And let the litigation begin again.

It seems that the Episcopal Church is in a constant state of litigation. Over the last decade and a half, we’ve seen repeated conflict across the church in response to the moves toward full inclusion of LGBT persons in our life and ministry. Now, millions of dollars later in legal fees, with courts consistently affirming the Episcopal Church’s position that dioceses are not independent of General Convention, another round of such litigation is likely. First, we’ll have to see how things play out within the Church.

This past summer, General Convention passed resolution B012 which mandated that bishops opposed to same-sex marriage make pastoral provisions for couples, congregations, and clergy who sought to solemnize such marriages in their dioceses. Several of the bishops opposed to same-sex marriage have offered such provision, some are still discerning. One, Bishop William H. Love of the Diocese of Albany, announced in November that he would not offer such pastoral provisions.

As was to be expected, an disciplinary proceeding was begun against Bishop Love. Such proceedings, or complaints, can be made by anyone within the Church, so the likelihood that someone or some group would initiate the proceeding was highly likely. Less certain was whether the Presiding Bishop would take any additional action while the disciplinary proceeding was moving forward. Yesterday, Presiding Bishop Curry published his response: to restrict partially and temporarily Bishop Love’s exercise of ministry. Specifically, Bishop Love may not participate in any diocesan disciplinary proceeding against a priest who performs same-sex marriage, “nor may he penalize any member of the clergy or laity or worshipping congregation of his Diocese for their participation in the arrangements for or participation in a same-sex marriage in his Diocese or elsewhere.”

Now, Bishop Love has issued his response to the response. Unsurprisingly, and unfortunately, he will appeal the Presiding Bishop’s restriction on his ministry and vigorous challenge the disciplinary proceeding. He bases his appeal on the definition of marriage in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer:

The official teaching of this Church as outlined in the rubrics of the Marriage Service in the Book of Common Prayer is that: “Christian marriage is a solemn and public covenant between a man and woman in the presence of God.” (BCP 422). Canon 16 of the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Albany upholds this teaching and remains in effect until it is either changed by the Diocesan Convention, or it is legally proven to be over-ridden by the legitimate actions of General Convention; none of which has yet taken place.

Now, I’m no canon lawyer, but it would seem to me that because the Book of Common Prayer is itself authoritative because of an act of General Convention, General Convention has the power to rescind or modify anything stated within the BCP. Likely, there’s some fancy canon lawyer parsing of later General Convention actions, that will be the hinge on which any ecclesiastical disciplinary proceeding will depend.

The other key element in Bishop Love’s defense is his appeal to the definition of marriage in the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Albany, which he says will remain in effect until changed by Diocesan Convention or legally proven to be over-ridden by the legitimate actions of General Convention. Here Bishop Love is appealing to the familiar, but often proved wrong, argument that dioceses are independent of General Convention. It’s wrong, because General Convention has the power to create and dissolve dioceses.

What’s so unfortunate about all this is that it is avoidable just as all of the earlier litigation and attempts by bishops, other clergy, and congregations to leave the Church. When Bishop Love was ordained deacon, then priest, and consecrated bishop,, he vowed to ” I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.’

If he is no longer able to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church, he should step down as bishop. It’s really quite simple.

Instead, the Church will expend energy and resources on this internal battle. Should Bishop Love be unhappy with the final result of his appeal and of the disciplinary proceeding’s ultimate outcome, he may choose to pursue his cause in the civil court system as many other bishops and dioceses have done. If he does, it’s likely that more millions of dollars will be expended in the effort.

 

Update on Marriage in the Episcopal Church: Bishop Miller’s statement

Yesterday, the House of Deputies concurred with the House of Bishops’ approval of the previous day, changing the canons (law) of the Church, and approving trial rites for marriage. My previous post on the topic links to the relevant documents and some of the discussion.

Today, Bishop Miller shared some of his thoughts and suggested how this might play out in the Diocese of Milwaukee:

While I have yet to work out the details, I anticipate I will authorize the use of the trial rites under guidelines similar to those set forth when I authorized clergy to bless civil marriages. As the new rites are marriage rites, clergy will be able to act as agents of the state should they so choose.

The Marriage Mess in the Episcopal Church

I haven’t blogged on issues around marriage and same sex blessings in the run-up to General Convention, for a couple of reasons. First, I found it difficult to wade through all of the materials and the extensive discussion around the various proposals. Second, knowing that the Supreme Court would weigh in on the issue of gay marriage in June, I suspected that its decision would have some impact on General Convention’s deliberations and I thought it best to wait and see.

Well, the Supreme Court has weighed in and yesterday, the House of Bishops weighed in as well. Yesterday, the bishops approved a number of things. They removed from the canons (church law) references to marriage that specified it is between a man and woman and they also approved for trial use beginning the First Sunday of Advent in 2015, two new marriage liturgies. Because they are “trial use,” they can only be used with the approval of the diocesan bishop. More details on the bishops’ actions are available here.

All of these resolutions will need to pass the House of Deputies, and the canonical changes will require approval at the next General Convention 2018. In the meantime, we’re left with at least two different liturgies, the possibility that dioceses will make different decisions about the use of those liturgies, and further strained relations within the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, and with many other Christians.

Still, the bishops’ actions are significant. Given the speed with which gay marriage has become legal and accepted in our country, and given the extent to which it diverges from practice in the Christian tradition and traditional biblical interpretation, it’s worth considering carefully what affect these changes might have on the world-wide Anglican Communion and our relations with other Christians.  I’m even more concerned about the precedent this might set for how we will go about our theological and ethical reflection in the future; especially how all this might affect any future prayer book revision (an idea that seems to be getting increasing traction in the church). No doubt wiser minds than I have considered all this and have put their minds at ease.

