finally did, I just wanted to weep.  This was a very big deal.  In the Episcopal Church, we express our beliefs in our liturgy, and to have an approved rite to bless same-sex relationships is a VERY BIG DEAL.

A pdf of the approved rite is here:  Liturgy revised 7-9-12

The resolution we passed was this:

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 77th General Conventioncommend “Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing” for study and use in congregations and dioceses of The Episcopal Church, with the following revisions: (I have removed the long list of edits to the liturgy.) and be it further
Resolved, That the 77th General Convention authorize for provisional use “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” from “Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing” beginning the First Sunday of Advent 2012, under the direction and subject to the permission of the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority; and be it further
The convention was presented a long document called “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing.”  This document contained theological resources, resources for preparing a couple for their rite as well as a rite to be used.  The first “resolved” allows congregations to use this resource.  The second “resolved” allows the liturgy to be used if allowed by the bishop.
Resolved, That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-sex marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church; and be it further

Resolved, That bishops may authorize adaptation of these materials to meet the needs of members of this Church: and be it further

Since we are in a state of flux in our church and our nation, there are dioceses with very different circumstances.  Some states allow same-sex marriage, others domestic partnerships, others have no provision to confer rights to same-sex couples.   Diocese within these states vary widely in their acceptance of same-sex couples.  These resolutions give all bishops wide latitude to allow, and modify, these rites for their particular circumstances.  While not explicitly stated, I expect there will be bishops who chose to modify this rite so it can function as a marriage rite.

Resolved, that the provision of Canon I.18.4 applies by extension to “Theological Resources for Blessing Same-Sex Relationships,” namely, “It shall be within the discretion of any Member of the Clergy of this Church to decline to” preside at any rite of blessing defined herein; and be it further

Resolved, That this convention honor the theological diversity of this church in regard to matters of human sexuality, and that no bishop, priest, deacon or lay person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities, as a result of his or her conscientious objection to or support for the 77th General Convention’s action with regard to the Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships; and be it further

I was on the committee that edited this resolution before it was considered by the Convention.  These two paragraphs were added in our committee.   They were added to help those who were uncomfortable with blessings.  The first “resolved” is simply a restatement of the policy we already have for marriage.   Clergypersons are free to decline to preside at any wedding.

The second “resolved” was submitted by my friend, The Rev. David Thurlow, from South Carolina.  He did not want there to be any repercussions for people who were not comfortable with the church’s approval of same-sex blessings.  There was a strong conciliatory mood on the committee (and in the Convention.)  We wanted to find ways to be gracious toward the minority who were uncomfortable with the direction we are heading.   Someone on the committee added the words “or support for” so the protection would also apply to someone in a conservative diocese who was in favor of blessings.

Resolved, That the theological resource for the blessing of a life-long covenant be further developed by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music over the 2013-2015 triennium with specific attention to further engagement with scripture and the relevant categories and sources of systematic theology (e.g., creation, sin, grace, salvation, redemption, human nature); and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music include the work of diverse theological perspectives in the further development of the theological resource; and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music develop an open process to review “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing,” inviting responses from provinces, dioceses, congregations, and individuals from throughout The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and from our ecumenical partners, and report to the 78th General Convention.

These last three paragraphs point to the fact that our understand of blessings, and marriage, is in flux right now.   We are in the middle of an exciting time of growing in understanding of where the Spirit is leading us.   We passed another resolution about marriage that specifically addresses this.  I will write about this in another post.