“MARRIAGE FOR THE WHOLE CHURCH” – the full text of General Convention Resolution B012

The Bishops of Long Island, Pittsburgh, and Rhode Island have today jointly proposed a resolution, B012, in response to the work of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. This proposal, which was made without any consultation with the bishops or lay members of the task force studying this issue for the past three years, is no doubt well-intentioned. And in that spirit, we list the press release of the three bishops without comment.

“The resolution seeks to ensure that all of God’s people have access to all the marriage liturgies of the church, regardless of diocese, while respecting the pastoral direction and conscience of the local bishop,” the two bishops say in their news release. “Resolution B012 continues to authorize the two Trial Use Marriage Rites first authorized in 2015 without time limit and without seeking a revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.”

“Given our particular time in history, this resolution provides a way forward for the whole church without the possible disruption of ministry that might be caused by the proposed revision of the Book of Common Prayer,” the bishops say.

Resolution B012 and an explanation are available in the virtual binder of General Convention at this link: https://www.vbinder.net/resolutions/B012?house=hd&lang=en.

Below is background information which, together with the explanation, provides a clear and convincing picture for why this resolution should be seriously considered.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION REGARDING GENERAL CONVENTION RESOLUTION B012

Q: What does Resolution B012 call for?

A: This resolution re-authorizes the two Trial Use marriage rites first authorized in 2015, but with modified terms. Resolution 2015-A054 stated that bishops exercising ecclesiastical authority “will make provision” for all couples to have access to these liturgies, while also providing that trial use in a diocese requires the permission of the diocesan bishop.

By contrast, this resolution proposes that access to these trial use liturgies now be provided for in all dioceses, without requiring the permission of the diocesan bishop.

Additionally, this resolution proposes to authorize Trial Use versions of “The Blessing of a Civil Marriage” and “An Order for Marriage,” suitable for use by all couples. These services were not authorized in 2015.

Finally, this resolution calls for a Task Force on Communion Across Difference, tasked with finding a lasting path forward for all Episcopalians in one church, without going back on General Convention’s clear decision to extend marriage to all couples, and its firm commitment to provide access to all couples seeking to be married in this church.

Q: Why is this necessary?

A: The Trial Use rites authorized in 2015 did not have a time limit, so they do not need re-authorization in order to remain available for use. However, many in our Church have come to believe that the conditions specified for their use are unsatisfactory, as it has not provided for access to all congregations that have discerned God’s call to use them. This resolution changes that, by requiring that they be made available in all dioceses where same-sex marriage is permitted by civil law.

Q: How does that work? And what are Trial Use rites?

A: According to Canon II.3.6, General Convention may specify terms and conditions under which Trial Use rites are to be used. In this resolution, the same rites from 2015 are re-authorized, but with modified terms.

Trial Use rites (as found in Article X of the Constitution) have historically been authorized in The Episcopal Church as they are being considered for inclusion in the Book of Common Prayer. In the past, this has allowed for a period of testing and feedback, so that the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music can consider whether modifications should be made. Future General Conventions may decide that these Trial Use rites are ready for inclusion in the Book of Common Prayer, or they may choose to include them in another authorized liturgical resource.

Q: Are you proposing that these rites become part of the Book of Common Prayer?

A: No, at least not now. Our proposal differs in this way from that of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, which does propose moving toward prayer book revision (Resolution A085). They propose to present the Trial Use rites now as prayer book amendments. This would need to pass again in 2021 before attaining Prayer Book status.

But authorizing Trial Use rites is not the same thing as proposing Prayer Book revision. In order to become part of the Book of Common Prayer, a resolution would need to propose that they be adopted as a prayer book amendment, be sent to diocesan conventions for discussion, and then pass again on a second reading at the next General Convention. Our resolution does not propose any of that, but instead simply extends the period of Trial Use.

Q: Why not?

A: There are several reasons.[1]

First, it is arguable that the Church needs more time to study and provide feedback on the present Trial Use rites before they attain Prayer Book status. After all, it took twenty years of trial and experimentation in order to get our Eucharistic liturgies just right. These liturgies have only had three years of Trial Use under their belt.

Second, piecemeal revision of our Prayer Book by separate task forces is unadvisable. It can lead to confusing and contradictory material. For instance, in the Trial Use “Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage” rite, the term “Presider” is used, which is found nowhere else in the 1979 Prayer Book. At present, there is also a proposal to modify our Baptismal Covenant by adding promises to care for God’s creation. That may well be a very good idea, but it is wisest to direct all such proposals for revision to a single standing committee with the time and resources to ensure that all revisions are well-considered and coherent with our Prayer Book’s theology.

