9/11/2008

Six Bishops of one mind doing the right thing.

The six bishops of California have taken a bold and brave step. Standing together yesterday (September 10) they cut through the foolishness and called for the defeat of Proposition 8, and proposition to constitutionally disallow same sex marriage in California. Susan Russell, who does marvelous work and is a marvelous person, reported on the press conference in which the California 6 took their stand HERE.

ENS wrote this:

"The group statement, signed by bishops of the dioceses of Northern California, California, El Camino Real, San Joaquin, Los Angeles and San Diego, said, “We do not believe that marriage of heterosexuals is threatened by same-sex marriage. Rather, the Christian values of monogamy, commitment, love, mutual respect and witness of monogamy are enhanced for all by providing this right to gay and straight alike. Society is strengthened when two people who love each other choose to enter into marriage, engaged in a lifetime of disciplined relationship building that serves as a witness to the importance of love and commitment.”

The bishops acknowledged that the Church is not of one mind on the blessing of same-sex unions, but said they are “adamant that justice demands that same-sex civil marriage continue in our state,” and noted that a resolution passed at the 2006 General Convention opposed any civil initiative that would make same-sex marriage unconstitutional on a state or national level."

The statement was read by Bishop Jon Bruno (picture on the right, from Susan Russell.) This is exactly the sort of clarity that is needed.

In the Episcopal Church there may be people of different opinions on blessing same-sex unions, and even difference of opinion concerning positive action to enact same-sex marriage legislation, but at the same time there can be one mind in opposing "civil initiative that would make same-sex marriage unconstitutional on a state or national level." The matter deserves to be determined by engagement with the issues, not by constitutional denial.

More, I believe the bishops are right, the virtues of the commitments of marriage are supported by commitments by others to the same values. When I used to officiate at marriages I would usually strike the word "married" from the petition, "Grant that all married persons who have witnessed these vows may find their lives strengthened and their loyalties confirmed." The witnessing of the vows ought to strengthen all our lives and loyalties.

Believing that the Church and State have both been in a confused muddle as to just what is going on in the marriage service I have for the last seven years asked to be relieved from exercising that particular ministerial function.

I have come to believe we must separate civil and religious action by having a civil marriage and church blessing. Maybe soon it will be that way in the US and we can separate church and state on this one. The statement by the bishops is a positive witness to the possibility of supporting civil marriage without compromising religious values, and indeed finding ways in which the one support the other.

The statement by the California 6 makes me proud to be an Episcopalian in a week where I have been mostly depressed about the Church.

Thanks to the California 6, to Susan and to Bishop Jon.


16 comments:

  1. "Standing together yesterday (September 10) they cut through the foolishness and called for the defeat of Proposition 8.."

    So Mark,
    this means that you are not only willing for rupture with Anglicanism and world-wide Christianity, but also advocating for it? It means nothing that hundreds of millions of Christians believe that gay marriage is impossible (forget a "right")? How did a Church (TEC) with less than 800,000 ASA (and lesser by the year)get all of the enlightenment and the rest of Christianity get less discerning?

    BTW: don't fall for the chaining of gays to the gates of hell in punishment stunt. It IS possible to not have a biblical blessing granted to gay folks, and not wish them eternal damnation.

    Gay "marriage" IS impossible unless you wish to erase Genesis. and wash the words right out of Jesus' own mouth and insert new ones to suit 21st century politics.

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  2. It's absolutely amazing to see the words, 'San Joaquin' in the same sentences as 'Los Angeles.'

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  3. I'm sorry: In which gospel does Jesus say the term "gay marriage"?

    I can only hope the actions of those in California can start to pave the way for similar statements in other parts of the country where the LGBT community is, again, the pariah paraded out before the fearful to make them go to the polls and vote.

    Thanks be to God that there are some in the Church willing to take a stand, and make the distinction about state functions and church blessings. Thank you, Fr. Mark!

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  4. wow, impossible, allen? then there is nothing to fear.

    of course, the bishops were talking about equal rights to *civil* marriage, something the lambeth conference is already on board as *supporting*.

    but we already knew that the only part of the lambeth resolutions which count for the bigots are the bigoted parts. those nasty "support civil rights" and "oppose discrimination" and "talk to and get to know people" parts just get ignored.

    well, these six bishops are taking those parts seriosuly. shame on you for ignoring them.

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  5. Allen:

    You didn't read the other part of the quote that Mark posted, which says:

    The bishops acknowledged that the Church is not of one mind on the blessing of same-sex unions, but said they are “adamant that justice demands that same-sex civil marriage continue in our state,”

    They said absolutely nothing about same-sex blessings, but said that civil marriage should continue. Unless you want the churches of the Global South interfering in our civil law, then their statement is just fine. It acknowledges that there is not agreement on same-sex blessings but asserts couples' rights under civil law.

