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GC2009: Episcopal Bishop Barbara Harris Denies Sacrament of Marriage

GC2009: Episcopal Bishop Barbara Harris Denies Sacrament of Marriage

News Analysis

By David Virtue and Michael Heidt in Anaheim

ANAHEIM, CA: The retired Suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts, Barbara Harris publicly denied the Sacrament of Marriage at a gay Eucharist sponsored by the Episcopal Church's homosexual advocacy group, Integrity.

Speaking to a capacity congregation of 1600 people at the Hilton Hotel, she said General Convention needs to supersede resolution B033 (the moratorium on consecrating gay bishops), affirm the dignity of all the baptized, and recognize what she called the inconsistency of not ordaining gay bishops when gay Deacons are ordained. Harris blasted marriage. Bishop Gene Robinson was the chief communion celebrant.

"Lets move on to what some people call the sacrament of marriage," she said before enlarging on the theme, "marriage is basically a civil contract" to which the Church "adds... the sacrament of blessing."

"What right does anyone have to draw lines beyond to whom God's grace, care and favor extend," queried Harris?

"God has no favorites. Yet again, we gather at convention to debate and resolve who should and shouldn't, who can and can't receive God's blessing."

Harris described Resolution B033 as not just a "grudging response" to the Windsor Report, but the ticket for active members of the House of Bishops - Robinson excluded - to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference, and to make some false peace with others in the communion.

It is unlikely that B033 will be revoked or rescinded, especially given what the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams told the church: "Don't make another unilateral move on the communion chessboard." Harris said that B033 needs to be superseded by something positive that recognizes the dignity of all God's humans.

In regard to questioning a person's manner of life, Harris went on to say that if the church doesn't see a person fit for election consecration to bishop, then it shouldn't ordain them to the sacred order of deacons.

For Harris, marriage is a civil matter, which then falls under a new "sacrament" of blessing. Just as this can apply, in her words, to "hounds and houses", why not to the sexual relationships of people on the sliding scale that starts with Lesbian and ends in Transgendered? Of course, this begs the question that these relationships should be blessed. Harris had an answer for that, too. If someone's baptized, then surely they're good enough to receive the grace of all the sacraments, including her newly minted one, blessing. She was characteristically polite about this, telling her listeners, "Don't initiate us into the church and then PRETEND we've only had a half-assed baptism." The logic of this being, I suppose, that denying blessing, or consecration to people implies a deficiency in their incorporation into the Mystical Body of Christ. This was a refrain of the Eucharist.

What does this "new" understanding achieve? Leaving aside the novel idea that "blessing" is a sacrament - which one? The eighth? - her approach isn't that new, but dates back, at least, to Calvin and Luther. The former declared in his Institutes that "no man could so regard it (as a sacrament)" and the latter, writing in De Captivitate Babylonica, stated that, "Not only is the sacramental character of matrimony without foundation in Scripture; but the very traditions, which claim such sacredness for it, are a mere jest." Mere jest indeed, and The Rt. Rev. Harris raised a good laugh by her offhand dismissal of "sacred tradition," but it is hardly likely that the ex-Sun Company PR and champion of the Rainbow Coalition had experienced a kairos moment which had driven her, impelled by the Spirit, into the waiting arms of the Sixteenth Century Reformers. So what's going on?

For TEC's LGBT champions, the Church's teaching on marriage presents, to put it mildly, a stumbling block. It's a Sacrament, "ordained of Christ", confined to men and women, signifying the union of Christ and His bride, the Church. Anglicanism acknowledges this, not least the Lambeth Conference, which reaffirmed Apostolic Tradition and its scriptural warrant in 1998. There's no room in this for the blessedness of homosexual practice, therefore its supporters, like Harris, have to do one of several things. They can attempt to radically reinterpret the Church's sacramental theology, they can ignore it, or they can aggressively dismiss it. This is evidently Harris' approach; the Sacrament of Marriage doesn't fit her worldview so she swaps it out for something more practical that suits her cause.

In the Lesson, from Acts, the congregation heard about Peter's vision of clean and unclean food and how God had widened His covenant with humanity to include the gentiles. Just as all food was now "clean", so too are all baptized persons, which means, for Harris and her friends that someone who is baptized is "good" and eligible to be considered for all the benefits that the Church confers sacramentally.

It's an argument except that it doesn't address the issue in hand, namely: is gay sex a sin and if persisted in, does it debar someone from blessing or consecration? If it is, then it does, in the same way that people of "notoriously" evil lives can be excluded from Holy Communion.

The retired Suffragan Bishop spoke to this: "If you don't want GLBT folks as bishops, don't ordain them as deacons."

But that's just what TEC does. How then, in conscience, can it withhold the episcopate from people living in same sex unions? For that matter, how can it withhold blessing of any kind, on the grounds of sexual behavior, to the same people whose sexual way of life has been ratified by inclusion into several levels of Holy Order?

The answer is, TEC cannot, at least not with any integrity. This is surely the "steam" that puts the "roller' into the pansexual agenda; the way of life in question has been approved by The Episcopal Church. That same Church must then follow the consequences of that decision or face entirely justified charges of hypocrisy and inconsistency.

With that in mind, we've seen glimpses, at least, of the ramifications of this course of action: an Anglican Communion in crisis, litigation, catastrophic hemorrhaging of membership, persistent conflict and the jettisoning of several thousand years of received Christian consensus and teaching. We saw an example of that last night at the Integrity Eucharist, which happily endorsed Harris' consignment of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony to the dustbin of ecclesial history.


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