New conversations about same-sex blessings in the Diocese of Milwaukee

This isn’t exactly news but we’re talking again about how we might move forward on blessing same-sex relationships in the Diocese of Milwaukee. The Standing Committee announced a two-part approach as it seeks to discern the perspective of congregations and clergy. I’ve shared with members and friends of Grace our plans to discuss the questions posed by the Standing Committee next week. Here’s what they want to know:

Please tell us how the authorization of a provisional rite for the blessing of same-gender relationships, as well as Bishop Miller’s position not to allow the use of such rites in the Diocese of Milwaukee factor into life in your parish and the surrounding community.

 

  • What pastoral issues does the ability/inability to bless same-gender relationships raise in your community?
  • What theological questions does it raise?
  • What challenges does the issue of same-gender blessings and the ability/inability to bless same-gender relationships pose to evangelism and church growth in your context?
  • With respect to the issue of blessing same-gender relationships, what voices within your parish and within this diocese do you believe are not being heard?

I’m rather struck by the similarities in tone between these questions and those being asked in the Vatican’s world-wide survey of Catholics. We are not being asked what we think of same sex marriage nor what we think of the proposed rites. Rather, we are being asked about how a decision about using the rites might affect pastoral care and evangelism.

To put this in a bit of context, two images:

BY0Z2r7IIAIPa6Ka cartoon from the Wisconsin State Journal

And courtesy of Integrity, USA, a map showing dioceses where same-sex blessings are allowed.

Wisconsin stands out in both.

Meanwhile, across the pond, there are rumblings that a high-level report will recommend that the Church of England develop liturgies for same-sex blessings (though not marriage) although there are other rumors that deny this. I suppose we’ll have to wait for its publication.

This past summer, after Bishop Miller announced his decision, I wrote the following in a letter to the parish:

I am your pastor. I seek to be the pastor of everyone who enters our doors in search of God’s grace and love. I know both the power and fragility of the love of two people and I know how important it is that a couple can find support for their relationship in the body of Christ. That there are couples among us whose relationships cannot be acknowledged and blessed publicly saddens me to the core. It goes against my theology, my experience of the Gospel, and my model of our life together in Christ. I will continue to try to welcome, affirm, and be pastor to everyone—singles, couples, widowed, divorced—who seek to find and live out the love of Christ in their relationships as best and creatively as I can while keeping my vow of obedience to the bishop. And I will continue to pray and work for a deeper and fuller realizing of Christ’s love in all that we as a Church are and do.

I stand by those words.

 

My message to members and friends of Grace Church in response to Bishop Miller’s letter

My previous post extracts several paragraphs from Bishop Miller’s letter and links to the full document.

For whatever reasons, there has not been a great deal of energy around the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the life of the church at Grace. I have not been approached by couples seeking the church’s blessing. I received very few questions and had few conversations last year during the run-up to and after General Convention. I do know that parishioners have a variety of views on these issues. Our disagreements to some degree mirror the disagreements in the wider church and in our society. I also know that men and women of good will can and do disagree on these issues as on many others and that the positions we take are in response to our desire and efforts to live out our calls to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

I am your pastor. I seek to be the pastor of everyone who enters our doors in search of God’s grace and love. I know both the power and fragility of the love of two people and I know how important it is that a couple can find support for their relationship in the body of Christ. That there are couples among us whose relationships cannot be acknowledged and blessed publicly saddens me to the core. It goes against my theology, my experience of the Gospel, and my model of our life together in Christ. I will continue to try to welcome, affirm, and be pastor to everyone—singles, couples, widowed, divorced—who seek to find and live out the love of Christ in their relationships as best and creatively as I can while keeping my vow of obedience to the bishop. And I will continue to pray and work for a deeper and fuller realizing of Christ’s love in all that we as a Church are and do.

Please contact me if you would like to talk about this or any other issue in the life of our congregation or in your personal life. As we continue to strive to discern God’s call for us individually and as the body of Christ on Madison’s Capitol Square, my prayer is the prayer of Jesus that we “may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).

