Friday, July 3, 2015

July 3 - Blogging GC'15

A statement of dissent, and a cordial response 

A minority report has been filed by 18 bishops in the House of Bishops. It expresses dissent from the actions taken to make fully shared marriage rites available (A054) and to change the marriage canon to do that (A036). However, it also expresses the intention of the endorsers to remain loyal to The Episcopal Church.

Bishops' "Minority Report" on changes to the marriage canon (I.18)

In response, the House of Bishops affirmed the relationships among bishops who disagree on these matters.

"Mind of the House" response to that Minority Report

Here is a link to ENS stories on what has been happening at GC'15:

Episcopal News Service stories on the 78th General Convention

We are nearly done, after what is likely to be a long day today. Please continue to send up your prayers.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

July 2 - Blogging GC'15

Marriage Work is Complete

The work on marriage at GC'15 is now complete, as of late yesterday afternoon.

All parts of the three-part bundle of marriage resolutions were passed, with slight amendments, by the House of Bishops, with the House of Deputies concurring without further amendment. Here are the three resolutions in their final form:
  1. A037 - Continue the Work of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage
  2. A054 - Adopt Resources and Rites from "Liturgical Resources I: I will bless you and you will be a blessing, Revised and Expanded 2015
  3. A036 - Amend Canon I.18 Marriage
I summarized the effect of these three resolutions on June 25, and I'll be even more brief here:

The blessings rite for same-sex couples authorized at GC'12 is authorized for another three years, and two new marriage rites are authorized for fully shared use, so that different-sex and same-sex couples can use the same marriage rites. Diocesan bishops retain authority to permit or forbid use of those rites in their dioceses, but if they forbid use of the marriage rites, they must allow their use by the couple and/or their priest in a neighboring diocese. Furthermore, no one will be required to perform these rites in any specific case. The marriage canon, Canon I.18, has been changed so that it is consistent with same-sex marriage. Finally, the marriage task force will continue. Some members will serve again for continuity, but a few total seats will be added so that a greater representation of the spectrum of understandings of marriage in our Church can be incorporated.

The votes taken by the House of Deputies were taken by Orders (explained below) yesterday, as follows -- note that the votes represented here count deputations (clergy & lay), not individual deputies:

Vote on A054: Liturgies

Vote on A036: Canon

Vote sheet for DSO on A036

In a vote by Orders, every deputy must sign their name by their vote, and these are a matter of record. A motion must pass both in a majority of clergy deputations and in a majority of lay deputations -- but to pass in a clergy or lay deputation, 3 of the 4 deputies must vote in favor. So calling for a vote by Orders in effect makes it harder for a motion to pass.

You can see from the votes, however, that both A054 and A036 passed by large margins.

Finally, here are some other resources for learning about the new marriage situation in The Episcopal Church.

DSO videos of reflections by Bishop Breidenthal

Episcopal News Service story

House of Deputies News story

Associated Press news note

Summary of SCOTUS decision in Center Aisle

We have two more "legislative days" remaining. We are so grateful for your prayers thus far. Please continue to pray for us.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

July 1 -- Blogging GC'15

Updates at bottom 

A Note about Focus

There are many things going on during this 78th General Convention that I am not mentioning. I am focusing almost exclusively on the legislative activity related to marriage, with reflections on the election of our next Presiding Bishop here

Busy Day Ahead

Yesterday we had a bit of a mess up, when it became clear that the structure resolutions and the following items on the calendar for consideration were not available to Spanish-speaking deputies in translation. So we recessed earlier than planned.

Today therefore we are scheduled to deal with three major items of business:
  1. 11:15 a.m. Mountain Time: structure (meaning institutional governance structures), 
  2. 2:15 p.m. Mountain Time: budget (a presentation, not the vote), and 
  3. 3:45 p.m. Mountain Time: marriage (A036 & A054)
Optimistically, this means we could get a lot done today.

For fun, I took some photos on my run this morning so that I could share them here.

Some Photos from a Run Up the Hill

I decided to run up to the Utah State Capitol and continued on up the hill to see what I could find.

An LDS building across from the Temple complex

The Utah state capitol building

A chapel in the park at the bottom of Canyon Creek Road

The view (1) from "The View" lookout, above the capitol

The view (2) from "The View" lookout, above the capitol

Another view of the state capitol building

A final view of the state capitol building

Especially today, please keep us in your prayers.


UPDATE:  The HoD is considering in order the following resolutions: A004, A006, D013, A133, A054, and A036. We have adopted the first two, so there are two more to go before we reach the two marriage resolutions (A054 & A036). We meet 2:15-3:15 for a join HoD + HoB session for the presentation of the proposed budget. Then, after a shorter than originally scheduled break, we begin again at 3:30 p.m. Mountain Time. It is impossible to know exactly when discussion of the marriage resolutions will begin. My hunch would be about 4:00 p.m., possibly a bit before or after that.

UPDATE 2: Both A054 and A036 passed in the House of Deputies, on votes by Orders. Details in the morning, on tomorrow morning's blog post.

