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AUSTIN, TX: Bishop Martins Reflects on Resolution B-012

AUSTIN, TX: Bishop Martins Reflects on Resolution B-012
GC79 General Convention 2018 -- Day 6

Bishop Daniel Martins
Confessions of a Carioca
July 8, 2018

Life in the House of Bishops was pretty mundane today, so much so that we finished our agenda ahead of schedule. So, I hung out in the gallery of the House of Deputies for about the last 40 minutes of their session. When the time ran out, they were in the middle of the allotted time for debating resolution B012.

B012 was originally authored by a trio of center-left "moderate" bishops, in consultation with the leadership of the Communion Partners. Their aim was to provide a viable alternative to the more draconian A085, which came out of the Marriage Task Force. A085 would simply mandate a right for same-sex marriage to occur in all dioceses, despite the objection of the Bishop, simply by inserting the new liturgies into a "quickie" revision of the Prayer Book, as well as by amending the catechism on the subject of marriage.

B012, as originally drafted, still removes the Bishop's authority to forbid the rites, but leaves the Prayer Book intact, and gives the Bishop the right to insist that a parish wanting to do this accept oversight and supervision from another bishop, not just for the narrow purpose of the wedding ceremony, but ... in general. B012 also called for the creation of a Task Force on Communion Across Differences, which would be charged with making actual canonical proposals to the 2021 General Convention that would solidify both access of those who wish it to same-sex weddings and create structures that would enable those who hold the minority viewpoint on marriage to not only exist and survive, but flourish and thrive.

Committee 13 was charged with dealing with both A-85 and B012. They ended of laying A085 aside and sending B012 forward, but with significant amendments. On the plus side of the ledger, from my perspective, short-term insertion into the Prayer Book is taken off the table. But the committee gutted the language about alternative episcopal oversight. They have hailed this as a magnanimous gesture of compromise, but it is, in fact, no compromise at all, but, rather, the same rock disguised by a thicker coat of moss.

Much has been made of the conscience of the dissenting bishops, often in a derisive manner, as if these recalcitrant eight (plus the ones of Province IX) are somehow holding the rest of the church by the throat, merely for the sake of their individual consciences. The reality is, however, that most of these bishops were elected by dioceses that were fully aware of their views on sexuality and marriage. I know I was, and I am quite confident that if I were to be run over by the proverbial bus tomorrow, the 12th Bishop of Springfield would be someone who holds similar views. So it's not just the conscience of the bishop, but the integrity of the diocese, that is at stake.

But it goes deeper. A diocese, including the clergy, and its bishop are, in effect, sacramentally fused. The Bishop is the outward and visible sign of the diocese's inward and spiritual reality. St Ignatius of Antioch, writing in the early 2nd century, puts it this way:

See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. (Epistle to the Smrynaeans, Chapter 8)

Every liturgical and sacramental act of a priest implicates the Bishop, and bears the "spiritual fingerprints" of the Bishop. This is why some form of delegated oversight is critical for bishops and dioceses that maintain the received teaching on marriage. They (we, I should probably say) need a thick layer of insulation to give us plausible distance from a priest and a parish where a public liturgical event happens that, by the lights of most of the Christian world, is a fundamental offense against the gospel.

In order for both parties to maintain their integrity, they must tread a painful course. If I want to maintain my witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ "as this church was received it" (from the ordination rites), then I must bear the pain of handing over my pastoral authority over a parish that believes itself called to celebrate same-sex marriage to another bishop. If a parish under my oversight wants to celebrate same-sex marriage, then it must embrace the pain of parting company with my pastoral care. This truly hurts, but such things ought to hurt, and hurt a lot, because anything less than that doesn't take seriously the gravity of what we're doing. Such a level of pain makes us think twice ... or three or four times ... about whether this is a line in the sand that we really need to draw. It is a token of the cost of our fidelity to the truth as we have discerned it.

When B012 is taken up again by the Deputies on Monday morning, there will be amendments offered that attempt to restore it to something more like its original form. If that doesn't succeed, the same attempt will be made in the House of Bishops when we get it. May grace abound and the Lord have mercy.

Bishop Daniel Martins is the 11th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield

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