    And since when did numbers have anything to do with discernment of God's will and the diminishing numbers in TEC get directly linked to our stance on same-sex blessings?

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  6. Allen,

    You say, "Hundreds of millions of Christians believe that gay marriage is impossible."?

    Are they all in the state of California??? This is a stand taken by bishops in California, and I am a faithful Christian and a faithful Episcopalian and I live in the Diocese Of San Joaquin in California, and I applaud the stand they have taken. And I am heterosexual, not that that is any of your business. I especially appreciate the statement of those bishops, as quoted by Mark, "We do not believe that marriage of heterosexuals is threatenened by same sex-marriage."

    So, you ask, are some of us willing for rupture with Anglicanism and world wide Christianity? THAT IS UP TO THOSE PEOPLE WHO WOULD EMBARK ON THE RUPTURE! We Episcopalians cannot think in like minds about everything. And we never have. We are too many. We are many cultures in the world. There are a lot of things going on in cultures around the world where there are Episcopalians who live lives that I cannot abide, not in my life, not in my culture. I try to understand in cases when it does not involve the exploitation of another, or harm. But I don't throw them out because they think differently.

    To my mind, this is not about 21st century politics. This is about the timeless, inclusive love of Jesus Christ, being understood in our time, in our culture, a culture that has scientific knowledge about the reality of human life. People are different, and some are homosexual.

    I agree with those bishops who say that "Christian values of monogamy, committment, love, mutual respect, and witness of monogamy, are enhanced for all when two people who love each other choose to enter into marriage, engaged in a lifetime of disciplined relationship building that serves as a witness to the importance of love and commitment." Do I think Jesus Christ, the loving Lord that I know in my life would support this kind of commitment? I have no doubt. But my deepest, spiritual understanding is about the love.

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  7. Hundreds of millions of Christians "believe" that gay marriage is impossible? Many others "believe" that marriage equality is desirable and good for society -- as the bishops said. Numbers prove nothing. I suspect that the millions of followers of Islam believe things that Allen would find objectionable.

    The problem with all religious discussions is that belief is independent of evidence. Allen seems to believe in a particular religious narrative, one of order and authority; I believe in another narrative, one of openness and acceptance of productive relationships. I can give many examples of enduring, supportive same-sex couples; Allen evidently would disregard their relationships as "impossible." He can argue tradition and scriptural interpretation; these will leave me unmoved in the light of my experience, and in view of other interpretations more based on evidence. Shouting at each other changes nothing -- we're both asserting opinions, based on what we've been taught and what kind of society we want to see.

    Allen thinks that Genesis obviates "gay marriage." (Note, however, that the discussion is not about something special called gay marriage; as the California Supreme Court recognized, it's about marriage equality, opening a civic institution to all couples). Does he think the Earth is flat, covered with a dome of sky, surrounded by water, as portrayed in the first chapter of Genesis? Does he suppose that animals, plants, and humankind are separate creations, and not the interrelated results of evolution? Does he think the whole Earth was once flooded (where did the water come from to cover Everest, and where did it go?)? God didn't create male and female -- we now know that everyone starts out basically female and some (the XY people) develop in a more or less masculine direction (and some of the XXs too) The development of fetuses is directed by hormones, whose strength and effects vary at different stages. Biology anybody? Facts? Evidence? Genesis is literature, myth. If you want to take it as authority, forget science (and so modern medicine).

    As I said, religion is opinion, sanctified by authority and tradition. Science is also opinion for most people (we aren't all scientists with first-hand experience of the experiments), but you CAN check it out. All I can do with Allen is disagree .

    Murdoch Matthew
    spouse of Garydasein

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  8. Allen-

    If you had volunteered to go to Vietnam as a combat engineer in my stead and if you had paid my taxes for me for the past 40 years, then maybe - and just maybe- I'd think you might be able to say with some dignity that you have the "right" to determine my civil status according to your interpretation of scripture and your personal religious tnents. But since that isn't true, you'll have to come with better arguiments for denying me equal civil status under the laws of the State.

    Kahu Aloha

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  9. I was struck yesterday at the Eucharist, as we commemorated Alexander Crummell, how far off track the Church has often been. LFF notes: "As a young man, he was driven out of an academy in New Hampshire, dismissed as a candidate for Holy Orders in New York, and rejected for admittance to General Seminary. Ordained in 1844 as a preist in the Diocese of Massachusetts, he left for england after being excluded from participating in the diocesan convention." (2006 edition, page 372.)

