Convention lets its ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ agreeing to give church full access to trial-use marriage rites

Historic action is praised as a compromise among ‘cherished’ positions and goals

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Jul 13, 2018

The Very Rev. Sam Candler, deputy from Atlanta and chair of the legislative committee that considered all of the convention’s marriage resolutions, urged the House of Deputies July 13 to accept the bishops’ technical amendment to Resolution B012 and not make any changes. The deputies agreed. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] Deputies dotted the last i and crossed the last t on July 13 with a historic resolution giving all Episcopalians the ability to be married by their priests in their home churches.

Resolution B012 had gone from the House of Deputies to the bishops and back to the deputies on its road to approval. Deputies overwhelmingly approved a heavily amended version of the resolution on July 9, and the House of Bishops added a technical amendment two days later that does not change B012’s goal of giving full access to two trial-use marriage rites for same-sex and opposite-sex couples approved by the 2015 meeting of General Convention (via Resolution A054).

The vote was:

* Clergy: 99 yes, 3 no, 4 divided
* Lay: 101 yes, 5 no, 1 divided

A Lexington deputy holds up the deputation’s paper ballot documenting its vote. During votes by orders, deputies vote on paper ballots and then deputations calculate the results and cast their vote electronically. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Fifty-six votes in each order were required for passage. Divided votes are recorded when the clergy or lay members of a deputation split their votes between yes and no. General Convention resolutions must be adopted by both houses with the same text, and that is what deputies did early in the morning session of the last day of the 79th meeting of General Convention.

Scattered applause started to be heard among the deputies, but the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the house, cautioned that the body’s rules forbid such celebrations.

The resolution provides for:

  • Giving rectors or clergy in charge of a congregation the ability to provide access to the trial use of the marriage rites for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Resolution A054-2015 and the original version of B012 said that clergy could only use the rites under the direction of their bishop.
  • Requiring that, if a bishop “holds a theological position that does not embrace marriage for same-sex couples,” he or she may invite another bishop, if necessary, to provide “pastoral support” to any couple desiring to use the rites, as well as to the clergy member and congregation involved. In any case, an outside bishop must be asked to take requests for remarriage if either member of the couple is divorced to fulfill a canonical requirement that applies to opposite-sex couples.
  • Continuing trial use of the rites until the completion of the next comprehensive revision of the Book of Common Prayer.

The resolution also eliminated the original B012’s call for a Task Force on Communion across Difference. Such a group was created via a separate resolution, A227.

“We have already engaged in a grace-filled debate – an honorable and healthy debate, discussion and struggle,” the Very Rev. Sam Candler, deputy from Atlanta and chair of the legislative committee that considered all of the convention’s marriage resolutions, told the House of Deputies in urging passage without further tinkering. “We were reminded of the significant compromise that was made by various committed constituencies and holy saints of this church.”

No one spoke against the resolution during the House of Deputies’ short debate.

A House of Deputies page collects the written version of the Diocese of Southern Virginia’s vote by orders on Resolution B012. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The Rev. Scot McComas, Fort Worth deputy, told his colleagues that if they passed B012 they would be acting as pastors to all the people of the Episcopal Church. Yet, he noted, “For 40 years our LGBT brothers and sisters have been at the back of the bus and, every so often, they are invited to move forward one row at a time.”

The Rev. Susan Russell, Los Angeles deputy and longtime leader in the effort for full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the church, described the “long and winding road” that the Episcopal Church had traveled to get to this point. She said she supported B012 “recognizing that this is a hard-won compromise but one which I believe will lead us forward into that work as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.”

She reminded the house that its debate was being livestreamed and that Episcopalians in the dioceses of Tennessee, Dallas and Florida (three of the places in which the bishops have not allowed the rites to be used) “where the faithful in the pews are waiting for us to let our ‘yes’ be yes – to say, ‘we do’ to marriage for all.”

East Carolina Deputy Joan Geiszler-Ludlum, who chaired General Convention’s Task Force on the Study of Marriage, implored deputies to complete convention’s actions on marriage. “We are fond of saying around the Episcopal Church that all are welcome, and all means all, y’all.”

Long Island Bishop Larry Provenzano offered B012 in response to proposed Resolution A085 from the task force, which was proposed in part to give a way for Episcopalians to use the rites in eight of the church’s 101 domestic dioceses in which the diocesan bishop refuses to authorize use of the trial-use marriage rites.

“I think this is a really important moment for the church,” Provenzano said in an interview with Episcopal News Service just after the deputies’ decision. “We do this without there having to be one side wins and one side loses. Very much like the theme of the whole convention, there’s a great movement for the church to really be the church in this time.”

