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Seven TEC Bishops bow to DEPO to accommodate same-sex marriage

Seven TEC Bishops bow to DEPO to accommodate same-sex marriage
Upcoming General Convention forces Communion Partner bishops to violate conscience to avoid 'nuclear bomb'
Albany Bishop says "NO" to DEPO

Photo: Ed Little has retired as the Bishop of Nthn. Indiana

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
July 1, 2018

In the wake of the 2003 General Convention, Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) was created in 2004 by the Episcopal House of Bishops to provide a way for conservative congregations to receive pastoral care from a theologically like-minded bishop while marooned in a spiritually liberal diocese. In 2003, Vicky Gene Robinson was affirmed by General Convention as the bishop-elect of New Hampshire, thus paving the way for him to become the first openly gay bishop in The Episcopal Church. That action ripped the fabric of the Anglican Communion, a tear which is only getting larger with each successive General Convention.

"In the circumstance of disagreement regarding the actions of the (2003) 74th General Convention on issues of human sexuality, we commit ourselves to providing and to making provision for pastoral care for dissenting congregations, and we recognize that there may be a need for a bishop to delegate some pastoral oversight," the Episcopal bishops said in their 2004 document entitled 'Caring for all the Churches.' "Oversight means the episcopal acts performed as part of a diocesan bishop's ministry either by the diocesan bishop or by another bishop to whom such responsibility has been delegated by the diocesan bishop. In other Anglican Provinces, the term 'pastoral oversight' signifies what we mean by 'pastoral care.' In our Episcopal Church polity, 'oversight' does not confer 'jurisdiction.' We are aware of current examples of the delegation of pastoral oversight in the gracious accommodations which have occurred in some dioceses."

Now that document has come back to bite the Communion Partners bishops who are, in part, bowing to providing Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight for gay and lesbian couples seeking "church" weddings within their various dioceses.

In June 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality was a Constitutional right and threw open the legality of same-sex marriage in every state of the union. At the time, the Episcopal General Convention was meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah. Convention celebrated the Supreme Court's ruling and then-President Barack Obama bathed the White House in rainbow-colored lights at dusk.

However, not every Episcopal bishop was cheering. Some traditional bishops, including the Communion Partner bishops, were grieving yet another embrace of the culture by the church.

According to its website, the "Communion Partners is an episcopally led fellowship of individuals in the provinces of the Anglican Communion devoted to promoting deeper communion in the faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. With evangelical fervor, we pursue and support the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed."

In its 2015 Salt Lake City Statement, the Communion Partner bishops denounced the actions on General Convention: "The 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, in passing Resolutions A036 and A054, has made a significant change in the Church's understanding of Christian marriage. As bishops of the Church, we must dissent from these actions."

In all, 28 bishops signed the 2015 Statement, including then-sitting bishops: John Bauerschmidt (IX Tennessee); Gregory Brewer (IV Central Florida); Samuel Johnson Howard (VIII Florida); Edward Little (VII Northern Indiana); William Love (IX Albany); Daniel Martins (XI Springfield); Michael Smith (XI North Dakota); Paul Lambert (Pro-tem Dallas); and David M. Reed (Coadjutor West Texas).

The sitting foreign bishops included: Ambrose Gumbs (V Virgin Islands); Orlando Guerrero (III Venezuela); Lloyd Allen (V Honduras); Julio Holguin (III Dominican Republic); Alfredo Morante (II Ecuador Litoral); Jean Zache Duracin (V Haiti); and Francisco Jose Duque Gómez (VI Colombia).

Signing retired bishops included: Edward Salmon (XIII South Carolina); Daniel Herzog (VIII Albany); Don Wimberly (VIII Texas); Bruce MacPherson (III Western Louisiana); John Howe (III Central Florida); Russell Jacobus (VII Fond du Lac); James Adams (IV Western Kansas); James Stanton (VI Dallas); Francis Gray (VI Northern Indiana) William Frey (VIII Colorado); Alden Hathaway (VI Pittsburgh); and William Skilton (South Carolina suffragan)

Fast forward three years and the 2018 General Convention is looming. In less than two weeks, The Episcopal Church is scheduled to descend on Austin, Texas, and bring with it a quiver full of liberal resolutions designed to bring the remaining conservatives to their knees in capitulation for the sake of maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace and stave off prayer book revision.

In a statement released on June 28, the Communion Partner seven bishops, who have up until this point not permitted same-sex wedding to occur within their dioceses, have capitulated and will now allow Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight for those same-sex partners seeking a church wedding.

