The Episcopal Church's Long March to Gaydom
By Michael Heidt in Salt Lake City
VOL Special Correspondent
June 26, 2015
As the 78th Convention of the Episcopal Church prepares to enact legislation that will enshrine gay marriage in its internal laws, or canons, church leaders expressed satisfaction that this would be the culmination of 39 years of pro-gay activism.
In response to the Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage, Rev. Brian Baker, Chair of the Convention's Marriage Resolutions Committee, announced to the Press that the Episcopal Church had "been having a conversation around this for 40 years," and that "today was a significant, monumental day."
The President of the House of Deputies, Rev. Gay Jennings, agreed with Baker. This was "a momentous day," she said, "General Convention has adopted over a period of 39 years, advocacy for the support of... civil rights for all citizens."
Both Jennings and Baker were referring to the Episcopal Church's long history of gay advocacy, beginning in1976, when the denomination's 65th General Convention passed Resolutions A069 and A071, which recognized that "homosexual persons are children of God who have an equal claim upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral care of the Church," and "are entitled to equal protection of the laws with all other citizens."
At every subsequent General Convention through the 1980s, pro-gay resolutions were passed, stating the Episcopal Church's acceptance, love and pastoral concern for homosexuals, while urging study and dialogue concerning same-sex attraction. For example, the 69th General Convention, in 1988, passed Resolutions D132 and D120, expressing "support for suffering gay and lesbian youth," and urging "dioceses and congregations to provide opportunities for open dialogue on human sexuality."
By the 1990s, same-sex legislation picked up speed, moving towards acceptance of same-sex unions. In 1994, the 71st General Convention passed Resolution C042, authorizing the church to prepare a report, "Considering Rites for Same-Sex Commitments." The drive for gay acceptance continued into the millennium, with the 73rd General Convention passing no less than four gay rights resolutions. In 2003, the year Gene Robinson was consecrated as the Bishop of New Hampshire and the world's first ever openly partnered gay bishop, General Convention authorized the discussion of "the blessing of committed, same-gender relationships."
In 2009, the 76th General Convention requested the church's Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to "develop resources on blessings of same gender relationships," and recognized "the value of the experience of homosexual persons, of same-sex couples who are members, the call of these persons to ordained ministry." With an increasingly pro-gay consensus, the stage was set for the Episcopal Church to approve same-sex blessings, which it did in 2012, in Resolution A049.
This resolved that: "The 77th General Convention commends revisions to 'Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing' for the Church's use in witnessing and blessing of a lifelong covenant in same-sex relationships."
Now, at its 78th General Convention, the Episcopal Church stands poised to pass further resolutions which will authoritatively adopt gay marriage into its Canon Law. If the reaction to Friday's Supreme Court ruling is anything to go by, there is every indication that this will take place. For example, the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, has expressed her unqualified support for gay marriage, stating:
"I rejoice that the Supreme Court has opened the way for the love of two people to be recognized by all the states of this union, and that the court has recognized that it is this enduring, humble love that extends beyond the grave that is to be treasured by society wherever it exists," she said. "Our society will be enriched by the public recognition of such enduring faithful love in families headed by two men or two women as well as by a woman and a man. The children of this land will be stronger when they grow up in families that cannot be unmade by prejudice or discrimination. May love endure and flourish wherever it is to be found."
Jefferts Schori was not alone.
"I believe that God works for justice night and day, and when the church doesn't follow God's lead, God sometimes works in the culture. And so, this is a victory for God. Now, The Episcopal Church gets to decide if it wants to join God in that justice," said retired Diocese of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson.
Another gay bishop, Mary Glasspool, who is an openly partnered lesbian and the Suffragan Bishop of Los Angeles, told the Episcopal News Service> that she was excited.
"I am so excited," she said, "I'm very, very proud to be a part of The Episcopal Church, which has been dealing with marriage equality in a variety of different forms for a long number of years. Of course my excitement is couched by other areas of our life together where there isn't such equality, but every bit helps. We've been moving toward trying to say all really means all, the (U.S.) Constitution applies to everybody. When The Episcopal Church says we are open to everybody, and all of the sacraments are available to all of the people, that's what we mean, so we are living into that."
Testimony before the General Convention's legislative committees has been no less enthusiastic. When news of the Supreme Court's ruling reached the Committee on Marriage, committee members burst into tears and hugged each other. According to the House of Deputies News:
"The Very Rev. Brian Baker, deputy from Northern California and committee co-chair, called for a moment of silence and prayer, and then suggested the committee adjourn to give people space to digest the news. Afterward many in the room were hugging or crying while talking on their phones."
However, a small minority at the Convention stand against the redefinition of marriage to include couples of the same sex.
As reported by The Living Church, the Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Albany, Rev. Robert Haskell, was heartbroken to see the Episcopal Church turn its back on 2000 years of history and tradition, "It breaks my heart to see it, this wonderful Episcopal Church that I love."
The Dean of All Saints Cathedral in Albany, the Very Rev. David Collum, was also dismayed, "Think about the unity of the church," he warned.
These voices notwithstanding, the 78th Convention of the Episcopal Church looks set to continue on its long march towards full acceptance of the gay agenda, and to do so with overwhelming majorities.
Michael Heidt is Editor of Forward in Christ magazine and a priest in the Diocese of Fort Worth
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