Vermont Bishop Tom Ely, who has long been involved in crafting resolutions to move the church closer to full sacramental inclusion of LGBTQ, said Episcopalians also need to know that the rites described in B012 are available to everyone in the church, not just same-sex ones. The resolution calls for studying how the rites are used across the church.

“So, let’s see if we like the actual liturgies,” Ely said. “Do these liturgies convey the spirit of what we want? Do they pray well? Do they work for all couples? Are these worthy of inclusion, at some point, in the Book of Common Prayer?”

Chicago Bishop Jeff Lee called B012 “an elegant solution for moving forward in a way that respects the role of bishops as the chief liturgical officers in their diocese” similar to that achieved earlier in the contentious issue of prayer book revision. Lee chaired the bishops’ part of the cognate legislative committee that reviewed the marriage resolutions.

The compromise was “built on the generosity of people who would rather have seen it go further in one direction or another,” Lee said. “And, that’s a remarkable thing about this convention, I think: that willingness on the part of people who cherish and really invested themselves in having ‘all this’ or ‘all that’ being willing to let go of the things they cherish for the sake of moving forward together.”

Resolution A054-2015 said that clergy could only use the rites under the direction of their bishop. This convention’s A085 would have required bishops to make provision for all couples asking to be married to have “reasonable and convenient access” to the two trial-use marriage rites. However, it also would have added the two trial-use marriage rites to the Book of Common Prayer and amend the prayer book’s other marriage rites, prefaces and sections of the Catechism to make language gender neutral. That change was a sticking point for many.

The original version of B012 would have required bishops who would not authorize the rites to allow congregations to receive Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) from another bishop who would provide access to the liturgies. It removed the prayer book element.

Deputies agreed to a version of B012 that took away the DEPO option and placed the decision-making power for using the rites with rectors or other clergy in charge of congregations. The bishops’ amendment comes in the seventh resolve of the resolution and adds the words “provided that nothing in this resolve narrows the authority of the rector or priest-in-charge (Canon III.9.6(a)).”

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.


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Comments (29)

  1. Frank Harrision says:

    For those interested in Prayer Book revision, here is a super article to read:
    http://www.episcopalnet.org/TRACTS/Deceived.html
    pax —

  2. Jordan Sakal says:

    This is such amazing and wonderful news.

    1. Fr Ian Wetmore says:

      Sadly, though, it has the potential to sunder congregations. So I can see some clergy taking the preemptive action, with or without congregational mandate, of refusing to officiate at any kind of marriage in order to keep the peace.

      1. Robbie Johnson says:

        Now the Liberals and LGBTQ can say to cconservatives, “Don’t let the door hit you as you leave for a Bible believing church!

        1. Jordan Sakal says:

          Robbie,

          We believe in the Bible just as you do, what we do not believe in is an unjust and unloving God which you do.

          The light of God through His Son, Jesus Christ is a pathway of love and acceptance as echoed by our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. However, you do not honour God or his son by choosing the pathway you have. You are not love and you are not peace.

          1. Robbie Johnson says:

            You claim to believe in the Bible. Perhaps you do, except in those Biblical passages where God plainly proclaims that Homosual behavior is an abonination and sinful.

          2. Jordan Sakal says:

            Leviticus 18:22 right? You realise right that Leviticus was a nation building guide, a guide on the foundational building blocks of the moral code of a nation right? Leviticus also forbade the tearing of clothes (L: 10:6), Eating – or touching the carcass of – any seafood without fins or scales (L:11:10-12) Having sex with your neighbour’s wife (L: 18:20) [There goes adultery] We also have a ban on the mixing fabrics in clothing (L:19:19), Cross-breeding animals (L: 19:19)
            and Planting different seeds in the same field (L:19:19).

            We also have: Trimming your beard (L:19:27)Getting tattoos (L:19:28) Mistreating foreigners – “the foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born” (L:19:33-34)

            Before you cherry pick your Bible to attack someone else look at the other sins you and others may be committing and realise that a lot of them do not make sense or apply in a modern society.

            We have grown beyond the arbitrary rules set forth in Leviticus. They do not apply in a modern world.

          3. Frank Harrision says:

            Not to argue one way or the other, but IF God’s Word is eternal, then we ought to be very careful to appeal to modern day society to sustain a point.

