GC2009: Episcopal Bishops Back Same Sex Blessings
By Michael Heidt
The House of Bishops met on Wednesday afternoon to consider C056, which sanctions same sex unions and the development of rituals to bless them. After lengthy debate the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of the resolution
Speaking to a full house and packed visitor's gallery, Vermont Bishop Thomas Ely spoke to a substitute amendment drawn up by an unofficial group of bishops last night and this morning. These had enjoyed lengthy "indaba conversation" and their newly devised legislation was distributed to the House; the bishops moved into table conversation for 20 minutes.
On reconvening, the Bishop of Ohio Mark Hollingsworth offered an amendment striking the word "design" from line ten, introducing an element of ambiguity to the resolve dealing with the creation of same sex blessing rituals. The Ohio bishop feared that some of the bishops at his "indaba" style table conversation would be unable to vote in favor of the resolution if the resolution stood unamended.
The gay rights champion of New Hampshire, Bishop Gene Robinson spoke against the amendment. For him, "Indaba" was a "holy moment" and stressed that "We (the informal indaba of bishops) spent a lot of time on the word 'design', feeling that the word 'develop' sounded like a done deal." For him, "designing" same sex blessing rituals was less conclusive than "developing" them.
The bishop of Indianapolis Catherine M. Waynick felt that the language of the resolution as amended "gives us a kind of comprehensiveness that allows us to stand together." But another prelate disagreed, "it baffles me that somehow 'collect' can mean develop or design." He wanted the House to create same sex blessing liturgies and the bishop of California agreed. For him, discussing the "minutia" of resolution language enabled the House "to breathe"; the word "collect", left on its own stymied this breathing process, because it was "static." He recommended reintroducing the language of design and development.
When the question was called the amendment failed and "develop" returned to the resolve. After further debate bishop Howe of Central Florida moved that the final resolve be removed. This failed by two votes.
Bishop Sean Rowe, Northwest Pennsylvania then moved the discharge of the resolution, "It does exactly what we do not want it to do" he said, "legislating on matters that require discernment... it simply doesn't work, it will divide us." Connecticut Bishop Andrew Smith opined that "the Holy Spirit is moving us out of the box", which moved Gene Robinson Bishop of New Hampshire into the realms of arguing about demonology. He was in favor of the legislation, "I don't believe we need to demonize the legislative process... this does not have to be a demonic thing."
Bishop John Chane of Washington wasn't against the legislation either. The substitute resolving bishops "spent a great deal of time... we are a legislative body... to discharge this resolution dishonors the process (of legislation) and the bishops that put it together." Shaw, of Massachusetts supported him, stating that it was a "misunderstanding of traditional spirituality" to deny the work of the spirit in legislative process.
Debate ended and Bishop Rowe asked and got a vote by roll call; his motion to discharge was defeated by ninety four votes to forty eight. From that point on things moved swiftly and a House that was perhaps weary of debate called the question on the resolution before it. Voting was by roll call and conclusive, one hundred and four in favor, thirty against and two abstentions.
The vote shows that the House of Bishops, as a whole, is clearly in favor of same sex unions and the devising of new worship ceremonies to bless them. Substitute resolution C056 now moves to the House of Deputies for approval. There seems little doubt that they will pass it.
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