"As Communion Partner bishops in the Episcopal Church, we seek to 'maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace' with our brothers and sisters here at home and throughout the Anglican Communion (Eph. 4:3)," the preface reads. "We believe that we all are joined together indissolubly by the waters of baptism, and that we all are called to share one bread and one cup in the Eucharist as the principal sign of our common faith and full communion in the Lord. We rejoice in the fellowship that we share in Christ and pray for the movement of his disciples throughout the world, that we may learn to walk together ever more faithfully and persevere to the end. Amen!" the preface reads."

The seven bishops -- Lloyd Allen (Honduras); John Bauerschmidt (Tennessee); Gregory Brewer (Central Florida); Daniel Martins (Springfield); Michael Smith (North Dakota); George Sumner (Dallas) and Moises Mota (Dominican Republic) -- have agreed to allow DEPO.

"Walking together as closely as possible with all of our Anglican brothers and sisters has at times been difficult, but since our inception ten years ago we have sought to do so by maintaining "a visible link to the whole Anglican Communion on the way to resolving important questions of faith and order," the bishops write. "As we see it, the decision of the (2015) 78th General Convention should be set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God. That means that dioceses and congregations within the Episcopal Church that conscientiously teach and practice marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman -- as we understand it, the 'historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer,' and the teaching of the Anglican Communion -- should be given a place to flourish within the structures of the Episcopal Church, without limit of time."

The bishops go on to explain: "Because of this, we rejoiced in 2015 at the 'Communion across Difference' statement of the House of Bishops, which recognized the 'indispensable' place that Communion Partners have in our church's common life, as a witness our church needs. We were grateful that the authorization of the 2015 trial use marriage rites provided, in this generous spirit, that we may as Communion Partner bishops keep the Windsor moratoria in our dioceses. We have done so."

After trying to live with the trial use marriage rites for three years, some of the Communion Partner bishops feel that people within their own more conservative dioceses are suffering from "exclusion, competing convictions and loss of community", so they are seeking a way to provide for their emotional needs.

"Now in 2018, we recognize that some in our dioceses have expressed deep dissatisfaction with this situation," the bishops continue. "The Memorial submitted by the convention of the Diocese of Tennessee requested that the 79th General Convention take into account the "exclusion, competing convictions, and loss of community" experienced under the current terms of authorization for the trial use marriage rites."

The Diocese of Tennessee's 2018 Memorial pleads: "Recognizing the continuing theological diversity of this Church, and in the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee, in regard to same-sex marriage and the blessing of same-sex unions, and out of respect for the deeply held beliefs across the range of opinion, we, members of the 186th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Tennessee (January 19-20, 2018), respectfully request that as you, the Bishops and Deputies of the 79th General Convention, prayerfully consider the re-authorization of 'Liturgical Resources I' for the next Triennium, you take in account the exclusion, competing convictions, and loss of community experienced by members of this Diocese under the current terms of authorization for the texts."

"We know and love many brothers and sisters in Christ in our several dioceses who share this perspective," the capitulating bishops write. "For this reason, we are grateful to have entered into collegial conversation with a group of Episcopal leaders who hold a progressive view on marriage and wish to find a way forward in charity and peace for all Episcopalians in one church. We welcome and support their proposal for a 'Communion across Difference' task force, so that over the next triennium and in consultation with our Anglican Communion partners, we might together seek a way forward for the mutual flourishing of all within the bounds of our historic episcopal polity."

The 'new normal' is to begin this December. The first Sunday in Advent 2018 is December 2.

"Their proposal also provides that beginning in Advent of this year, the trial use rites for marriage authorized in 2015 will be available in all dioceses, where civil law permits. Congregations in our dioceses that have conscientiously discerned, alongside those priests who bear authority and responsibility for worship in their communities (Canon III.9.6), to extend the practice of marriage to same-sex couples (civil law permitting) would be given the right to do so by requesting delegated episcopal pastoral oversight (DEPO)," the accommodating bishops announce.

Currently there are 10 sitting Episcopal bishops in the Communion Partners fellowship, including bishops Allen (Honduras); Bauerschmidt (Tennessee); Brewer (Central Florida); Gómez (Colombia); Martins (Springfield): Smith (North Dakota); Love (Albany); and Howard (Florida) all who signed the 2015 Communion Partners Statement. New to the group are bishops George Sumner (VII Dallas) and Moises Mota (IV Dominican Republic). Both were elected bishop of their respective diocese after the 2015 General Convention.