Bishop Miller’s letter on the Blessing of Same Sex Unions

On Thursday, Bishop Miller met with diocesan clergy to discuss General Convention Resolution A49 that provides for the blessing of same sex unions. He published a letter yesterday outlining his position. Here are some key paragraphs:
Therefore, I am not authorizing the rite from A049 for use in the Diocese of Milwaukee at this time. However, I have arranged with Bishop Jeffrey Lee of the Diocese of Chicago, for clergy and couples from congregations within the Diocese of Milwaukee to go to the Diocese of Chicago to celebrate the rite, as long as they obtain Bishop Lee’s consent to such an action to take place within the bounds of that diocese. Doing so will result in no punitive or negative response whatsoever from me.
Furthermore, I stated my belief that the right to a civil marriage should be available to all people, regardless of sexual orientation and that I would support those seeking to overturn the ban on same-gender marriage in Wisconsin. I also shared that I have begun to permit partnered gay clergy to preside with the diocese, and that I am open to the potential call of any Episcopal cleric in good standing to a position here.
I am also aware that many of our clergy feel the need to offer a generous pastoral liturgical response to gay and lesbian couples. I have agreed to the formation of a task force within this diocese, comprised of people from across the spectrum on this issue, including openly gay and lesbian people living in monogamous relationships, to consider, and propose the same. At the end of the process, however, as the one given canonical authority to order the liturgical life of the diocese, the decision about the authorization of such a rite rests with me. In our polity, there can be no other way.
The entire document is available: Bishop Miller’s letter
I will have more to say about this anon.

Same Sex Blessings conversation continuing in the Diocese of Milwaukee

After a lengthy hiatus (since August, 2012), conversations among clergy in the Diocese of Milwaukee will begin again. My earlier reports on the conversations here and throughout the church are available here.

Two developments since our last conversation may affect how we talk together and what we say. First is the overwhelming acceptance of the provisional rite by Episcopal dioceses. Integrity USA is keeping tabs on that here. By my count, only 18 domestic dioceses have definitely said “no” (Integrity includes the Diocese of Milwaukee in that total). The status of another thirteen is unknown to Integrity.

The second important development is the sea-change in American attitudes toward gay marriage. With a majority of the population now favoring it, legislatures continuing to legalize it, and the Supreme Court’s decisions on Proposition 8 and DOMA this summer, there seems to be something of an inevitability about it.

Today the House of Lords in the UK Parliament were debating a gay marriage bill that is opposed by the Church of England. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby spoke against the bill in this speech. Among his complaints:

It confuses marriage and weddings. It assumes that the rightful desire for equality – to which I’ve referred supportively – must mean uniformity, failing to understand that two things may be equal but different. And as a result it does not do what it sets out to do, my Lords. Schedule 4 distinguishes clearly between same gender and opposite gender marriage, thus not achieving true equality.

Anyone remember “Separate but equal?”

Same Sex Blessings in the Diocese of Milwaukee (and elsewhere)

An article in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel informs the wider community where the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Milwaukee, and our bishop, the Rt. Rev. Steven Miller, stand on allowing the use of rites for same-sex blessings by diocesan congregations. The article includes this from Andy Jones, Rector of St. Andrew’s Madison:

“I have people here in my parish – faithful, committed Christians – who are partners in same-sex relationships and long to have their re lationships recognized by the church they love. So I’m really anxious to be able to do that,” said the Rev. Andy Jones of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, echoing the concerns of several pastors in the diocese.

“But the bishop is still struggling with this,” Jones said. “He’s still working it through, and that’s where we are.”

The article also points out that Bishop Miller has yet to announce publicly what he will permit.

Meanwhile, in the wider church the news was released last week that the National Cathedral (in Washington, DC) will perform same-sex weddings (a provision in the legislation authorizing same-sex blessings permitted the adaptation of the rite for marriage in those jurisdictions where same-sex weddings are legal). And Sewanee (The University of the South), owned by 28 Episcopal dioceses, has announced that same-sex blessings will be permitted at All Saints’ Chapel, with the approval of the couple’s bishop.

There’s some question about how many dioceses permit the rites. According to David Virtue, as of December 19, 2012, 69 dioceses allow them. The Journal Sentinel article, citing Integrity, says that 30% of Episcopal dioceses have permitted them.

Anglican Fudge or Anglican Genius? Bishops respond to General Convention’s actions on Same Sex Blessings

The approval of General Convention resolution A049, to authorize the provisional use of the rite for the blessing of same sex relationships has created an interesting dynamic in TEC. The resolution placed authority for the use of such rites in the power of diocesan bishops.

In the weeks since GC, bishops have slowly been making public their plans. Not surprisingly, as they respond from their own theological perspectives and in their particular local contexts, the roadmaps they lay out are varied and reflect to a large degree the breadth of Anglicanism, and the Anglican penchant for finding a middle way. As more proposals come out, no doubt partisans on both sides will be disappointed, even angered, but what I find most interesting, and most promising, is the way the bishops are searching for a “generous pastoral response” to the people among whom they minister.

The Rt. Rev. Ed Little (Northern Indiana) will not permit the rite in the diocese, but will allow clergy to celebrate it in parishes in adjoining dioceses: 2012GCPastoralLetter.

The Rt. Rev. Kee Sloan (Diocese of Alabama) voted in favor of the resolution at General Convention, but will not permit the rite in his diocese.

The Rt. Rev. Philip M. Duncan II (Central Gulf Coast) voted against the resolution but has this to say:

The Rt. Rev. Philip M. Duncan II, bishop of the 63-congregation Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, stated in a letter to his flock of about 19,000 people: “I will consider each request for blessing individually, and I shall permit it where it has pastoral warrant.”

