Friday, June 22, 2012

Knowing Our History

A Background Paper on LGBT Inclusion in the Episcopal Church -- by the Reverend Canon Susan Russell

The Episcopal Church has been officially debating the issue of human sexuality, particularly as it applies to gay and lesbian people, since the General Convention of 1976 when resolutions passed by the Bishops and Deputies began to frame the parameters of the debate.

In the intervening years resolutions have been passed and then amended as the church's position has evolved in response to the dialogue. In 1976, the General Convention asserted in a resolution (A069) that "homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance and pastoral concern and care of the Church." But there continues to be a wide divergence of opinion on just how we live out that understanding in the Church.

In 1991, at the General Convention held in Phoenix acknowledged its inability to resolve the complex issues surrounding human sexuality by means of the normal legislative process. The Convention opted instead for a process of continued study and dialogue across the whole church, with a report to be issued from the House of Bishops.

In 1994, That report, “Continuing the Dialogue,” was published and is highly recommended as a resource for more detailed information.

While resolutions from General Convention are important aspects of our polity - the process through which we govern the church - they are generally perceived to be recommendatory and therefore lacking the force of a canon or law. The only canon to deal with the issue of homosexual orientation in any specific way was adopted in 1994:

"All Bishops of Dioceses and other Clergy shall make provisions to identify fit persons for Holy Orders and encourage them to present themselves for Postulancy. No one shall be denied access to the selection process for ordination in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, sex, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities, or age, except as otherwise specified by these Canons." -- Title III, Canon 4, Section 1 of the Constitution and Canons for the Government of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, p. 60
In 1996, the Court of Trial for a Bishop refused to hear charges filed against Bishop Walter Righter for ordaining a gay man living in a relationship. The court said there was no doctrine against such an ordination and that there is no canonical bar to gay and lesbian ordination in the Episcopal Church.

72nd General Convention | 1997 Philadelphia 1997

(C024) APPROVED HEALTH BENEFITS FOR DOMESTIC PARTNERS, to be extended to the partners of clergy and lay employees in dioceses that wish to do so.
(D011) It also voted to APOLOGIZE ON BEHALF OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH to its members who are gay and lesbian and to the lesbians and gay men outside the Church for years of rejection and maltreatment by the Church and affirm that this Church seeks amendment of our life together as we ask God's help in sharing the Good News with all people.

In 1998, the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, meeting in July at their every ten-year gathering in Canterbury, passed Lambeth Resolution 1:10 -- which was entitled "Human Sexuality" and included the majority opinion of the bishops gathered at that conference that "homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture" and "cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions."

Much energy has been spent over the intervening years debating whether that language was descriptive of the bishops gathered at Lambeth '98 or proscriptive for the wider communion.

73rd General Convention | Denver 2000

(A009) The IDENTIFICATION OF “SAFE SPACES,” establishing a formal process for congregations to identify themselves as safe spaces for GLBT people;
(C031) recommending that congregations engage in dialogue with the BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA REGARDING THEIR POLICY ON HOMOSEXUALS
(D039) Arguably the most influential resolution adopted in Denver was:
Passed overwhelmingly by a voice vote in the House of Deputies and by a 119-19 margin in the House of Bishops. An “8th Resolve” which called for the preparation of rites for inclusion in the Book of Occasional Services failed to pass by a narrow margin in both houses. However, this important resolution broke new ground by moving the Episcopal Church into conversations about relationship that transcend sexual orientation ... and set the stage for the 2003 General Convention in Minneapolis.
74th General Convention | Minneapolis 2003

In addition to consenting to the election of V. Gene Robinson as the Bishop of New Hampshire, the 2003 General Convention in Minneapolis passed a landmark resolution moving the church forward on the blessing of same-sex unions:

(C051) Blessing of Committed Same-Gender Relationships

Key resolves included:

4. That we reaffirm Resolution D039 of the 73rd General Convention (2000), that "We expect such 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," and that such relationships exist throughout the church.

5. That we recognize that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.
.These two important steps -- consent to the election of an openly gay, partnered bishop and the recognition that the blessing of unions falls "within the bounds of our common life" -- became a flash point for those insisting that the differences that challenge us cannot be bridged, but must become divisions that separate us.

75th General Convention | Columbus 2006

Following the gains made in Minneapolis in 2003, pressure was put on the wider Anglican Communion to censure the American Episcopal Church. In 2004 "The Windsor Report" was published. In 2005 the Episcopal Church presented its response to the Windsor Report -- "To Set Our Hope on Christ" -- at the Nottingham meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council.