          4. Jordan Sakal says:

            Frank,

            In my view, and I am falliable, there are parts of the Bible which are historically accurate and to be taken at face value. There are also parts of the Bible which can be successfully questioned (the building of the Ark/loading of all those animals etc, Jonah and the whale) which are meant more as stories or allegories to be drawn on for hope or to teach something and not to be taken literally.

            Just my thoughts

          5. Frank Harrison says:

            Oh, I certainly hold to the position of St. Augustine that some parts of the Bible are allegorical, some are analogical, some are literal, etc. A BIG PROBLEM here is what criteria do we use to say which is which. One’s personal beliefs will not do for this. What is demanded is a coherent and consistent over-all theology of The Church acting as guide and boundaries for what IS acceptable to believe and how. Without such a theology everything is reduced to relativism — what this individual thinks and what that individual thinks, etc. with no way to judge whether both are wrong or one is wrong and the other correct. This is often very frustrating to the individuals involved and ends in a shouting match. So, your thoughts are on target but lead to some very deep questions and possible unanswerable divides. THANKS!

          6. Joe Barker says:

            The Bible is very clear, bother in Genesis and Ephesians- a man shall leave his father and mother and be united with his WIFE, not his husband. This is so sad to see the church bow to social pressures and ignore the Word of God.

          7. Matt Ouellette says:

            No, Joe, it is not that clear. Just because the Bible affirms heterosexual relationships does not necessarily mean he condemns all gay relationships. You need to do better than that.

        2. Frank Harrison says:

          Is this a loving and inclusive comment? Just curious?

          1. Jordan Sakal says:

            Frank–

            I apologise dear sir for the lack of my return comment, I appreciated yours and agree with you that it is “above our pay grade” to decide such matters. I enjoyed chatting with you though 🙂

        3. Donald Caron says:

          The Episcopal Church lacks a centralized magisterium to dictate the “one true” meaning of scripture. What we have is a body of believers who walk together in faith, relying on the trinity of scripture, tradition and reason. Beginning some time at the end of the 19th century, a wide variety of new disciplines began to be used to reflect on the interpretation of scripture as well as the wider understanding of the Church’s tradition. This, I believe, is what is meant by “reason.”. We continue to learn from those studies, so that we have a better appreciation of the context and intention behind those ancient documents. In some cases we can find an affinity between the circumstances and spiritual needs those writings offered their original hearers. In other circumstances we must admit that our attempts to apply those precepts to our contemporary needs is twisting them out of shape. The primary focus for followers of Jesus in any age is to embody his example in their own time. That includes using language that is useful in expressing the relationships between humanity and God and humanity and creation and humans with each other.

          1. Frank Harrison says:

            Dear Don, there are some good insights here although I think that some are questionable. I wish that we could sit down face-to-face to chat about them. For instance you say, “What we have is a body of believers who walk together in faith, relying on the trinity of scripture, tradition and reason.” Just what is this “faith in which we walk together. Sounds good, but what are the specifics? For instance there is a goodly number of Episcopalians who want to give up the Creeds — too binding, too narrow, written in an old time, etc. There are those who want to change the Prayer Book to reflect more “contemporary thought.” Did you happen to read the link I posted concerning the last changing of the Prayer Book? To change the words is to change what little theology the Episcopal Church has applying to everyone. Have you been following various comments on the several blogs coming out of the General Convention? Where is the universal idea of walking together in faith? Scripture has been given up in the sense that it is understood in so many very different ways. Tradition is put aside in many conversations, and you have the notion of reason skewed at least from the viewpoint of Hooker. It will be “interesting” to see how this all works out over the coming years and what becomes of the Episcopal Church. In any event, THANKS for your comments.

        4. Charlene R Cook says:

          Robbie Johnson – I think you are correct in what you stated. Churches will lose long time dedicated parishioners for sure………

  3. Steve Price says:

    The criteria must pass the “gospel test” established in the teachings of Jesus himself

    1. Frank Harrison says:

      The old criteria of the Anglican Communion consisted of Scripture, tradition, and reason — no “feeling”. These criteria cannot be successfully applied independent of one another. For instance, what does it mean “to love your neighbor as yourself”? Well, this is understood only within the context of love GOD above all other things — not either yourself or your neighbor. These are at best secondary. And to love God? Well, what are we to understand by God? For some — many — this is a very vague question…lots of different answers each having effects on how the individual then reads Scripture. “Only Scripture” will not work Because there are so many different readings and give “only scripture” there is no way to say which readings are correct and which are wrong except, at the end of the day, one’s personal feelings.