Third, it will be expensive and impractical. Standard practice would require that all congregations replace their 1979 books with the new 2021 edition. For some congregations, this imposes a financial hardship. If only some are replaced, pagination will then be different, and this will be confusing. “We will now read together Psalm 100, found on either page 729 or page 797, depending on which prayer book happens to be in front of you.”

Fourth, Prayer Book revision at this time would likely make the Episcopal Church untenable for many of our members outside the United States, especially in Province IX. In their response to the Task Force on the Study of Marriage’s proposal, most but not all of the Province IX bishops said that prayer book revision would mean that “the Ninth Province will have to learn how to walk alone.”[2] This may often if not always be true as well for immigrant congregations in the United States: Latino/a, Afro-Caribbean, African, and so on. We should be wary, especially at this time, of U.S-centered approaches that do not take into account the concerns of immigrant and non-U.S. Episcopalians.

Fifth, it is problematic to enshrine separate marriage rites in our prayer book for same-sex and opposite-sex couples, but that would be the effect of adding the current Trial Use rites into the BCP, as the marriage task force proposes.

Sixth, Prayer Book revision would have a further distancing effect on our relationship with our Anglican Communion partners.[3] In response to the marriage task force’s proposal, the primate of Australia wrote us to say that “There is little question that changing the doctrine of marriage is a matter of grave consequence, indeed a church-dividing matter.” William Nye, Provincial Secretary of the Church of England, writing to us with the support of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York,[4] sent the following:

Changing doctrine is, we believe, a mater that must be undertaken in a highly consultative and ecumenical manner across the major Christian churches of the world as well as among Anglicans globally… Moreover, the way that TEC handles the accommodation of differing doctrinal views will be significant for our future relationships.

…The role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as one of the instruments of unity within the Communion, as well as the Primate of All England, puts the actions of the Church of England under particular scrutiny… Our response to TEC’s evolving position on these matters must, of necessity, be shaped partly by that international role which is symbolic as much as structural. We accept that TEC has taken the decision to move towards the recognition and institution of same-sex marriages… But the manner in which same-sex marriage is incorporated into TEC’s pastoral practice will also have an impact on our relationships.

Finally, it would be better to move forward on liturgical revision while building in conversation about how to live together in communion as one Church across our many differences. Since the task force on marriage did not include any members from Haiti, Taiwan, or Province IX who hold the traditional view of marriage, and indeed only included one person who holds the traditional view, it is hard to say that we have had the conversation that we need.

While the great majority of Episcopalians celebrate the gains that have been made in our Church for LGBTQ+ persons, many of us also regret the schism, division, and departure of members who have faithfully served our Church for many years. When mediating conflict, a common strategy is to find a way for all at the table to “get to yes.” In the Diocese of Texas and elsewhere, much conversation and difficult relational work has gone into maintaining the peace that now allows congregations of differing convictions to flourish. We should not undo that good work by moving toward Prayer Book revision at this time, but instead seek a way forward for the flourishing of all Episcopalians in one church. These are reasons why a Task Force on Communion Across Difference is needed.

It’s time to make peace and join hands as members of the loving, liberating, life-giving Jesus movement!

Q: Why require delegated episcopal pastoral oversight of congregations who wish to celebrate same-sex marriages, but where the bishop’s position is not to permit them in congregations under his or her care? Why not just require access in all dioceses?

A: Good question. The minority of “Communion Partner” bishops in our church have felt unable as a matter of conscience to permit congregations under their care to practice same-sex marriage, for theological and ecclesiological reasons. They have told us that this allows them to maintain their conscientious position, and Communion Partner clergy have told us that it is important for there to be at least some dioceses in The Episcopal Church that both teach and practice marriage alongside the majority of the Anglican Communion.

This proposal allows conservatives to flourish within the structures of The Episcopal Church, but not at the expense of progressive congregations in conservative dioceses. While at first glance it may sound unnecessarily complex, it is a “middle way” that makes room for all in one church. Since our historic polity requires communion with bishops—we are the Episcopal Church, after all!—we can’t just leave things at the congregational level, as our Lutheran brothers and sisters in the ELCA have done.

Q: If I belonged to a congregation in one of the dioceses whose bishops do not permit same-sex marriage, what would we do?

