Making a Mishmash of Marriage (Part I)

As the date for the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) in Salt Lake City draws near, the deputies are being asked to adopt measures of expediency in order to bail out clergy from the predicament into which previous General Conventions have placed them.

No attention is given to the longer-term picture. There is nothing to see but a short-term “fix” that (a) emasculates the Book of Common Prayer; (b) reverses the normal order for liturgical change; and (c) makes a mishmash of the concept of “marriage” within the Episcopal Church (USA).

Here is the predicament, in a nutshell. For years, the Episcopal Church (USA) has had no lawful means of recognizing — let alone of blessing or solemnizing — same-sex unions between its members. (It still does not, but try telling that to the revisionists at GC 2015.)

Until such unions began to receive civil recognition under various State laws and court decisions (mostly the latter, since majorities for the former were hard to find), ECUSA could do nothing (other than open its clerical orders to such couples, who by the traditional definition of the BCP (p. 422) were still living in sin).

Now it is 2015, and by hook or by crook the majority of States have been brought to recognize same-sex unions, and to call them “marriages.” And by the end of this month, there will in all likelihood be a resounding 5-4 “mandate” from the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court — who must be the most learned of all in such matters — that requires the approval of such “marriages” in all 50 States, via an unpersuasive eisegesis of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Revisionist ECUSA clergy in those States who are in the vanguard pushed General Convention to authorize them to make an appropriate “pastoral response” to same-sex couples within their jurisdiction who avail themselves of the change in the civil law.

And General Convention, with no thought either to its inherent authority or to the future of the Church, hastened to oblige. At the same gathering at which it ratified the election of same-sex partnered (and now divorced) V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, it adopted the following language in Resolution 2003-C051:

That we commit ourselves, and call our church, in the spirit of Resolution A104 of the 70th General Convention (1991), to continued prayer, study, and discernment on the pastoral care for gay and lesbian persons, to include the compilation and development by a special commission organized and appointed by the Presiding Bishop, of resources to facilitate as wide a conversation of discernment as possible throughout the church.

In 2006, General Convention went on record as opposing any federal or state constitutional amendment “that prohibits same-sex civil marriage or civil unions.” In 2009, in the process of affirming its wish to remain a constituent part of the Anglican Communion, General Convention  resolved (D025) that “through our own listening,” its members have “come to recognize that the baptized membership of The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships ‘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’ (2000-D039)” …

In 2012, General Convention took the decisive steps that landed all of ECUSA’s clergy in their current predicament. First, it created a Task Force on the Study of Marriage, and directed it to consult with “the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons and The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to address the pastoral need for priests to officiate at a civil marriage of a same-sex couple in states that authorize such…”.

Then, as part of the same process, it adopted Resolution 2012-A049, which purported to authorize, for “provisional use … under the direction and subject to the permission of the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority”, a rite for the “Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant”.

Note that the “rite” in question was not yet for the outright celebration and solemnizing, before the altar of an Episcopal church, of a civil union between two persons of the same sex. But then immediately followed this weasel-worded paragraph of Resolution 2012-A049 (my emphasis added):

That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-sex marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church …

In typical Revisionist fashion, this was placing (and jumping on) the cart before the horse. The “horse” needed to draw the cart was an outright change in the Church’s authorized liturgy to celebrate and solemnize same-sex unions before its altars. But by purporting to extend to diocesan bishops the “authority” to “provide generous pastoral response” to same-sex couples, General Convention deliberately left it open for those revisionist bishops to read this language as allowing them to authorize rites for their clergy’s  performance of same-sex marriages — without regard to the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer.

And that is just what happened following General Convention 2012: in diocese after diocese, the announcements followed that the ecclesiastical authority had [“carefully,” “thoughtfully,” “after much prayer and consideration” — insert self-flattering words of choice here] come to the conclusion that he or she could authorize the performance of same-sex marriages by licensed clergy of the Church. In no time at all, numerous such ceremonies had taken place in consecrated buildings across the country — many even performed by the diocesan.

Meanwhile, the Church’s Canons were growing restless, because they had been stretched beyond all sense or meaning. After all the Resolutions by General Convention detailed above, Canon I.18.1 of the Church still reads as follows (with my emphasis again added):

Sec. 1. Every Member of the Clergy of this Church shall conform to the laws of the State governing the creation of the civil status of marriage, and also to the laws of this Church governing the solemnization of Holy Matrimony.


The “laws of this Church” certainly include its Constitution and Canons. And so it is noteworthy that Canon I.18.2 still reads today as follows (with my emphasis, again):


Sec. 2. Before solemnizing a marriage the Member of the Clergy shall have ascertained: … (b) That both parties understand that Holy Matrimony is a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman, entered into within the community of faith, by mutual consent of heart, mind, and will, and with intent that it be lifelong.


It would be impossible, and even ludicrous, for any clergy in ECUSA to claim that, in the process of solemnizing a same-sex union as “allowed” by their bishop, they had not violated the provisions of Canon I.18.2, as well as the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer (which define “Christian marriage” as “a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God”). The provisions of Title IV, as revised by GC 2012, state in Canon IV.3.1:


Sec. 1. A Member of the Clergy shall be subject to proceedings under this Title for:

(a) knowingly violating or attempting to violate, directly or through the acts of another person, the Constitution or Canons of the Church or of any Diocese…


Not only that, but Canon IV.4.1 adds:


Sec. 1. In exercising his or her ministry, a Member of the Clergy shall:

…(b) conform to the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer…


Now you should see the dilemma in which the revisionist clergy find themselves. In jumping the gun in 2012 to rush into church-sanctioned same-sex marriages (as a matter of “generous pastoral response” to a tiny minority of parishioners), they did not have the patience first to change either the Canons or the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer. (The latter would have required action by two successive General Conventions, or a minimum of four years.)


As a consequence, every single bishop and every single priest in ECUSA who has presided over the solemnization of a same-sex marriage up to now — whether using a rite “authorized by the diocesan” or not — is liable to discipline under Title IV of the Church Canons. Need I bother declaring the odds of such proceedings ever taking place? No matter — the Canons have still been, and still are, knowingly violated and so, disrespected — by the very persons charged with conforming to them.   


And now comes the Task Force with its “proposal” to amend Canon I.18, as embodied in proposed Resolution 2015-A036. In my next post, I will show how their proposal continues to make a mockery of the Canons and of the Book of Common Prayer. In the process, it manages to create a thorough mishmash of “Christian marriage” in the Episcopal Church (USA). All in all, that is quite a feat!

[To be continued.]

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