July 1 quick note RE marriage resolutions -- Blogging GC'15

Remaining Marriage Resolutions: A036 & A054

It appears at this writing (5am July 1) that the discussion of the remaining marriage resolutions (A036 and A054) will be moved back.

The House of Deputies will resume the discussion of the structure resolutions at 11:30 a.m.

At 2:15 p.m. we will have the joint HoB & HoD session to receive the report of PB&F on the budget.

Then, possibly, the discussion of A036 and A054 scheduled for 11:30 a.m. will take place beginning at 3:45 p.m. (Mountain Time).

I will post updates here when they are available.


UPDATE 7:45 a.m.:
Here is a tweet from HoD News / @DeputyNews

"HoD today: Finish yesterday's structure debate in 11:15 am session, joint budget session at 2:15 pm, marriage in 3:45 pm session. "

Reminder: This is all Mountain Time. So 3:45 p.m. in UT is 5:45 p.m. in OH.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

July 30 - Blogging GC'15

Marriage Resolutions 

Yesterday the House of Deputies passed Resolution A037, to continue, expand, and make more representative the Task Force on the Study of Marriage.

This action concurred with the earlier adoption by the House of Bishops, which passed A037 from the marriage committee unamended.

So that first part of the three-part bundle of marriage resolutions is accomplished.

The other two parts have come from the House of Bishops to the marriage committee and this morning were approved for submission to the House of Deputies.

The House of Bishops passed slightly amended versions of Resolutions A036 and A054:
  • A036 -- to amend the marriage canon, I.18, to make it gender-neutral, and 
  • A054 -- to extend approval of the GC'12 same-sex unions blessing liturgy and to approve for "trial use" the same-sex marriage liturgies, toward Prayer Book revision. 
The amendment to A036 was simply a clarification of language.

There were two amendments to A054 in the House of Bishops: (i) dropping from trial use the same-sex marriage liturgy based on the 1928 BCP, and (ii) specifying the provision for the authorization and oversight of diocesan bishops in the use of the two marriage liturgies approved for trial use.

Those two liturgies are a marriage rite based on the language approved at GC'12 for the blessings rite, but adding a section for marriage, and a marriage rite based on the 1979 BCP marriage rite. Both would be gender-neutral, so either could be used with proper authorizations by different-sex and same-sex couples equally.

The specification added by the House of Bishops concerning episcopal authority reads as follows:

"Bishops exercising ecclesiastical authority or, where appropriate, ecclesiastical supervision will make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have access to these liturgies. Trial use is only available under the direction and with the permission of the Diocesan Bishop...."

This means that diocesan bishops have the prerogative whether to authorize trial use of the liturgies, whether for different-sex or same-sex couples, and if they do not authorize this use, they must "make provision" for the liturgies to be available for use by couples.

For instance, "provision" (in the quote above) could be made by allowing a couple and their priest go to a contiguous diocese where the diocesan bishop authorizes their use. This model of "provision" is currently being used by Bishop Ed Little in the Diocese of Northern Indiana for the blessings rite approved at GC'12.

A special order of business, with special rules for debate, is being worked out today for action by the House of Deputies on A036 and A054. The latest information I have is that this debate will begin tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 11:00 a.m. (Mountain Time).


UPDATE: The special order for debate will begin at 11:30 rather than 11:00 a.m. (Mountain Time).

UPDATE #2:  Because the resolutions on structure were not translated into Spanish for this afternoon's discussion, after over an hour into our proceeding, discussion of them was postponed until translation could be completed. I am now informed that the marriage resolutions scheduled for 11:30 a.m. will be considered in the afternoon. 


How might this turn out?

The House of Deputies concurred with the House of Bishops on A037 yesterday, after two unsuccessful attempts to amend A037, by voice vote with a resounding majority. So I have every expectation that A036 and A054 will also pass, but we are likely to be called upon to vote by Orders -- a move designed to make passage more difficult.

For a resolution to be approved by a deputation, 50% + 1 must approve it. In a vote by Orders, that means that BOTH 3 of 4 clergy deputies AND 3 of 4 lay deputies must support the resolution.

The voice vote yesterday on A037 suggested that opposition on that one at least was confined to three or four pockets of deputies at various points in our large meeting hall. If that is any indication, we should be able to pass A036 and A054 in the morning session tomorrow.

Stay tuned!

If you want moment by moment progress, I suggest you follow @DeputyNews on Twitter, which is how I followed the floor debate in the House of Bishops yesterday on A036 and A054, though I was on the floor of the House of Deputies at the time.

House of Deputies Photos

Here are some images related to voting in the House of Deputies and also of three of our DSO deputies who have addressed the House:

The voting device with the ID card inserted

Electronic vote results are displayed this way to the House of Deputies.
Debby Stokes (DSO Deputation Chair) was elected by a landslide!

Debby Stokes

Laura Gentner

The Rev. Canon Scott Gunn

Here is what the House of Deputies (about 815 people) looks like.

From the side:

From the back:

Please continue to pray for this great (large) Episcopal Church sausage-making factory!