    As has often happened throughout history, majority opinion has not always been right. Allen, perhaps you can help me understand, since many hundreds of millions of Christians believe (or at least are formally committed) to the proposition that the Bishop of Rome is infallible in matters of faith and morals and exercises universal ordinary jurisdiction over the whole Church, why you are still (apparently) an Anglican.

    The Episcopal Church may be right, or The Episcopal Church may be wrong, but it isn't clear to me what our reported ASA has to do with it.

    "Athanasius contra mundum..."

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  10. wsjm notes,

    "..it isn't clear to me what our reported ASA has to do with it..."

    ASAs indicate how many "buy into" what they are seeing and being told. IMHO, since we have LESS than 1/2 of our membership caring to darken the doors it means:
    Loss of confidence. Apathy to leadership currently in vogue. Lack of responsiveness to the agenda of this Church. Lack of respect for those who demand loyalty. The pure lack of ability to bring cohesiveness to the Church. Something has failed and isn't being addressed.

    A sane organization would try to save itself by bringing wholesale change rather than forging ahead with what is clearly being rejected by the majority of those who are members.

    We can't keep losing members. We can't watch thousands walk away by the year. We can't afford to keep alienating those that we keep referring to in our statistics. We aren't 2.4 million strong. We're 800,000 and weakening. What's the plan, folks?
    Push more away? Become a microChurch for the sake of a narrow revisionist agenda that claims to be all about civil rights? Odd that the majority of Christianity doesn't agree...and that too many in TEC are arrogant enough to ignore all of this.

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  11. *does a little dance and sings*

    Go bishops!
    Go bishops!
    It's your feast day!
    Go bishops!

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  12. Ron Prentice Gets Rich Fighting Gay Marriage

    Ron Prentice is CEO of the California Family Council and Chairman of ProtectMarriage.com, the committee behind Prop 8 (the folks working to ban gay marriage in California).

    Ron is set to be be honored at the Values Voter Summit 2008 (September 12-14) with Focus on the Family Action's Family Champion Award.

    Justin McLachlan has broken a major story in the Proposition 8 battle: California Family Council contributions have mostly been spent on the generous salaries that Ron pays himself and his staff.

    So far, there’ve been about a dozen news and blog pieces that have appeared online referencing Justin’s research into Ron Prentice and his shady management of donor funds.

    Folks volunteering for and making contributions to the “Yes on 8″ campaign should be aware that the operatives running the show have a track record of using contributions to generously reward themselves.

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  13. Hi, Allen. Thanks for your response.

    You have not indicated (as far as I have noticed) how long you have been a member of the Episcopal Church, but I'm going to assume that it has been quite a while. On Wednesday, while we were celebrating Alexander Crummell, we were also celebrating the 42nd anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. So I've been around for a while. And yes, we have had a distressing decline in active membership in The Episcopal Church. This has been going on for a long time, well before the place of GLBTs was given any significant attention or consideration. A lot of issues may be part of it. Civil rights, particularly for blacks, may have been one piece. The revision of the Prayer Book may have been another piece (and particularly the restoration of the centrality of the Sunday Eucharist). The ordination of women to the priesthood and then to the episcopate was pretty obviously another piece. But we also might want to notice that a number of "mainline" denominations were also taking attendance/membership hits, even though they may not have had quite the same issues that The Episcopal Church had. This suggests to me that there have been a number of different factors at work over the last generation or more, and I suspect the reasons are more sociological than theological. (Not counting Hispanic immigration, the Roman Catholic Church has also taken a hit, and they can hardly be accused of being soft on gays or women.)

    So what do you propose? A "no gay cooties" church? A "no women in leadership" church? A "no racial integration" church? A church that is not just politically non-partisan (as it should be) but resolutely politically indifferent? Return to the 1928 Prayer Book (or even the 1662 Prayer Book)? Do you think that this will regain us our lost membership? The "successful" congregations at the moment seem to be "conservative," "evangelical," generally independent megachurches. They love God, and God loves them, but I'm not going there.

    You write, "A sane organization would try to save itself by bringing wholesale change rather than forging ahead with what is clearly being rejected by the majority of those who are members." Actually, it's probably fair to say that "wholesale change" is one factor in our current membership malaise (and that of many other mainstream churches). But "what is clearly being rejected by the majority" -- do you have any evidence for that? (Where are you, Allen, by the way? I'm in Iowa. We have our problems, but rejection of the current direction of the Episcopal Church is not one of them, at least not for most of our people, and certainly not in my parish.)