Of the currently sitting Episcopal bishops, only three have not signed on the dotted line to allow DEPO in their dioceses to accommodate unhappy same-sex partners. They include bishops Love (Albany); Howard (Florida); and Gómez (Colombia).

When Bishop Love was asked about allowing DEPO within the Diocese of Albany, he replied with a succinct and emphatic "No!"

As a conservative Anglo-Catholic, Bishop Martins is conflicted. He says agreeing to DEPO is like an "amputation" and the "lesser of two evils."

"I think the Communion Partners statement pretty much speaks for itself, and I signed my name to it. I cannot have my spiritual fingerprints anywhere near a same-sex ceremony that purports to solemnize a marriage," Bishop Martins e-mailed. "If the only way to ensure that spiritual and pastoral distance is by granting DEPO, I will grant DEPO."

Bishop Martins is keeping a close eye on General Convention resolutions B012 and A0185. He sees B012, submitted by Bishop Lawrence Provenzano (VIII Long Island) as a "Tomahawk missile" while he likens A0185, proposed by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, to a "nuclear bomb."

In part, Resolution B012 -- Marriage Rites for the Whole Church -- calls for the "the period of trial use for these liturgies shall extend without limit of time" allow for DEPO in dioceses which "do not authorize the use of these liturgies for persons of the same-sex" that bishops lead the "Church in comprehensive engagement with these materials and continue to provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church" and that all same-sex trial liturgies be available in English, Spanish and French.

While Resolution A085 -- Trial Use of Marriage Liturgies -- calls for changes and additions to the Book of Common Prayer. In the section on Marriage, the Resolution proposes that "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage" ... "The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 2" ... "The Blessing of a Civil Marriage 2 ..." and "An Order for Marriage 2" be wedged between BCP Page 438 and Page 439 which is the beginning of the section about "Thanksgiving for a Child."

The proposed prayer book changing Resolution also calls for revision in the 1979 BCP's Catechism. The proposal suggests that the question about "What is Holy Matrimony?" be answered this way: "Holy Matrimony is Christian marriage, in which two (2) people enter into a life-long union, make their vows before God and the Church, and receive the grace and blessing of God to help them fulfill their vows." The language continuing "the woman and man" is scrubbed and replaced by "two (2) people."

An additional question is also to be asked in the revamped BCP Catechism. "What is required of those to be married?" The answer: "It is required of those to be married that at least one (1) member of the couple be baptized and that they have been instructed that Christian marriage is an unconditional, mutual, exclusive, faithful and lifelong commitment intended for the couple's mutual joy, for the help and comfort given to each other in prosperity and adversity, and, when it is God's will, for the gift and heritage of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of God."

The Task Force on the Study of Marriage's reasoning behind Resolution A085 is to provide for same-sex couples to enter the common life of the church.

"For over forty (40) years The Episcopal Church has been discussing the place of same-sex couples in its common life," A085's explanation says: "During this time, some dioceses and congregations gradually began offering liturgical blessings of the lifelong monogamous relationships of same-sex couples. In 2000, the General Convention adopted Resolution D039 (subsequently reaffirmed by successive General Conventions) expressing the Church's understanding and expectation that marriage and other life-long committed relationships "will be characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God."

With the real possibility of unwanted prayer book revision on the table, Bishop Martins explains his thought process behind allowing DEPO to creep into the Diocese of Springfield. "If I were to simply be recalcitrant and subject an offending priest to canonical discipline, that discipline is virtually certain to be overturned by a provincial court of review. If B012 fends off Prayer Book revision and sets up a task force to ensure a canonical safe place for orthodox Episcopalians going forward, it will be worth the sacrifice. It's the lesser of two evils. A085 is a nuclear bomb. B012 is a mere Tomahawk missile. DEPO may feel like amputation, but amputation is usually preferable to execution."

In addition to the 10 sitting Episcopal bishops, the Communion Partners' episcopal arm is made up of six sitting Anglican Church of Canada bishops, two Canadian bishops suffragan and 11 retired Episcopal bishops.

A Communion Partner bishop is an active or retired, diocesan or other duly consecrated bishop who is willing to support the ecclesiology and observe the moratoria of 2004 The Windsor Report. In addition to the bishops, the Communion Partners, there are also partnering clergy, dioceses, congregations and individual marooned lay communicants.

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

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