Monday, June 29, 2015

June 29 - Blogging GC'15

A sign, not a measure

It took me more than a day to quit hurting over the election of our next Presiding Bishop.

Maybe because I'm one of those egghead professor types, I often need to put things into words before my emotions can listen to reason. On my run up Canyon Creek Road this morning, it finally came to me.

A vote tally is usually a measure of voter preference, based on their assessment of the quality or shared values of the nominees or candidates. But the House of Bishops elected the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry on the first ballot, and by a striking, actually astonishing margin. Here is how the vote was represented to the House of Deputies:

Click on the photo for an enlarged image.

That took me by surprise. I had not expected such a unity among the bishops, let alone that early in the process -- especially given all the positive responses to Bishop Breidenthal's video introductions and his answers to questions during the lead up to the election.

It still hurts a little, a cut that has begun to heal. But several fellow deputies have told me, on elevators, in corridors, when they find out I'm from Southern Ohio, that they really like my bishop. And I'm assured the bishops feel the same way.

This vote was not a measure. It was a sign.

It was a sign of unity in opposition to racism in The Episcopal Church and in the United States and beyond. It was a sign that Bishop Curry is very highly regarded as one who can represent our Church to other Churches and other faiths and to the larger world, to help bring the good news of Christ -- God-with-us in breathing flesh and bone -- to hurting people and a troubled world.

Perhaps especially in our current moment, we need that. And the bishops knew it. And they said it straight out.

I embrace that sign and celebrate it. I see a way to rejoicing. And I am excited about what lies just ahead.

 See more reflections here: Center Aisle Issue #6.


The House of Bishops began late yesterday afternoon discussing the proposed changes to the marriage canon (A036) and the proposed trial liturgies (A054) but had to postpone further consideration until today. 

The House of Deputies will consider today the proposed extension of the work of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage (A037), along with its expansion to include a wider spectrum of understandings in our Church.

Panel on Defining Marriage

Last night Bishop Breidenthal and five others were part of a very interesting panel discussion on marriage. The event was sponsored by The Living Church (see also this post-panel reflection). The Living Church is a well known news and opinion magazine representing the more conservative voices in The Episcopal Church.

These were the questions put to the panelists (as best I could remember them when writing  notes):
  1. What is marriage?
  2. Is marriage a human institution or a divine gift?
  3. Are children a [mere] addendum to marriage or part of its very purpose?
  4. What is the social purpose of marriage?
  5. What is happening with sexual morality today, given the relatively high rates of [non-committed] pre-marital sex and [committed] non-marital cohabitation?
  6. What happens next to marriage, given social and church changes afoot -- Do we see marriage as part of the final perfection of creation?
Some panelists shared personal stories, and the discussion was especially collegial. It was another witness to the breadth of understandings of marriage in our Church, as well as to the special gifts Bishop Breidenthal and others offer to our conversations.

It was also a happy reminder about how cordially we can discuss our disagreements, within The Episcopal Church. We can celebrate the lives and witness of those with whom we do not agree.

Up Canyon Creek Road

I turn up onto Canyon Creek Road, gates keeping cars down in the neighborhood. I join the runners, and the walkers with their dogs. Cattle dogs in the dessert, lapdogs on leash, shepherds watching their leaders for the next sign. Cyclists pass us all, climbing up and swishing down. The paved road is faded, cracked, speckled by dulled white gravel points in gray tar. Ochre grooves in the speckled gray, red clay smudged by tires into pavement. Green leafy bushes and trees line the road along the creek. Bare canyon ridges surround us. Smell the dry air. Hear the creek. Roly polies move across the road, delicate armor over eyelash legs, solitary, but so many, a hoard scattered, alone. And cottonwood down lines the edge where a hummingbird comes to have a look. At me? At lavender and yellow flower blossoms on the weeds? At a swarm of tiny red ants on dropped candy? And the creek gulps and sloshes around rocks. And cuts a canyon from ages unto ages.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

June 28 - GC'15 Blogging

Last night the special legislative committee on marriage completed the initial phase of our work. The only remaining work we may need to do will arise in case either the House of Bishops or the House of Deputies amends any of the three resolutions we have sent forward.

Those resolutions follow the outline I mentioned yesterday in points 1-3.

Here is one way some survive the tedium of legislative debate in the House of Deputies:

The virtual Binder (vBinder) with all proposed legislation and other information is at her right, on and charging, and something to help maintain sanity is before her.

Here is what the final hearing of my committee looked like on Friday night from the second row of the podium:

The committee on marriage was seated at the front. In front of me on the platform are [left to right] Jack Tull (Florida), Bishop Anne Hodges-Copple (North Carolina), the Rev. Tobias Haller, BSG (New York), and Bishop Tom Ely (Vermont).

Thank you for keeping all of us here in your prayers.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

June 27 - Blogging GC'15

On a my morning runs I am listening to Bruce Cockburn's all-instrumental (acoustic guitar) album "Speechless," up on Canyon Creek Road from the bottom land where Salt Lake City lies. It is helping me focus and center.