    Are you suggesting that if we would just go back to our old racist, sexist, homophobic religiosity, we'd get all these people back? Well, maybe we would. It's not worth the price. (I remember those days. So does Mark Harris.)

    By the way, do you have any reflections on Mark's more recent posting about Archbishop Akinola?

    Bill

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  14. wsjm,

    Thanks for your response (and not calling me a jerk this time around). I'll just lay out a set of proposals numerically:

    1. Anglicanism IS the best expression of Christianity when Via Media means the inclusion of the best essential Protestant/catholic theological traits and elimination of non-essentials.

    2. What TEC does is not in isolation. We claim that we value ecumenism - that means that we should be conciliar and not act like we have the corner on brains and $ brawn. We should listen to other great Christian bodies when they tell us en-masse how we are wrong, and improve upon the essentials that they call our attention to. If the bishop of Rome and orthodox patriarchs, Protestant councils, and Pentecostal assemblies all tell us that we're wrong...we should have the grace to listen and know why rather than claiming that maybe the listener should go back to Rome, etc.

    3. All should be welcome in the church. However, welcoming all does not/should never have been interpreted as being permissive of counter-cultural desires and poltical activism. Not wanting gay marriage does not equate to a broad sweeping effort to return to racism, and discrimination, or chaining of gays to hell. The theological basis for marriage is clear and the majority of world Christianity has told us time and again that our efforts at innovation are wrong. We are wrong.
    We should admit that there will be tension about what can and cannot be officially blessed, and our members should have the discipline to remember that TEC didn't invent Christianity, and that there will be tension on matters that cannot be sanctioned. If there is a clear absence of biblical and conciliar permission to include same sex individuals in a rite-blessed marriage relationship, then we should not do it. Else, all we will be are chaplains and chapels for the culture of the day.

    4. Main concern: TEC is embarrased about bringing people to Jesus Christ. We aren't embarrassed about mission, good works, etc. We ARE embarrassed to tell others that Christ calls them to confess sin, change and follow in disciplined servanthood. We place most stock in "deeds evangelism" which doesn't separate us one iota from Social Services or the United Way. We just look like good people rather than a people called to die to ourselves and "make disciples" (pretty forceful word, that). Our Big Tent approach is falling in, because we have come to see that there are significant numbers who can go for quite a while and never remember that this is what the Church is.

    BTW: I am in Virginia. The original diocese of this hemisphere dating to 1607. I loathe the break-up of our churches in our region by both the innovators who are impetuous and the reactors who are impetuous. But, it should say something when those who have been Episcopalians for generations in their families are done with the policies of the National Church. If a few want to walk away, it's a sadness. When thousands are on their way out, it's a tragedy. When tens of thousands are exiting, it's a crisis of monumental proportions. All is not well and true leaders would have been in crisis mode rather than gear-greasing, head-lopping mode.

    When the leadership of TEC doesn't really reflect the dynamics of its membership, it comes down to this. Example: The Executive Council itself is purported to have many more liberal activist folk on it than are found in the parishes. With leadership that is clearly in a bubble of small agendas, there is little surprise that we stand where we do now.

    Time for something else. The plans and approach of the past generation have gotten us little and our survival as the best way of Christianity is in doubt.

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  15. (Dan)
    I don't for one moment agree with these bishops but they are engaged in precisely the discussion that should be taking place. If they (and those they support) can convice the voters of California that "marriage" should mean something different than what it has meant before they will achieve the end they seek. They have every right to advocate for those votes. This is a political question. Conservative Christians and Episcopal bishops have the same right to vote their religious principles and beliefs. But don't get in a snit when Christians vote their principles to ban infanticide, euthanasia or same-sex marriage.

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  16. Personally, I don't have much of a problem with state-sanctioned homosexual marriage. I accept the separation of church and state, so I don't think the Bible and Christian teaching are factors here. I think some kind of civil union is needed to protect the rights of gays and lesbians.

    I don't think it will accomplish what you hope, however. With two-thirds of marriages now ending in divorce, I'm not sure how anyone can talk about marriage reinforcing monogamy, commitment, etc., with a straight face. It will not give automatic happiness or acceptance.

    I don't believe that many gays and lesbians will be interested in it. Right now, I know too many heterosexual couples who won't marry, and don't believe in that institution. Marriage is definitely in trouble, but gays and lesbians are neither the source of the trouble nor its solution. I wish the church would work harder to address the real issues threatening marriage -- finances, fidelity, communication, etc. As far as homosexual rights are concerned, I am convinced you're better off tackling the more substantial issues -- violence, employment, health care, housing. Gay marriage in the end will be more foam than actual broth.

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