      1. Jon Spangler says:

        I firmly believe that “discernment” (about the nature of marriage and love in our church) based on increasing wisdom is what has led us to decide to include same-sex as well as different-sex marriage in our liturgies and in our communities, not merely “feelings.”

        When Linda and I were married in our packed Episcopal church in 1988, the issue of marrying same-sex couples had not yet arisen fully in our denomination. Now, however, we know more about about human sexuality and biology across species–including the fact that the scientifically normative sexual behavior of many species, including ours, includes both heterosexual and homosexual components or spectra. This scientific knowledge of the creation, as understood through God’s repeated comment in Genesis (“and God saw that it was good”), offers a new vision of the Christian possibilities for love and marriage: the old saying is true that “God does not make junk.”

        Today, in my home church, Linda and I are happily surrounded by committed people of faith from all walks of life who represent many orientations in the spectrum of human sexuality. Some are single and some are in committed relationships, the latter including both same-sex and different-sex marriages. The Light of Christ is clearly and discernibly shining in all of these people and in their relationships, and the light radiating in and through them increases my own personal understanding of God’s boundless love. (“By their fruits you shall know them.”)

        Yes, I am aware of the passages within God’s “eternal” Word that contradict each other and are problematic, but I believe our church today is basing its liturgical decisions and other actions on the highest and best understandings (discernments) of God’s Truth and how best to witness to and live out His Love in our own day.

        1. Frank Harrison says:

          Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Yet, here is a problem. Some in the Episcopal Church say that through “discernment” claim that same-sex marriage is acceptable and, indeed, appropriate within the Christian belief system. Others say that through “discernment” same-sex marriage is neither acceptable nor appropriate within the Christian belief system. One side strongly affirms something to be the case whilst the other side strongly denies that same thing to be the case.. BOTH cannot possibly be correct for that would be a logical contradiction along the lines of “round-square.” First, question: Which side IS correct? Second question: How does one come to that conclusion? Third question: How is the Church then to view those many who are show (not merely thought) wrong? Have a good and safe trip home.

  4. Mary Barrett says:

    I really appreciate the dialogue of all commenters, for the most part very thoughtful and respectful.

  5. A possibly minor point: “However, (A086) also would have added the two trial-use marriage rites to the Book of Common Prayer and amend the prayer book’s other marriage rites, prefaces and sections of the Catechism to make language gender neutral.” Actually, it would not have added them to the BCP. It would have authorized them for trial use without bishop’s approval for possible future inclusion in the BCP.

    1. Frank Harrison says:

      This is worrisome for me. The Episcopal Church is suppose to be apostolic and not congregationalist.

  6. Tom Borcher says:

    The prior discussion highlights the problem with religions that claim to find a source in the Bible and the purported Word of God. I am a retired attorney. I believe in Logic. I am what I believe is called a “Humanist.” I believe in consistency. I do not require a God or a Jesus or a Bible to know that we should all treat our fellow earth occupants with love, respect, equity and kindness. On the other hand, I find so much contradiction in the teachings of religions that I can’t accept. Some examples: In just about every mass school shooting that we’ve had over the past few years we’ve heard relieved parents thanking God for having protected their child. So what does that mean as to the kids who died in the attack? God didn’t want to protect them? Did He want the deceased innocent children back in heaven with him? Wasn’t there a kinder way to “retrieve” them than for these young people to have to sit in a classroom while a maniac went up and down the aisles shooting them in the head or chest? There are just too many horrific tragedies that take place for me to believe there is an “interventionist God.” As the prior comments in this string show, the Bible says one thing but when it gets in the way of current thought we conveniently explain it away. Most religion, it seems to me, is governed by popular thought – albeit just, equitable, kind and generously based popular thought. If it was the Word of God when written in the Bible how can it not be the Word of God now? It’s an issue without any logical explanation. That’s why we there are such divisions on what should be accepted and what should not. Why can’t we set aside a God-based or Bible-based life as a determination of our conduct. Simply treat all humans with dignity, equal application of the laws, kindness and assist the downtrodden. Isn’t that really what most religions demand? Why do we need the illogical and inconsistent forms of religion and the Bible to do that?

    1. Jordan Sakal says:

      Tom,

      If I understand your commentary correctly, you’re asking “how can it not be the Word of God now if it was then?” to this I have to say as an LGBT+ person and as a person of faith that in my view, that there is a Christo-centric hermenuetic that can be applied when analysing the Bible. (This basically how can I read and understand the Bible through Christ’s eyes, it means in my understanding to live life as Christ commanded us, to love one another and our fellow man.)