A: Your rector or priest-in-charge and vestry would request delegated episcopal pastoral oversight from a bishop who does permit same-sex marriage, and this resolution requires that this request be granted. Since the “chief liturgical officer” for your congregation would then be a bishop that provides for same-sex marriage, your congregation would be free to make use of the Trial Use rites.

Q: Can we be sure that the conservative bishops would go along with this?

A: Five of the seven Communion Partner bishops have pledged in writing to implement this in their dioceses, if it is passed.[5] Moreover, since the canons of the church state that General Convention may set terms and conditions for Trial Use rites, the terms and conditions specified in this resolution have by extension canonical force. All bishops are obliged to abide by these terms and conditions, as by canon law. We believe that they will hold if challenged.

While these bishops have also stated that this proposal is not their ideal, they have said that they see it as a way for them to flourish within the structures of The Episcopal Church.

Q: What if my diocese has diocesan canons that do not permit same-sex marriage?

A: Churchwide canons in every case supersede diocesan canons, in case of conflict. In this case, the “terms and conditions” that Canon II.3.6 states General Convention may set for Trial Use rites have themselves the force of canon. If there is a conflict between the terms and conditions specified according to Canon II.3.6 and diocesan canons, then churchwide canons overrule.

[1] Many but not all of these are adapted from a blog post by the Rev. Scott Gunn: <https://www.sevenwholedays.org/…/05/14/blues-clues-marriage/>.

[2] <https://extranet.generalconvention.org/…/fil…/download/21043>.

[3] The complete text of these responses, along with responses by other Anglican Communion partners, may be found here: <https://extranet.generalconvention.org/…/fil…/download/21045>.

[4] Consultation with and support by Canterbury, York, and the Bishop of Coventry, chair of the Church of England Faith and Order Commission, was confirmed by Church House officials. As first reported by The Telegraph: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/…/church-england-split-same-se…/.

[5] “The Vocation of Anglican Communion”, a statement by the Communion Partners of The Episcopal Church: http://communionpartners.org/the-vocation-of-anglican-comm…/.

It may be seen as a step away from the offer of “full and equal” status to LGBTQQ people voiced by this church many times but never yet universally made real.

One key change they propose is refelcted in their phrase “while respecting the pastoral direction and conscience of the local bishop.” These sound like the same kind of weasel words used by well-intentioned bishops used for decades ‘to keep within the church’ those bishops who refused to ordain women. Remember how well that worked for the Epsicopal Church?

Also, let’s recall that the bishops – a handful who refuse to allow even a single parish to offer marriage equality – could resolve this problem by simply announcing that individual parishes and priests may decide for themselves whether to marry same-gender couples. These bishops could put pen to paper and easily resolve this situation. Except that then they would have to follow through and live up to their commitments. And some of us doubt that they would do so once back in their own diocese.

A second change is – as these two bishops know – due to church rules, leaving the Book of Common Prayer unchanged postpones making any permanent change in the prayer book until the midst of the next decade.

They classify it as “in its entirety, an attempt to move the church forward in an atmosphere of mutual respect, reconciliation and the love of Jesus Christ.” It is not clear how this last minute move will either work or if it fulfills the promise of our call to make “full and equal” treatment of LGBTQQ people truly “full and equal.” It may be seen as a step away from the offer of “full and equal” status to LGBTQQ people voiced by this church many times but never yet universally made real.

One key change they propose is refelcted in their phrase “while respecting the pastoral direction and conscience of the local bishop.” These sound like the same kind of weasel words used by well-intentioned bishops used for decades ‘to keep within the church’ those bishops who refused to ordain women. Remember how well that worked for the Epsicopal Church?

Also, let’s recall that the bishops – a handful who refuse to allow even a single parish to offer marriage equality – could resolve this problem by simply announcing that individual parishes and priests may decide for themselves whether to marry same-gender couples. These bishops could put pen to paper and easily resolve this situation. Except that then they would have to follow through and live up to their commitments. And some of us doubt that they would do so once back in their own diocese.

A second change is – as these two bishops know – due to church rules, leaving the Book of Common Prayer unchanged postpones making any permanent change in the prayer book until the midst of the next decade.

They classify it as “in its entirety, an attempt to move the church forward in an atmosphere of mutual respect, reconciliation and the love of Jesus Christ.” It is not clear how this last minute move will either work or if it fulfills the promise of our call to make “full and equal” treatment of LGBTQQ people truly “full and equal.”

#b012 #gc79

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