The work of the Committee #20 on Marriage is going very well. We are nearly finished. Here are the accomplished and/or likely results:

1. We have sent to the House of Bishops a revised Resolution A037 which would authorize an extension of the work of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. The group would retain some members and grow a bit, to 15, with a membership more representative of the spectrum of theological and cultural understandings of marriage present in our Church. It has passed in the House of Bishops and will come before the House of Deputies soon.

2. The committee completed work on Resolution A036 this morning. It proposes changes in the marriage canon, Canon I.18, that would remove gender-specific language so that it is not inconsistent with same-sex marriage. This resolution will go to the House of Bishops immediately.

Resolutions A036 and A037 came from the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, of which the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, the Very Rev. Gail Greenwell, was a member.

3. The committee will meet again after dinner tonight to continue perfecting Resolution A054. This is the same-sex blessing and marriage liturgies resolution, from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. It appears very likely at this point that we will approve and forward to the House of Bishops a proposal to continue the use of the blessings liturgy approved at GC'12. We also seem likely to propose for "trial use" three liturgies for same-sex marriage: (i) one following the language used in the GC'12 blessings liturgy but including marriage as well, (ii) one following the 1979 BCP liturgy but gender-neutral, (iii) one following the 1928 BCP marriage liturgy but gender-neutral.

"Trial use" means that we would be using these liturgies as possible substitutes for the current rites in the BCP, so the idea is that they would be approved as part of a process of revising the 1979 BCP.

The effect of adoptions by General Convention of such a version of A054 would be that The Episcopal Church would have fully shared rites of marriage used by different-sex and same-sex couples equally.

The substance of all the other resolutions that were assigned to our committee will have been dealt with by these three resolutions.

I'm sure you are aware that today (at this writing, in a few minutes) the House of Bishops will elect their next Presiding Bishop. No one knows how long that will take. We will know results only after they are finished. Then the House of Deputies has to confirm the choice for it to be final. We here in the DSO presence at GC'15 are all praying for the Breidenthals and for our Church.

UPDATE: The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry (North Carolina) was elected by the House of Bishops to be the next Presiding Bishop, and the election was confirmed by the House of Deputies.

Friday, June 26, 2015

June 26 - Blogging GC'15

I am occupied by the work of my legislative committee (#20 on Marriage), and I'm skipping things to do it, and I'm afraid I did not devote enough time to blogging this morning before other people's day, and meetings, began.

So I thought I would simply mention that this is the publication during General Conventions that I consistently read, every issue: Center Aisle.

I don't agree with everything they print, but for me this publication is a reliable way to sound out whether I am confident about my own positions on the issues before Convention. Often I agree, and when I don't, I know important concerns I need to be able to answer.

As you will see if you follow the link, it is published through the Diocese of Virginia.

During my 7:30 a.m. committee meeting this morning, we received word of the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling upholding the right to marry for all people in all 50 of the United States. We paused, had a moving moment of prayer and reflection, and adjourned to consider the implications for our lives in our Church at this historic moment.

We have another full day of legislative sessions and committee hearings and meetings ahead.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

June 25 - Blogging GC'15

Early yesterday, we had in a joint session opening presentations by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, and then the two Houses divided for their orientations.

Staying with the idea that the three items likely to attract most attention at GC'15 are (1) the election of the next Presiding Bishop (Bishop Breidenthal being one of the four nominees), (2) the response of Convention to the proposals of TREC (the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church), and (3) the actions of Convention relating to the theology and practice of marriage in The Episcopal Church (TEC) -- I'd say that the main event yesterday was the introductions of the nominees for PB and the Q&A in a joint session of the Houses of Bishops and Deputies.

All four nominees get medals for holding up so well under that pressure. Wow. Each had an opening video introduction of themselves, made an opening statement, answered an initial question about their vision for The Episcopal Church tailored to them individually based on their earlier responses to the nominating committee, and responded to 8 more questions drawn from a fishbowl on the spot. Then each had an opportunity to come back to anything they wanted to expand upon or that they'd left out, and each made a closing statement.

By the end of that three hour process, I think many in the audience were exhausted. Kudos to the four nominees.

May I just say that I am very proud of our bishop. If we get to keep Bishop Breidenthal, it will be a wonderful thing for us. If we lose him, it will be a wonderful thing for The Episcopal Church.

Legislative committees met twice yesterday. My committee on marriage met at 7:00 a.m. to discuss what each of us members hoped we would accomplish in our work -- so this was the first point when we all began to be open with each other about how we approach the questions we are considering. At 7:00 p.m. we had a hearing on four resolutions (A037, C007, C009, and D026). We heard testimony from 18 deputies, alternates, and visitors, almost all of whom were eloquent and passionate in urging us to move The Episcopal Church toward marriage equality as soon as possible. The hearing lasted until about 7:50 p.m., when everyone who had signed up had spoken, and the committee took a brief break.

In the discussion that followed that hearing, we began to consider how to deal with A037, which recommends study of the report of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage and calls for extension of its work and expansion of its membership.

