Beloved in Christ in the Diocese of Springfield,
I write to you here on a subject that elicits strong emotions. None should be particularly surprised by what I say. Many–most, perhaps–will be relieved and grateful. Some will be grieved and angry. It is my place to absorb both the gratitude and the grief with steadfastness of conviction and an abundance of charity. I invite each of you to read with care, patience, and precision–and then to also absorb that which pleases you and that which disturbs you with the confidence of your convictions and a measure of charity beyond that which you think yourself capable of. Let grace abound.
The recent 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church promulgated under the “trial use” canon liturgical rites that purport to solemnize marriage between persons of the same sex, effective this coming Advent. This was a profound and tragic mistake. Marriage has certainly evolved considerably over the millennia of human existence. Different cultures and different eras have adapted it in a variety of ways. But there has always been one constant, something so self-evidently obvious that it has scarcely merited mention, and that is the element of sexual complementarity–a marriage requires the presence of both sexes.
Marriage is not merely a human social construct, an institution that we created and are therefore at liberty to recreate and redefine as seems right and expedient. The introduction to the marriage rite in the (1979) Book of Common Prayer reminds us that marriage was “instituted by God in creation” (p. 423). (Previous Prayer Books have always included equivalent language.) Marriage is not merely historic; it is pre-historic and pan-historic. We find it in Genesis at the time of creation, and we find it in Revelation at the consummation of redemption–the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. In the meantime, Jesus also directs our attention to the essential “male and female” component of marriage (Matthew 19:4-5). It is arguably beyond the authority of humankind at any level to change in so fundamental a way, and incontrovertibly beyond the scope of General Convention’s authority. Yet, we have presumed to do so, moreover, without barely a pretense of consultation with the other provinces of the Anglican Communion, to say nothing of the rest of the Christian world. It is an act of rather breathtaking hubris, an abuse of common sense. We have played with fire, my brothers and sisters, and we will quite possibly yet be burned in some way we cannot presently imagine.
I need to add, however, that those of us who will continue to adhere to the traditional understanding of marriage must not wrap ourselves in any banner of righteousness. We are complicit indirectly, along with our “progressive” sisters and brothers, in the action of General Convention. Since time out of mind, and continuing to the present day, those in church and society who find that their erotic affections are oriented toward members of their same sex, through no intention or decision of their own, have been regularly ridiculed, demeaned, persecuted, deprived of human dignity and civil rights, systematically harassed, and sometimes killed. This legacy is a stain on our collective conscience, and we have innocent blood on our hands. When we have not participated in such dreadful behavior, we have often tolerated it, looking the other way. While the redefinition of marriage by the General Convention is a grievous error, the motivation of its proponents is ultimately rooted in a desire for justice–indeed, God’s own desire for justice. It falls to us who maintain the orthodox position to take the initiative in redressing the evils borne by so many who, at the very least, share our common humanity, to say nothing of new birth in the waters of baptism and commitment to following Jesus as Savior and Lord.
As to practicalities within the Diocese of Springfield, my expectations are consistent with what I have previously said about the (non-marital) blessing of same-sex unions. In brief:
- The new marriage liturgies will not be authorized in the Diocese of Springfield.
- No member of the clergy who is either canonically resident in the diocese or resident elsewhere while licensed in the diocese may preside or officiate at any service in which the recently-adopted rites are used, either in whole or in part. This restriction applies both within the bounds of the diocese and beyond them.
- No resident or licensed cleric may sign the civil marriage certificate for a union between persons of the same sex.
- No resident or licensed cleric may preside or officiate at the Blessing of a Civil Marriage for persons of the same sex.
- Failure to abide by these expectations will be understood as a breach of an ordained person’s canonical vow of obedience to the Bishop, and dealt with accordingly.
- No church building of the diocese, nor any other venue owned by or associated with a church of the diocese, may be used for such a ceremony.
- No such ceremony may be recorded either in the Service Register or the Marriage Register of any church in this diocese.
These have been difficult words to write. I hope they are also difficult to read–by all, not just those who rejoice at the action of General Convention and weep that it will not come to fruition in the Diocese of Springfield. I cannot presume to tell those who perceive themselves to be injured by this how to respond. I can only take responsibility for my own behavior, and toward that end I reaffirm here my willingness to be in conversation with anyone in the diocese, as the circumstances of our several lives permit. I commit to active listening, thoughtful responding, and an attitude of love fueled by the agape of Jesus. That I will at times fall short of these commitments, I can assure you. That I will always “repent and return to the Lord,” I give as my solemn hope.
The peace of the Lord be always with you.