THE Episcopal Church in the United States has moved a step closer to ensuring that all its dioceses offer marriage rites to same-sex and opposite-sex couples, even where the bishop has objected.
At its General Convention, the House of Deputies overwhelmingly backed a redrafted compromise resolution to ensure that everyone can access the two trial marriage rites, which were approved in 2015, in their home churches.
There are currently eight dioceses in the Episcopal Church where the gender-neutral rites have not been authorised by the bishop.
This resolution was already a compromise on the original one put forward by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, which would have changed references to marriage in the Prayer Book to make it gender neutral, and included the two trial rites in the Prayer Book (News, 6 July). This was a step too far for many, and several bishops warned that doing so would “deepen the breach” in the Church.
An amended resolution was put forward last week in an attempt to avoid more schism. It was passionately debated by deputies at this week’s Convention, and several more amendments were made.
The Revd Susan Russell from Los Angeles said that everyone should be clear that the resolution contained “costly compromises that come with very real pain”. Some would be pained by a resolution that fell short of giving “full and equal claim” to all the sacraments to baptised LBGTQ persons, she said. Others would “experience this action as a bridge too far away”.
But William Murchison from Dallas said that the convention was being asked to “throw out a historic Christian understanding and supplant it with a new one, untested, unproved, but now, all of the sudden, necessary to be believed and practised”.
The redraft of the motion gives rectors or clergy in charge of a congregation the ability to provide access to the trial-use of the marriage rites for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The original resolution proposed that bishops who objected provided “delegated episcopal pastoral oversight” to these congregations on request.
If the bishop has a theological objection to same-sex marriage, the redrafted resolution says that they must ask another bishop to provide pastoral support to the couple wishing to use the rites, and to the member of the clergy and congregation. This was not the same as delegated pastoral oversight, which was meant for congregations whose relationship with the bishop is broken on all levels, the California deputy Christopher Hayes, who proposed the amendments, said.
The amended resolution was backed with large majorities by both clergy and laity. It will now go to the House of Bishops.
Other resolutions that suggest changes to the Prayer Book have also been debated by bishops and deputies. The House of Bishops adopted a proposal for what it calls “liturgical and prayer book revision for the future of God’s mission through the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement”, which includes using inclusive language for divinity and humanity.
The resolution calls for the creation of a “Task Force on Liturgical Prayer Book Revision” to be made up of ten lay people, ten clergy, and ten bishops, appointed by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies. The members ought to reflect “the expertise, gender, age, theology, regional, and ethnic diversity of the Church,” the resolution says.
The 79th General Convention began last week in Austin, Texas, and will conclude today.
The Convention has also backed resolutions on immigration, condemning President Donald Trump’s policy of detaining children as “inhumane and unjust”.
A thousand Episcopalians took buses from the Convention centre to take part in a vigil outside an immigration detention centre that houses 500 women.
The Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Michael Curry, said in a sermon during the vigil: “We do not come in hatred, we do not come in bigotry, we do not come to put anybody down, we come to lift everybody up. We come in love.”