Today we have our first legislative session of GC'15 at 8:00 a.m. and Opening Eucharist at 9:30 a.m. Legislative committees meet twice and, at their third meeting, have more time for hearings on resolutions with which they are working. My committee will hear testimony on resolutions dealing with proposed changes to our marriage canon.

Finally, if you are on Twitter and want updates, you might consider following @ladyb14 (Laura Gentner, DSO lay deputy), @scottagunn (Scott Gunn, DSO clergy deputy), @diosohio (the DSO Twitter-feed), @DeputyNews (from the President of the House of Deputies), and #gc78 which tweeting deputies, bishops, guests, and interested folk are using.

UPDATE:  If you're not getting emails from our DSO media-hub, you can find the website here:

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

June 24 - Blogging GC'15

Yesterday about 1000 people, deputies and bishops, plus official visitors and attendees on top of that, registered for GC’15. Deputies and bishops received their “credentials” (name tag & voting card) and their iPad containing the “vBinder” or virtual – not this year actual – gigantic notebook with all the paper documents produced before and during GC.

Also, the first meetings of legislative committees were held, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Committee #20 on Marriage, June 23, with 8-10 on my side not pictured

In Committee #20 on Marriage we did ice-breaker activities aimed at helping warm us to each other as people rather than positions-on-the-issues, and we heard an introductory presentation on the work of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage (TFSM).

Today the two Houses will have opening presentations from the Presidents of the two Houses, and the nominees for the next Presiding Bishop will be presented. Our Diocese of Southern Ohio (DSO) deputation, along with the deputations of the other three nominees, will then receive a special orientation on what happens if our bishop is the one elected.

Legislative committees meet again tonight, 7:00-9:00 p.m., when some will be holding their first public hearings.

Here are three things I'm thinking about this morning, all somewhat tentative, before the Marriage committee begins substantive discussions and hearings, all of which would need to be spelled out more fully:

One of the things proposed (in slightly different ways is several resolutions) is a change in our marriage canon (Canon I.18) so that gender-specific language ("a man and a woman" or "husband and wife") is changed to, or interpreted to function as, gender-neutral language ("two people" or "the couple"). In some dioceses where same-sex marriage or civil union or domestic partnership is legal, the approved rite for blessing same-sex unions is already being used in performing same-sex marriages, etc. This follows and conforms to actions taken at GC'12 but it also violates or seems to violate our marriage canon and the letter and/or spirit of our BCP marriage rite. Some observe, in response to concerns about this, that changes in our canons have often followed changes in our practices, rather than vice versa, so canon change now would not really introduce innovation but would follow the precedent for canon change to follow actual practice.  But if canon change follows change of practice, rather than vice versa, then that seems to mean that the [written, public] rules are not the [real] rules. What then are the rules? How can we trust each other if this is not clear? The rules should function as the parameters within which we can be open to each other and can rely on each other. When the rules are not the rules, and when the majority control what the [real] rules are, how is the minority or anyone to know the parameters? It can be easy to think that there are no [real] rules but only uses of power by the dominant over the smaller and weaker.

Because of the way the human brain evolved (see triune brain theory), we all have a default reaction when we feel genuinely threatened. The oldest part of the brain is sometimes referred to as the reptilian complex, which mammals share with reptiles. When threatened, we go into Security mode, and we use almost any means necessary for self-preservation. We can be steeled against this default mode so that we can override it, but the safest way to avoid Security mode is to be able to trust each other so that we don't feel threatened. Nonetheless, when we go into Security mode, we can get defensive, aggressive, and/or violent (psychologically and/or physically). Battle lines form. Hearts stiffen. Minds close. 

In my opinion, the best course through these discussions of marriage would be to find ways in which we acknowledge the merits of other approaches to the issues; no one comes out without making concessions; everyone contributes some of their understanding to our final resolution. As I commented in the previous post (June 20), I think the votes are there for approving same-sex marriage and "marriage equality." So here are, in my opinion, two large ways in which progressives can (and need to) learn from traditionalists (stated far too briefly here), on

(1) the importance of children and the nurture of children in families for the benefit and well being of our congregations and of the larger society; we could or should see the nurture of children as normative (normal and to be expected), so that not participating in the nurture of children, our own or children we have adopted, entails needing to commit some comparable investment in the common good (incidentally, Charlotte and I are being reminded about the sacrifices parents make by the baby on the other side of the doors dividing our hotel room from the adjacent room, who cries at various points through the night but who is quickly cared for and stops crying after he or she has woken parents and us), and

(2) the remedy for sinfulness in the practice of holy union; sinfulness comes in two main forms (perhaps among others): the "me first" form, and the "us first" form. Marriage is a practice that can transform us from "me first" to "you first" and "us first." Eucharistic community is a practice that can transform us from "us first" to concern for others, beyond our ethnic or sub-cultural group like one's local denominational church. 

