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Episcopal Bishop Duncan Gray Caves on Same-Sex Blessings

Episcopal Bishop Duncan Gray Caves on Same-Sex Blessings
Mississippi bishop gives tip of the mitre during Annual Council address

By Mary Ann Mueller
Special Correspondent
February 4, 2013

As a part of the upcoming Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi's search for a new bishop, the Diocese is reporting that Bishop Duncan Gray will allow individual congregations to discern and petition for his permission to perform same-sex blessings, a practice that is now spreading throughout The Episcopal Church.

Bishop Gary has done a quasi about-face from the stance he held following the last summer's Episcopal General Convention in Indianapolis.

"I know I see through a glass darkly," he said on July 9, 2012 when the House of Bishops was about to vote on Resolution A049 which allowed for the provisional blessing of same-sex unions. "... and I know this will pass.

"Can we walk beyond this vote with a sense of humility and less of a triumphant way?" He then pleaded with his fellow bishops who were for the same-sex blessings.

So much for restraint. Immediately after the House of Bishop's vote was taken and the smoke cleared, Bishop Gene Robinson tweeted, "Episcopal Bishops authorize rite of blessing for same-sex relationships 111 to 41. ‪#LGBT"

Once back in his diocese, the Mississippi bishop wrote about his impressions of the 77th General Convention.

"For reasons that I have shared with this diocese over the past 12 years, I do not intend to authorize this [same-sex blessing] liturgy for use in Mississippi," he wrote on July 25, 2012 to the people of his Diocese. "Whether one agrees or disagrees with the use of such liturgies, it is essential that our discussions are grounded in a theological, sacramental and pastoral context and not tied to the shrillness of our society's current debate on this issue."

Now a new year has dawned and the up-coming election of his successor has been announced. Seeing that the tide is turning, Bishop Gray has apparently rethought the same-sex blessing matter and has come up with a different answer to the same question while taking a very limited pastoral approach on the vexing issue.

Bishop Gray has called for the election of a Bishop Coadjutor, 15 months hence, on May 3, 2014. The IX Bishop of Mississippi was elected in 2000 and leads a diocese of 18,000 souls in 85 worshipping communities. He plans on turning over his croizer two years from now in February 2015.

Bishop Duncan Gray, III, comes from a long line of Episcopal Bishops of Mississippi. He was born in 1949 when his grandfather, Bishop Duncan Gray, Sr., was the V Bishop of Mississippi (1942-1966). His grandfather ordained his father as a deacon and a priest. His father, Bishop Duncan Gray, Jr., the VII Bishop of Mississippi from 1974-1993, ordained him deacon and priest and was co-consecrator at his elevation to the bishopric. His son, Duncan Gray IV, is not an Episcopal priest. So far his name has not carried on to another generation.

Several committees have been put into place to facilitate the search, election and installation of a new bishop. According to the Diocese, the Diocesan Standing Committee is to oversee the nomination and election of X Bishop of Mississippi. The nomination process is to be undertaken by a Search Committee; the election and consecration is to be directed by a Transition Committee.

Bishop Gray apparently fears that his diocesan ban on same-sex blessings will become too much of a distraction during the necessary discernment process and election of his successor. He is following the example of the "Texas Compromise" put into place by Texas Bishop Andrew Doyle. In the Diocese of Texas only self-discerning individual congregations may be allowed to perform same-gender blessings.

Only two churches in Texas have passed the mustard in Texas: St. David's in Austin and St. Stephen's in Houston. At this point, neither church has celebrated a same-sex blessing, even though the provisions put into place by A049 have gone into effect. Texas does not allow for legal same-sex marriages. The Episcopal Diocese of Texas is comprised of 153 congregations spiritually serving 79,000 souls.

Following the lead of the Lone Star State bishop, Bishop Gray will reluctantly allow the Diocese of Mississippi to implement same-sex blessings, but only after proper the proscribed congregational self-discernment and permission from him.

"[Bishop] Gray said that he is taking the step to keep the issue from dominating the nomination and election of his successor," the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi explained on its website. "While a general ban on the blessing of same-gender unions remains in place, he [Bishop Gray] will allow congregations which self-select and undergo a thorough process to move toward blessings of same-gender unions."

In his opening address Friday evening to the 186th Annual Council - held in Jackson –Bishop Gray emphasized that no priest, vestry, or congregation will be asked to do anything that violates their consciences. The same-gender blessing liturgy will only be authorized in congregations that have met the stated criteria and have petitioned for his permission.

"Clergy and vestry - the elected lay leaders of a local congregation - will be free to enter into a process of prayer and study on the matter. They will be asked to submit the design and results of their study and also to explain to the Bishop how the blessing of same-gender unions would enhance the congregation's missional efforts," the Diocesan website explained. "He [Bishop Gray] said he would also require those congregations discerning such a call to describe how they would prepare couples for the blessing liturgy. Congregations would also be required to report back on their experience in time for the 2015 General Convention."

Bishop Gray was also quick to point out that his "Mississippi Compromise" came as the result of last summer's Episcopal General Convention authorization for the use of a same-sex blessing liturgy which is only provisional in nature - at least until the 78th General Convention meets in Salt Lake City in 2015; that it was a liturgical "blessing" of same-sex unions and not "marriage" and that his own conscience was still pricked by it.

In the summer of 2015, the new Episcopal Bishop of Mississippi will then firmly be in place and a voting member of the Episcopal House of Bishops when General Convention revisits the provisional nature of the same-sex blessing liturgy.

Mississippi, as with all Southern Bible Belts states, does not for allow legal same-sex marriages. Currently only nine states, and the District of Columbia, legally accept same-sex "marriages" to be performed within their state borders including: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington. In addition California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin allow same-sex "civil unions" but not specifically same-sex "marriage."

Same-sex marriages are accepted only on a state-by-state basis because the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, prohibits the federal acceptance of same-sex marriage, giving the states home rule in defining marriage and creating their marriage laws. The DOMA defines marriage as: "... a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."

Now that President Barack Obama in his second term, he is openly embracing the LGBT agenda, and would like to see DOMA scuttled declaring it, in his opinion, unconstitutional and discriminatory. He has ordered the Department of Justice not to defend DOMA in court.

In The Episcopal, Church the A049 same-gender blessing floodgates opened on the First Sunday of Advent 2012. At that time these Episcopal Dioceses were identified as on board and preparing for same-sex blessing: Arizona, Arkansas, Bethlehem, California, Central New York, Central Pennsylvania, Chicago, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, East Tennessee, Eastern Michigan, Eastern Oregon, Easton, El Camino Real, TEC Fort Worth, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indianapolis, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Long Island, Los Angeles, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Newark, North Carolina, Northern California, Northern Michigan, Northwestern Pennsylvania, Ohio, Olympia, Oregon, Pennsylvania, TEC Quincy, Rio Grande, Rochester, San Diego, TEC San Joaquin, Southeast Florida, Southern Ohio, Southern Virginia, Southwestern Virginia, Spokane, Texas, Upper South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington DC, West Missouri, West Tennessee, Western Michigan, Western New York, Western North Carolina, and Wyoming.

Now the Diocese of Mississippi can be added to the list.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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