      I had this discussion today in church with my partner and a friend. In my eyes, and I can be wrong (I am human after all) there are three sections to the Bible. 1. The good lessons/morals that we as people should attempt to teach our fellow man/our children (Love one another, don’t steal, all those kind of common moral lessons) these are universal and transcend religion as morality transcends religion. 2. There is the historical section of the Bible which Christians (including myself) believe occurred as historical fact (Belief in the resurrection and the life of the world to come) and lastly, 3. There is the section of the Bible of rules and happenings (like the great flood of Noah or the various world cleansings) which are to be taken with a grain of salt by a modern society because we recognise them to be historical implausibilities. These laws and regulations (speaking now of Leviticus) that applied as a society back when the Bible was written but do not necessarily apply to a modern society.

      In my eyes, Leviticus (and thus the commentary on gay relationships/marriage/etc) do not apply to a modern society and can be set aside because we have grown in our understanding as a society. We know now that biologically speaking homosexuality exists in thousands of the world’s species. We know that these relationships are natural and normal. We have grown beyond the world view proscribed for us as people of faith by Leviticus.

      Does this help?

      Jordan

      1. Tom Borcher says:

        Jordan,
        I appreciate the time you took to respond to my comment in a way that shows a willingness to engage in a discussion of what some consider delicate issues in a learned manner. This response is meant to respond in kind.
        My problem with the “three sections” approach to the Bible is that it appears to rely solely on a subjective analysis based on faith. As I mentioned in my first posting, I look for logic and consistency and I can’t say that I necessarily see that in your approach. I don’t have much of a problem with your first category – in fact I tend to believe that the entire Bible fits into category 1. It is a collections of teachings written by very human authors.
        I have a real problem, however, with sections 2 and 3. There is no more basis in fact for the resurrection and the existence of heaven than there is for the great flood of Noah or the various world cleansings or people being turned into pillars of salt. It is one’s faith that supports events like the ressurection and heaven. That’s okay. I have no problem with that. Faith serves a very important role for many people.
        But I don’t see how you can distinguish between saying “facts” support section 2 but not the rules and happenings in section 3.
        And that’s why I maintain that the Bible isn’t really considered the Word of God so much as what men/women have come to believe through their religious faith. Thus, it is forever amenable to various interpretations that may change over time. If it was truly merely a transcription of God’s dictation than it would seem He would have known what “modern society” knows even back when the first text was put to paper.

        1. Frank Harrision says:

          My faulty — Consistency and coherence are backbones to any “view”. I shall not go into the details, but from an inconsistent view, ANYTHING can be shown to be the case. Admittedly there are various sorts of inconsistencies — those of syntax, of semantics and of pragmatics. Again, I shall not go into any of this here. (Read one of my texts on logic.) You make some excellent points mainly directed to the more-or-less Protestant Evangelical who embraces “sola scriptorium” — a logically speaking positions very difficult out of which to make consistent sense. Let us assume that position for a moment. Then someone says, “Ah, the story of Sodimun and Gomora is all about hospitality.” Someone else says, “The story is all about homosexuality.” Put these two views together and there is a contradiction. (This is a simplification ignoring for the sake of discussion that they could both be wrong.) Assuming one view is correct and the other incorrect we now come to two interesting questions. WHICH vie is true and WHICH view is false; furthermore, WHY is this the case? Relying only on the Bible will not, cannot answer. We have to move to some other criteria — here perhaps tradition and reason. I think that you are hitting on all of this: It (the Bible) is a collections of teachings written by very human authors. Yes, but within the framework of a very long tradition and the lase of reason. I enjoy your comments and forcing me to attempt to be clearer THANKS!

          1. Jordan Sakal says:

            Mr. Harrison,

            I apologise that it has taken me four days to respond to you, I was in a nasty bicycle crash which resulted in a broken nose and a pretty banged up rest of me which I had to take care of first. (That and I didn’t have the option ticked to notify me of responses to my posts, silly me)

            Going back to your first post here about the Tri-partite view of the Bible, you could be right about the differences between sections two and three. What I mean is that there is historical evidence for portions of the Bible I mentioned (the resurrection and life of Jesus for example) You are correct that these facts also require the application of faith, but like you say, believing in things provides people hope and a sense of direction and purpose. That’s pretty much par for the course in human history.

            Section three though (the flood, wiping out of civilisations etc etc) is shakier to me, there (to my knowledge) does not exist historical record or archaeological record of the possibility of the flood or the cleansings. Where are the remains of the ark? things like that.

            Does that clarify?

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