One way forward, then, would be to acknowledge the importance of the nurture of children and the importance of marriage as a remedy for human sinfulness, drawing on two special strong points in traditionalist perspectives on marriage.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

June 20 - Blogging GC'15

First I offer a preface that introduces the upcoming 78th General Convention (GC’15) of The Episcopal Church (TEC) and that provides links for learning about and following it online. Then in the bulk of this blog post I offer my hunches on whether, and if so how, this Convention will approve same-sex marriage. In my personal opinion – at this point, having no insider knowledge – it is not a slam-dunk. Still, anyone making odds would have to predict we will do it. If we don’t, I would wager it will be because the House of Bishops decides not to concur with the House of Deputies in doing it now, based on its sense, as it evolves over the next several days in their House, of how we should care for our loyal minority, not to mention how we should position ourselves relative to the many more socially conservative parts of the Anglican Communion and non-Anglican Christian churches.

In my opinion, there are strong arguments on both sides, which I attempt to outline briefly below. In some important respects, the tension is between (a) giving full standing in TEC to a historically oppressed and mistreated LGBT minority, which has now gained the clear legislative majority in recent General Conventions and in the larger culture, especially among young adults and youth, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, (b) providing a bit more time to adjust for those Episcopalians who believe same-sex marriage would be a fundamental departure from biblical teaching and the long tradition in the Church, but who have remained loyal to TEC when many of their like-minded [former] Episcopalians have abandoned ship. It is a difficult call if you’re not already sworn to one side or the other. Bishops face this choice in a special way, because the job of bishops is not only to provide for the care of all of us but also to guide their dioceses to a greater unity in witness to the love of Christ for a broken world.

Warning: This initial blog post is a good bit more tedious than my other GC'15 blog posts will be. 

* * *


The 78th General Convention (GC’15) begins early next week. Charlotte and I depart for Salt Lake City on Monday morning (June 22). Legislative committees hold their first public meetings on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. (June 23, Mountain Time, which is 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time). Most or all legislative committees have already been meeting by conference call and via email, beginning April 1 in the case of my committee, which is Committee #20 on Marriage. Please pray for all of us.

Some resources:

The Media Hub for the 78th General Convention:
The outline schedule for GC’15:
Homepage for the 78th General Convention:
Legislative committee list:
Bishop Breidenthal’s overview at a recent forum at St Timothy’s, Cincinnati (25 min., available in HD):

Many would agree that the three most watched actions of GC’15 will be (1) the election of the next Presiding Bishop (Bishop Breidenthal being one of the four nominees), (2) the response of Convention to the proposals of TREC (the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church), and (3) the actions of Convention relating to the theology and practice of marriage in The Episcopal Church (TEC).

On the nominees for Presiding Bishop, see:
and for videos of the four nominees, see:

The TREC proposals are here:
And the omnibus page for all reports to GC’15 is here:

I write this post, prior to the beginning of GC'15, primarily to outline what I see as the basic questions that will be considered by the legislative committee on marriage. That committee will then present to the relevant Houses of Convention (House of Deputies, House of Bishops), for consideration and action, its best recommendations.

* * *

MARRIAGE: Backstory (recent only)

The Episcopal Church (TEC) has been moving toward our current discussions of same-sex marriage for decades.

Some Episcopalians believe that marriage was established in creation by God as a union between one man and one woman, and they have a strong argument based on biblical texts and a solid and very long history of interpretations of, and theological reflections based on, those texts as warrant for their belief.

Other Episcopalians read the same texts differently. They believe that things have changed and that it is now possible to recognize (perhaps unjust not to recognize) that some same-sex couples are blessed by God. Such same-sex couples offer sufficient evidence that their love for and support of each other are wholesome and exemplary signs of God’s love for and support of humans. Episcopalians who see things this way may say this has always been so, or they may say that the Holy Spirit is showing us something new.

I would have to oversimplify a lot if I suggested that there are two and only two positions on same-sex marriage. The two groups I described are each internally diverse, and there are sub-groups within each group, but I’ll not go into all that now.

Three recent General Conventions may be highlighted as providing our immediate context.

In 2003, the 74th General Convention confirmed the election of the then Rev. Canon Gene Robinson as Bishop IX of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. Bishop Robinson would become the first openly partnered gay bishop in TEC, and this was well known at the time GC’03 confirmed his election.

In 2009, the 76th General Convention (Resolution C056) charged the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to collect and develop theological and liturgical resources relating to the blessing of same-sex unions and to consult about these issues widely within TEC and the Anglican Communion, and it directed the SCLM to report to GC’12.

In 2012, the 77th General Convention (Resolution A049) commended the SCLM resources for study and authorized for provisional use a liturgy for blessing same-sex unions, and (in Resolution A050) it directed appointment of a Task Force for the Study of Marriage (TFSM) which was to collect and develop resources, to consult widely, and to report to GC’15.

So the special committee on marriage at GC’15 will consider reports both from the SCLM and from the TFSM.

SCLM report (including Resolution A054 on pp. 4-5):
SCLM Liturgical Resources:

TFSM report (including Resolutions A036 & A037 on pp. 4-8):
I have commented on the TFSM report here:

Committee #20 on Marriage will also consider several resolutions submitted by dioceses, bishops, and/or deputies.