Jordan Hylden wrote an insightful commentary that explores how the Episcopal Church might continue to make room for dioceses and bishops who oppose same-sex marriage in the church, and leaves us with the question whether the Episcopal Church can develop a way forward that will embrace diversity in doctrine, worship, and discipline.

The liturgies as proposed and other materials related to marriage from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music are available here:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has weighed on the House of Bishops’ votes:

Archbishop Justin Welby said that its decision will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith relationships.

At a time of such suffering around the world, he stated that this was a moment for the church to be looking outwards.

An interesting back and forth hosted by The Anglican Theological Review provides theological perspective and is worth reading, for the way the issues are articulated and clarified.

The Diocese of Milwaukee and the Diocese of Pittsburgh

The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Milwaukee has recommended to Bishop Miller that he permit clergy to preside over same-sex blessings, as I wrote a couple of days ago. For support, that document appealed to Bishop McConnell of Pittsburgh, who gave such permission in spite of his own reservations.

I was interested to read that Bishop McConnell recently granted clergy permission to officiate at same-sex weddings. Lionel Deimel quotes extensively from the opinion of the Diocesan Chancellor. It seems Bishop McConnell’s concerns centered around whether an Episcopal priest could officiate at a wedding that made use of the trial rite (which isn’t Holy Matrimony). The Chancellor’s opinion is yes, because Pennsylvania law does not stipulate the form of the rite, only that there has to be a marriage certificate. Bishop McConnell’s revised guidelines are here.

Although same-sex marriage is currently on hold in Wisconsin and civil law varies widely from state to state, these guidelines and questions will be helpful as we move forward.

Update on Same Sex Blessings in the Diocese of Milwaukee

The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee has published its report on the feedback it received from parishes on the trial liturgy for Same Sex Blessings. It has also made a recommendation to Bishop Miller on how he might respond to those findings.

I would like to highlight a few things in the report. First of all, most parishes responded in some way to the Standing Committee’s request. Second, out of the forty-three parishes that did respond, only one expressed itself strongly opposed to the authorization of the use of the liturgy (1 on a scale of 1-5). In contrast, 13 parishes were strongly in favor (5 on the scale of 1-5), and 11 were generally in favor (4 on the scale). 11 staked out middle ground (3). To put that in percentiles: 55.8% were either strongly or generally in favor; 18.6% generally or strongly opposed; with 25.6% in the middle.

When looking at how these parishes break down in terms of average Sunday attendance, a total of 16.1% of total Sunday attendance were either generally or strongly opposed over against 59.7% of total attendance in parishes either generally or strongly in favor (with over 40% attendance in parishes strongly in favor). What both of these figures show is wide-ranging and overwhelming support for the trial rite.

Based on these findings, the Standing Committee made the following recommendation to Bishop Miller:

The Standing Committee recommends that Bishop Miller authorize a local option for a rite of blessing of same-gender couples living in committed, lifelong, covenant
relationships. A local option would give permission for individual clergy of the diocese to decide to use the rite or not in his or her own parish.

The entire document is available here: Standing Committee Report2 (1).

Here is Grace’s statement of inclusion: LGBTstatement_revised_01292014, developed in response to the conversations we held over the fall and winter.

Of course, we’ve been talking about this for much longer than that. General Convention 2012 approved the trial use of the liturgy; we had conversations among bishop and clergy in the Diocese of Milwaukee in  the months after General Convention and again in 2013.

Meanwhile, the courts continue to act. Constitutional bans in Kentucky and Indiana have been overturned and just today the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (a court that also has jurisdiction in Wisconsin) ruled in favor of an emergency request by an Indiana couple to have their marriage recognized in Indiana. The story is here:

More court decisions, but in Wisconsin, Episcopalians still wonder..

In Indiana, a federal judge struck down that state’s ban on gay marriage. A Federal Appeals court yesterday overturned Utah’s ban, putting it on the fast track for appeal to the Supreme Court. In Louisiana, a suit to force the state to recognize out-of-state same sex marriages was expanded to include the state’s ban. As the Indiana judge wrote:

In less than a year, every federal district court to consider the issue has reached the same conclusion in thoughtful and thorough opinions – laws prohibiting the celebration and recognition of same-sex marriages are unconstitutional. It is clear that the fundamental right to marry shall not be deprived to some individuals based solely on the person they choose to love. In time, Americans will look at the marriage of couples such as Plaintiffs, and refer to it simply as a marriage – not a same-sex marriage. These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street. The Constitution demands that we treat them as such.

The Episcopal Cafe asks: Should the Episcopal Church embrace marriage equality?

The article links to two other pieces, one a report on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music’s recent meeting where they discussed the provisional rite for the blessing of same sex couples. The other is a study guide on marriage produced by the Task Force on Marriage.

Meanwhile Christian Piatt offers Five Reasons why Churches need to “come out” on LGBTQ rights.

The first one is this:

Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpufgm
Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpuf

Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow.

Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpuf
Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpuf
Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpuf
Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow. – See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/five-reasons-churches-need-come-lgbtq-rights/#sthash.D2F23x5y.dpuf

Michigan Bishops file brief in marriage case

All four bishops of the Episcopal dioceses in the state of Michigan have joined in filing an amicus brief in the Sixth Circuit Court supporting marriage equality for same-sex couples. The bishops unite with a range of religious groups and leaders in support of the plaintiffs in DeBoer v. Snyder, a case under consideration in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The full story is here.