Scott Gunn has blogged his perspectives on the materials produced by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Mission.
I’ve been thinking about them as well, more intensely in the last day or two, and I would like to offer my own thoughts.
A theological rationale for same sex marriage has to begin with the nature of God and with human nature. God created us in God’s image, to be in relationship, just as God in Godself is in relationship, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Life-giving, holy relationships are based in mutuality, love, and commitment, and some people can only experience such relationships with people of the same gender. Our fallen human nature and our society make any committed relationship difficult, almost impossible, and any couple needs the support of a loving community and the grace of a loving God to thrive. The church should do all in its power to help such relationships flourish. To forbid the sacrament of marriage to a group of people who need it to thrive and flourish is an offense to God who created us in God’s image, and who created us to be in relationship with others.
The proposed liturgy for same-gender blessings is inadequate. I find it lacking precisely because it fails to locate the basis of human relationship in the imago dei. Instead, it speaks of covenant and blessing (I find it ironic that the same people who praise the liturgy and its theological rationale based in covenant are for the most part opposed to the Anglican Covenant). Frankly, I think the theological rationale for the liturgy is deeply flawed. The liturgy itself is adequate although confusing, but there is a question at its heart, namely why blessing? Why not marriage? On the other hand, the SCLM was specifically charged with developing proposed blessings for same sex unions, not a marriage rite
Given the cultural climate, with many of those who most vigorously oppose same-sex marriage having themselves made a mockery of the sacrament by their own lives (Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich come to mind). Would not a more sacramental, a holy witness be of a couple living out a life-long commitment? Would the church’s blessing of such relationships be a witness and symbol of what marriage might be in this world, instead of the dominant cultural models of short-lived relationships like the recent ones of whichever Kardashian it was, or Brittany Spears? In other words, is there a sense in which two living out a committed relationship for a lifetime, are a sacramental witness to the Christian virtues of love and fidelity, and a symbol of Christ’s love for the church to the whole world?
The question facing General Convention 2012 and the Episcopal Church is how to work with what’s facing us. On the one hand, we have this proposed liturgy for Same Sex Blessings. On the other, there is a continuing push to move toward marriage, and another resolution urging an examination of our theology of marriage. This is work that urgently needs doing. It may be that the outcome of that examination is a revision of our marriage rite, and perhaps our canons. I would like to see us freed from the obligation of serving as agents of the state. I would like to see marriage only as a sacramental rite, which might help us offer an alternative to the contemporary marriage business.
I’m sure there will be lively debates on all these matters at General Convention. In the meantime, Huffington Post is running some essays on gay marriage, written by LGBT religious leaders. Here’s one from Patrick S. Cheng (who teaches Theology at Episcopal Divinity School.) And from Malcom Boyd, commenting on the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer’s marriage rite:
One of the prayers says: “Give them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy.” I feel this is our own prayer at the heart of our marriage.
Another prayer in The Book of Common Prayer goes: “Give us grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness and yours.” Wow. This is a central prayer for any committed day-by-day life together.
What about a really central question — the deep meaning of a shared life in the context of a world with other people? “Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.”
I am deeply grateful for Mark’s and my gay marriage and our blessed years together. Our gay marriage binds us to the world around us. Our gay marriage gives us healing and blessing that we can share with others.
When I teach about marriage, I always observe that the prayers for the couple were written by a monastic, a member of the SSJE community. I believe that at root the marriage vow and the monastic vow are the same: “I will not leave.” Every other promise unfolds from that central determination. I also believe that anyone willing to make that vow and attempt that lifelong commitment — whether in marriage or in monastic community — deserves the encouragement of the Church.
Among the other articles in the Huffington Post series that merit attention is Bishop Glasspool’s very insightful piece, here is the text as posted on Episcopal Cafe:
Marriage equality and communicating grace
Bishop Mary Glasspool considers the sacramental dimensions of marriage equality.
Writing in the Huffington Post, she recalls the definition of sacrament that she memorized as a child, “A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as a sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” Then she calls us to think about how grace is made real in the lives of everyday people:
This is Christian language, perhaps difficult to make much sense out of unless it’s your own language. But the thing about the sacraments that made sense to me, even as a child, is that the sacraments took the great mysteries of our faith (How does one explain the grace of God given to people?) and made them concrete, so to speak. We can’t see what happens to an infant, spiritually, when the infant is baptized. But we can hear the water flowing into the baptismal font, and the person being baptized can certainly feel the wetness of the water. Likewise in the Holy Eucharist, we understand that we are being nourished by Christ’s self-giving and presence, but we can only taste and see that the Lord is good (as the popular hymn goes).
The thing that I would ask people to consider is that the sacraments are not things that we bestow upon people. They are not means by which we human beings proffer grace. It is God who gives grace to God’s people. God is the author of all blessing. So what is it that we are doing when we celebrate a sacrament or offer a religious blessing? We are recognizing God’s gift of grace in others. And, most usually, we are recognizing God’s gift of grace in the context of a community, which not only recognizes God’s grace, but pledges to support the people receiving it….
…In the Episcopal Church, marriage has traditionally been treated as a sacrament. The outward and visible signs of the sacrament are the rings and vows that two people make to each other. The inward and spiritual grace is the reality of the relationship the two people already have given by God. The Church doesn’t make marriages or give God’s grace to the marriage. God’s grace is God’s to give! What the Church does is recognize the love and relationship two people already have and desire to grow in, and pledge the community’s support to the couple, helping to uphold their vows of to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death.
Now for the big question. Are there lesbian and gay couples who love and cherish each other, and stick together through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, who appear to manifest the grace of God, already given in their lives together? Do we have currently existing in our communities gifts from God that have not yet been recognized by the community as a whole? What would be the benefits (if any) of recognizing, blessing, or solemnizing those relationships?
I believe we do have both hidden and more readily apparent gifts from God in our religious communities. Gay and lesbian couples of all ages and races and ethnicities have managed to receive God’s grace even as the Church has declined to recognize it in them. For many gay and lesbian people this has been more than sufficient reason to leave or forget the Church, and simply live out their lives together in as wholesome and healthy ways as is possible. My own sadness about this is that it is the Church that misses out! The life of the very Church that I love will be so enriched once it finds a way to publically, respectfully, and intentionally recognize God’s grace poured into the lives of gay and lesbian couples who have committed themselves to one another and are already living lives of great integrity.