Many bishops (like my own) have announced a process of discernment that will involve clergy and lay people in an effort to determine what a “generous pastoral response” might be.

We live in a world of sound bytes, partisanship, and easy answers to complex problems. Life is messy and complex. Negotiating a path of faithful discipleship is difficult. So too is trying to discern how to respond to particular pastoral needs. In the abstract, decisions may seem quite easy and clear-cut, but when addressed in the context of one’s own understanding of what it means to be faithful, and in the particular context of one’s ministry, the way forward may not be obvious at all.

We may find a bishop’s decision to vote in favor of the rite, but not permit it in his diocese, or to vote against the rite but and permit its use, or even to forbid it in the diocese while allowing clergy to travel outside, wrong, hopelessly muddled, or proof positive of the moral bankruptcy of the Episcopal Church and Anglican theology. Looked at from another perspective however, these varied responses may be evidence of the genius and continuing vitality of the Anglican way.

I look forward to reading about what other dioceses come up with.

 

Today at General Convention: Historic events

It was a momentous day at General Convention today and not just because of the closely-watched vote over the proposed liturgies for same-sex blessings. Other matters were decided as well, including The Episcopal Church’s response to the Anglican Covenant, an important proposal on restructuring the church, and an election for the President of the House of Deputies. I will have more to say about several of these matters, but for now, let me simply note the results.

The proposed liturgies for Same Sex Blessings passed by a wide margin. The implications of that vote for the Diocese of Milwaukee remain to be seen. Stay tuned.

The House of Deputies voted to continue the conversation around the Anglican Covenant.

Gay C. Jennings was elected President of the House of Deputies.

The proposal on restructuring passed unanimously, and the House of Deputies burst into song after the vote.

I’m wondering which of these decisions of will have the greatest impact on the church in the long run.

House of Bishops votes for same-sex blessings

The House of Bishops voted overwhelmingly in favor of the proposed liturgies for same sex blessings (an amendment had earlier changed the language from gender to blessing) this afternoon. The vote was approximately 111-41. The wide margin is a testimony both to where the church is today as well as who the church is today.

I watched some of the debate online and was moved by the tone of the conversation. There were deep disagreements but the bishops treated each other with respect. In many ways, their debate serves a model for conversation in the church. They demonstrate to all of us a way of discussing important issues in a civil manner, listening carefully, and honoring each others’ dignity.

The resolution now moves to the House of Deputies, where it will also likely be passed.

As a church, we will need to work hard, and seek God’s grace, to embrace this momentous change, and to reach out and continue to embrace those who struggle with it. At the very end of the debate today, Bishop Gray (Mississippi) spoke eloquently about the importance of humility for those of us on both sides of the debate, for recognizing that we all “see through a glass darkly,” and that we might be “wrong.” Wise counsel indeed.

Same-Sex Blessings and Marriage: Bishop Miller’s statement

Last week, Bishop Miller sent clergy in the Diocese of Milwaukee a draft letter in which he laid out his thinking on the proposed liturgies for the Blessing of Same Gender Unions, and the evolving understanding of marriage. A week ago today, he met with diocesan clergy to talk about the letter, our perspectives on it, as well as about our pastoral and theological concerns leading up to General Convention and how we might respond to decisions made at General Convention.

It was a very powerful afternoon. Clergy spoke from their hearts, from a wide variety of theological perspectives, and asked hard questions of Bishop Miller and of each other.

Today, Bishop Miller has released a position paper in which he lays out his views and how he expects to vote on the pertinent resolutions. It’s an important document, available here on his blog.

The key elements of his proposal are this:

  • I am wondering if they best way forward would be the proposal and adoption of a substitute to Resolution A049 calling for the amendment of the Book of Common Prayer and the Constitution and Canons to allow for marriage between two persons regardless of sex while at the same time requiring that both parties be baptized, and removing any role of the civil authority. Those who wished to be civilly married could do so if they considered a civil marriage to be most advantageous for them but the Church would have no part of it.  This proposal provided the additional advantage that those who could not be civilly married because state law forbade it or it would cause economic hardship could be married in the Church. As I stated earlier in this letter I propose this because, “it is my opinion that the blessing rite falls short of our call as Christians.”
  • I realize that this means the authorization of a blessing rite would be delayed and that those who have waited for this Church to do so will be told again to wait. However, the provision for generous pastoral response from Resolution C056 would still be in effect, a provision which has allowed for some bishops whose dioceses are in states that have approved same-sex marriage in the civil realm to permit clergy in their diocese to officiate at these marriages and others to allow blessings.

My earlier blog post was in part a response to Bishop Miller’s earlier draft and to the clergy conversation. I repost the pertinent parts:

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.

Same Sex Blessings, Same Sex Marriage

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.