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MARRIAGE: Summary of Two Principal Issues

For convenience, so that we have a single, answerable question, I will approach this as follows: What would have to happen at GC’15 for same-sex marriage to receive approval? That is, what motions or resolutions would have to pass to move from the current, provisional use of a rite for blessing same-sex unions to endorsement of a rite for same-sex marriage?

Simplifying, in my opinion, there are two broad questions before us. The first is the theological question whether TEC should at least in principle endorse same-sex marriage and not only same-sex unions. The second is whether same-sex marriage could actually be approved by GC’15 without violating the Constitution and/or Canons of TEC.

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The Theological Question:

On the theological question, I cannot here adequately address the merits of either side (“yes” or “no” to same-sex marriage). But I can say that, in my opinion, there are at least two ways to look at this. On one way, TEC has already approved same-sex marriage by approving the blessing of same-sex unions.

The principal Book of Common Prayer (BCP) marriage rite (pp. 423-432) divides the moment when civil marriage takes place (pp. 427-428) from the moment when the blessing of the union takes place (pp. 430-431). These are distinct moments in the rite in which distinct functions are performed.

On this first way of thinking, when the 77th General Convention (GC’12) approved for study and use “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” contained in “Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing,” it approved for provisional use a rite which for all intents and purposes means that God blesses some same-sex unions such that they are bona fide marriages from a Christian religious point of view even if they could not legally speaking be valid marriages in all states and jurisdictions. The section of the BCP marriage rite in which civil marriage takes place had to be omitted from the blessings liturgy approved in 2012 because in the U.S. the states control legal marriage; however, because of the "free exercise" clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the states cannot control church blessings. So GC’12 approved a rite which offers blessing and, in effect, according to this way of thinking, therefore approved the theological idea if not the legal reality of same-sex marriage.

Resolution 2015 A054 from the SCLM proposes liturgies that add the civil function (legal marriage) to the ecclesial function (blessing) so that, in states or jurisdictions where same-sex marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership is allowed, and at the discretion of bishops exercising ecclesiastical authority, TEC may offer, in a combined rite for same-sex couples, both marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership, and blessing, in rites that can be used by both same-sex and different-sex couples. Hence, "marriage equality."

If this is correct, then adoption of resolution A054 would not represent a change in our theology of marriage except in a nominal sense, because what is proposed is not substantially different theologically from what was already approved at GC’12.

It could certainly feel like a significant difference, but that feeling would – according to this way of thinking – be based on a misunderstanding of the distinction between the civil and ecclesial functions of our current BCP marriage rite and of the rites proposed for use in the third Resolved of A054.

On an alternative way of thinking, however, the BCP marriage rite is a single sacramental act, even if the part where civil marriage is pronounced is in a distinct section of the liturgy from the part where God’s blessing of the couple is pronounced by the church. From this point of view, what was approved in GC’12 was at most partial and preliminary.

The sacrament cannot be divided in the way suggested by the analysis above. So GC’12 did not approve same-sex marriage but only a measure of pastoral accommodation for LGBT Episcopalians who seek the church’s recognition of their lifelong, monogamous, self-giving unions.

Therefore, on this second way of thinking, to approve A054 at GC’15 would constitute a substantial and fundamental break with church tradition and the biblical witness about God’s design for marriage.

To put the question as one of liturgical theology, then, the crucial issue is whether the BCP marriage rite is a single sacramental act or a sacramental blessing added onto, and following, a civil marriage. One way to address this question would be this:

If the ministers of TEC were to cease altogether performing the function of civil marriage, as some have proposed, no longer seeking authorization by the various states or jurisdictions to perform legal marriage as part of our church ceremonies, would we retain the vows made by the couple (BCP pp. 427-428), after which the Celebrant pronounces the couple married, or would we omit them?

If we would retain the vows, then we must regard the blessing alone, without the vows, as an incomplete part of a Christian marriage ritual, and that would suggest that A054 may indeed propose something substantially different theologically. To adopt it, on this interpretation, would be the real break from a traditional theology of marriage.

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The Constitutional Question:

The Living Church (June 28 issue) has published an article by Bishops Benhase (Diocese of Georgia) and McConnell (Diocese of Pittsburg) in which they argue that resolution A054 is out of bounds constitutionally.

If I understand their argument, they believe that Article X of the Constitution of TEC does not allow authorization by a single General Convention of rites which would function as a matter of fact as substitutes for or additions to BCP rites, unless they are authorized for trial use in preparation for Prayer Book revision – even when those rites are only to be used with approval of the local bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority. With respect to the BCP, both “alteration thereof and addition thereto” (Article X, para. 1) are forbidden except as part of Prayer Book revision, or in a process that requires approval by two consecutive General Conventions.

Their interpretation seems accurate to me, though I am neither a lawyer nor a canon lawyer.

Here is the TEC Constitution and Canons; see p. 9 for Article X, which is p. 17 of the .pdf file:

Resolution A054 (see the third Resolved) proposes that GC’15 authorize some rites (found at the SCLM Liturgical Resources link, pp. 76-108) that would in fact function as alternatives to the BCP marriage rite (pp. 423-432), though they would be authorized only “under the direction of the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority” (third Resolved).

