A decade later the context has shifted significantly, with civil marriage equality a reality in many states and dioceses and the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) presenting resolutions calling for an authorized liturgy for blessings and for a study of the theology marriage. Nevertheless, Michael's words from 2002 not only set the context for the work of Claiming the Blessing over the last ten years, they also continue to inform and inspire.
What is Claiming the Blessing?
The General Convention of the U.S. Episcopal Church resolved in 1976 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.” Since that time great strides toward realizing that “full and equal” claim have been taken. There are a growing number of places in the church where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (lgbt) persons are welcomed, affirmed in their ministries and blessed in their committed relationships. There are, however, many more places where they are still not fully included in the life of the church.
A coalition of leading justice organizations in the Episcopal Church — Integrity, Beyond Inclusion and diocesan Oasis ministries — along with numerous individual leaders, are determined to see the 1976 resolution become a reality. To that end, this partnership, called “Claiming the Blessing” (www.claimingtheblessing.org), has committed itself to obtaining approval at the 2003 General Convention of a liturgical rite of blessing, celebrating the holy love in faithful relationships between couples for whom marriage is not available, enabling couples in these relationships to see in each other the image of God.
What is this movement about?
It is about being clear. It is about being transparent. It is about witnessing. It is about how the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit compels us. It is about our love for the Church.
This is my message to the Church at large and, in particular, certain portions of it who wonder if this movement is such a good idea. My purpose is to be crystal clear and utterly transparent.
We are absolutely committed to this Church and we are absolutely committed to the continuance of as broad a diversity—including theological—as is possible for us to maintain together. This commitment is, in part, a commitment to continued messiness and frustration … We understand this to be true even if the General Convention passes the resolution that we are advocating, to formulate a Book of Occasional Services rite for the blessing of faithful, monogamous unions other than heterosexual marriage. We know and accept that such a rite will not be used or even allowed to be used universally.
We are quite deliberately advocating for a rite whose use would be optional for the sake of the unity of the Church we love. We believe in our heart of hearts that our relationships are equal to heterosexual relationships, whether or not the term “marriage” is appropriate for them, and them should be equal. But that is not what we are asking for.
Liberals and conservatives, progressives and traditionalists, must learn to live together in this Church or there will be no Church in which for us to live. But learning to live together must mean “mutual deference” not moratoriums or some insistence that we all convert to being “moderates.”
My second message to the church at large is that we are not going anywhere. Gay and lesbian Christians make up a significant portion of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. We will continue to do so after General Convention 2003 no matter what happens. We will not attempt to get our way by threatening to leave. I ask those on all sides of this debate to make this commitment as well.
Now three comments especially for our conservative brothers and sisters. First, we do not desire for you to go away. Yes, some sympathizers with our movement have said from time to time that it would be just as well if you did. Of course, some of yours have said the same about us. Let us together commit ourselves to finding every way possible to move forward with our debate without threatening either schism or purge. It is simply not necessary for us to do so.
Second, we do not desire to force same-sex blessings on you or anyone. We do desire to enable them in those places where the church is ready to receive them as a blessing but is not able to because of an understandable desire for some level of national recognition. Of course we will continue to work towards local communities desiring to bless same-sex unions. Of course you will work to keep them from doing so. We ought to be able to live with each other’s efforts on that level. Third, we do challenge you to stop scapegoating lesbian and gay Christians for every contemporary ill in the Church, particularly for our current state of disunity or the potential for the unraveling of the Anglican Communion.
This movement is not about getting our way or else. This movement is a means to further the healthy debate within the Church, to deepen it on a theological level, to begin to articulate how we see the blessing of same-sex unions as a part of the Church’s moving forward in mission rather than hindering mission. We believe that it is time for the church to claim the blessing found in the lives of its faithful lesbian and gay members and to further empower them for the mission of the Church. We are trying to find a way forward in this endeavor that holds as much of this church we love together as possible. We ask all our fellow-Episcopalians to join us even if they disagree with us.
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