The 2006 General Convention was consumed by responding the Windsor Report and whether or not American bishops would be invited to the 2008 Lambeth Conference -- the every 10 year gathering of Anglican bishops.

After nine day of legislation, a series of "response to Windsor" resolutions were passed:

(A159) Affirm Commitment to the Anglican Communion
(A160) Express Regret for Straining the Bonds of the Church
(A165) Commend the Windsor Report and Commit to the "Windsor Process"
(A166) Support Development of an Anglican Covenant

In addition, General Convention voted to:

(A167) Reaffirm Church Membership of Gay and Lesbian Persons
(A095) Reaffirm Support of Gay and Lesbian Persons
(D005) Oppose Criminalization of Homosexuality

Resolutions submitted insisting on "compliance" with aspects of the Windsor Report that recommended moratorium on the blessing of unions or discrimination against partnered gay or lesbian candidates for bishop were rejected.

On the 10th and last legislative day, an unprecedented joint session of the Houses of Bishops & Deputies was presented with Resolution B033 by then Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. The resolution that passed both houses was entitled "Exercise Restraint in Consecrating Candidates" and read:
Resolved, That the 75th General Convention receive and embrace The Windsor Report's invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further

Resolved, That this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.
In 2008 the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops was held in Canterbury. The Bishop of New Hampshire was not invited to attend.

76th General Convention | Anaheim 2009 

Two primary goals were set out for this General Convention by LGBT activists: moving beyond B033 and forward on the blessing of same sex unions. Both were accomplished.

(C056) Liturgies for Blessings:

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge the changing circumstances in the United States and in other nations, as legislation authorizing or forbidding marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian persons is passed in various civil jurisdictions that call forth a renewed pastoral response from this Church, and for an open process for the consideration of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships; and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, collect and develop theological and liturgical resources, and report to the 77th General Convention; and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, devise an open process for the conduct of its work inviting participation from provinces, dioceses, congregations, and individuals who are engaged in such theological work, and inviting theological reflection from throughout the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church; and be it further

Resolved, That this Convention honor the theological diversity of this Church in regard to matters of human sexuality; and be it further

Resolved, That the members of this Church be encouraged to engage in this effort.


(D025) Commitment and Witness to Anglican Communion
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm the continued participation of The Episcopal Church as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion; give thanks for the work of the bishops at the Lambeth Conference of 2008; reaffirm the abiding commitment of The Episcopal Church to the fellowship of churches that constitute the Anglican Communion and seek to live into the highest degree of communion possible; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations, and members of The Episcopal Church to participate to the fullest extent possible in the many instruments, networks and relationships of the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm its financial commitment to the Anglican Communion and pledge to participate fully in the Inter-Anglican Budget; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm the value of "listening to the experience of homosexual persons," as called for by the Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988, and 1998, and acknowledge that through our own listening the General Convention has 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); and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention recognize that gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God's call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, and that God's call to the ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church is a mystery which the Church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge that members of The Episcopal Church as of the Anglican Communion, based on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, and in light of tradition and reason, are not of one mind, and Christians of good conscience disagree about some of these matters.

77th General Convention | Indianapolis 2012

A number of LGBT related resolutions were adopted by the 77th General Convention meeting in Indianapolis in July of 2012. They included:

A049 Authorize Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Gender Relationships
A050 Create Task Force on the Study of Marriage
D018 End Discrimination Against Same-Sex Marriages
D002 Affirming Access to the Ordination Process (ending discrimination against transgender ordination)
D019 Adding Gender Identity and Gender Expression to Non-Discrimination Canons

2012 - 2015

Over two dozen Episcopal Bishops signed amici ("friend of the court") briefs on the two marriage equality cases being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. Details here.

The "Task Force on the Study of Marriage" called for by Resolution A050 was convened and charged with reporting back to the 2015 General Convention (to be held in Salt Lake City.) Details here.

The Report to the 78th General Convention of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage was released in February 2015. It included a resolution calling for canonical changes that would end discrimination against the marriage of same-sex couples.  Details here.

In March 2015, President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings was a primary signer of the amicus brief filed by over 2000 faith leaders calling for the Supreme Court to overturn existing bans on civil marriage between same-sex couples in some states. Details here.

78th General Convention | Salt Lake City 2015

June 25 - July 3 ... visit the GC2015 webpages for more information

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