One piece of evidence that Bishops Benhase and McConnell are correct in interpreting Article X as they do is the following: one response to their argument has been that the canonical changes proposed by the Task Force for the Study of Marriage (TFSM) would clear up the conflict we currently have rather than creating a new conflict. In this response from a TFSM member, the Rev. Tobias Haller, BSG, states that we already approve liturgies out of compliance with a strict reading of Article X, such as the blessings liturgy approved by GC’12 when used in states that allow same-sex marriage. He has also pointed out that we have authorized additions to the BCP in the Enriching Our Worship series.

This response, as I understand it, is that conflict with Article X already exists, and since we haven’t been overly scrupulous before about such a conflict, we would have to make an arbitrary distinction to be so scrupulous now. In fact, as has been remarked lately, we have often revised our canons only after our practice has already changed.

It is not hard to imagine the following response: We should not compound our errors, especially on a matter of such great importance and one so central to the divisions with TEC, especially at this fragile moment.

In my understanding there seem to be two ways out of this predicament, both of which would avoid the conflict Bishops Benhase and McConnell raise. One is that we could approve the same-sex marriage liturgies mentioned in the third Resolved of A054 for “trial use” in preparation for Prayer Book revision.

The other is that we could use the rites mentioned in the third Resolved of A054 as common forms that may be employed when using “An Order for Marriage” (BCP 435-436), which is obviously already in the BCP. To do that we would have to change the marriage canon (I.18, see Constitution and Canons pp. 59-60, linked above) so that the gender-specific language of “a man and a woman” and of “husband and wife” would be changed or simply reinterpreted to allow same-sex marriage. This would also require approval in each case of the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority.

We would then read the explicit references to “the man and the woman” in the rubrics and in #2 and #4 of that “Order for Marriage” in a way that would allow same-sex marriage. Bishops have authority in their own dioceses to permit “such order as may be permitted by the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer or by the Canons of the General Convention for the use of special forms of worship.” At this writing, several proposed resolutions could be tailored to fit this bill, including A036, C020, C024, C026, and D026, which can be found using the search function on this webpage.

Thus, on my current understanding, in order to move from provisional use of a rite for the blessing of same-sex unions approved in 2012 to same-sex marriage and “marriage equality,” GC’15 will need both to pass a canon change that changes current gender-specific language or makes it useable as gender-neutral language and also either to authorize “trial use” of the rites proposed in A054 or to authorize the rites mentioned in A054 as proposed common forms to be used under the existing “An Order for Marriage” in the BCP, with the gender-specific language suitably modified so that bishops can authorize their use as “special forms of worship.”

In either of these two ways, even if Article X of the Constitution is a hurdle to approving same-sex marriage at GC’15, I believe it could be cleared in a way that is above board and within our existing rules.

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As I mentioned at the beginning, my hunch is that the votes are there for approving same-sex marriage at GC’15. But that does not mean we will do it. Both Houses would have to concur on the same actions with the same wording. And as I suggested, the bishops may not concur. Because even if the great majority of them along with the great majority of deputies agree that TEC should offer same-sex marriage – as a matter of sound theology given our current discernment about these issues – some acknowledge that, as a matter of pastoral care for the loyal minority within TEC, more time should be taken.

I want to be clear that I support same-sex marriage and will vote for it in Committee #20 on Marriage, as well as in the House of Deputies, if the right opportunities rise up through the legislative process. I say that because I need to be accountable to those according to whom my views on these matters are terribly in error.

I feel deeply, I should add nonetheless, as a person who in all outward appearances is nearly as privileged as any among us (white, male, professional, married, decently well off even if not wealthy, etc.) – I feel deeply that I am not in a position to make a grand gesture. I cannot propose to sacrifice the interests of one minority on behalf of another, let alone on behalf of the majority. I’m not in any recognizable way in either minority. That opportunity for grand gestures is reserved for those who are under-privileged and/or oppressed, in whatever minority they find themselves.

That said, neither am I in the position in which bishops must perform their duties as chief shepherds of the dioceses of The Episcopal Church. As I stated at the beginning, the job of bishops is not only to provide for the care of all of us but also to guide their dioceses to a greater unity in witness to the love of Christ for a broken world.

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Other Resources:

The Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, a member of the Diocese of Southern Ohio deputation, has posted thoughtful responses to all the resolutions formally submitted by standing commissions and task forces to GC’15, and I commend his analyses to you, including this one on the resolutions relating to same-sex marriage:

Also see:
Anglican Theological Review Fully Alive collection:
The Rev. Tobias Haller, BSG, response to Fully Alive:
The Rev. Dr. Craig Uffman, essay from the Diocese of Rochester:
Episcopal Café overview:

And for another twist, see:
A066 from SCLM on amending Constitution, Article X

For an announcement of a panel in which Bishop Breidenthal will participate, see:
The Living Church panel on defining marriage