Bishop of Georgia authorizes a rite for same sex blessings

Updated at bottom with Rev. Susan Russell’s response

Bishop Scott Benhase has released a pastoral letter and a rite for blessing same sex relationships. He writes:

I also pointed out that my understanding of Holy Matrimony is that it can only be between a man and woman, regardless of what secular governments understand it to be. Secular understandings of marriage should not shape how the Church understands Holy Matrimony. Of course, we know that the culture does shape our thoughts, at least to some extent. It is nearly impossible to hermetically seal the Church off from cultural influences. Nevertheless, I must make decisions as free of cultural influences as possible and rather focus all discernment through the lens of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, and his grace bestowed in the New Covenant. Thus, in my judgment, any Blessing Rite that is authorized in the Diocese of Georgia had to be plainly distinguished from Holy Matrimony in order to receive my approval.

The Rite approved by General Convention in July of this year failed, in my judgment, to plainly distinguish between Holy Matrimony and a Blessing. The enabling resolution for the Rite that was passed, however, provided Diocesan Bishops with the ability to “adapt” the Rite for use in their respective dioceses. I had hoped the language would have authorized something more expansive than “adaption,” but that did not happen. So, we must work within the structures of what the Church has decided. None of this is perfect. We all look “through a glass darkly,” as St Paul reminds us. I am unconcerned by what is politically, socially, or culturally expedient, or what will be the majority opinion. I am concerned with doing what is right in the eyes of God.

I have discerned that we in the Diocese of Georgia will offer a Rite of Blessing for our homosexual sisters and brothers using the adapted rite found in Appendix 1. This will be the only Rite authorized in the Diocese of Georgia. In Appendix 2, you will find criteria for how the Rite may be offered in the Diocese of Georgia. These criteria are not suggestions. They are expected provisions and guidelines required of clergy and lay leaders who discern within their congregation that they should offer the Rite.

The Rev. Susan Russell, who served on the Standing Commission and legislative committee that drafted the rite has responded to Bishop Benhase on her blog. (As has Bishop Gene Robinson in the comments here.) She writes:

It’s my day off — and cruising through the blogs this morning over my coffee I was struck by the post over at Episcopal Cafe entitled “Bishop of Georgia authorizes a rite for same sex blessing.”

WOW, I thought! Now that’s progress … until I read the bishop’s “pastoral letter” which raised the bar on self-righteous condescension.

Posted by
Category : The Lead

Comment Policy
Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted. We also ask that you limit your comments to no more than four comments per story per day.

  1. Elizabeth Kaeton

    As if the culture isn’t in the church and the church isn’t in the culture in “traditional marriage”.

    Honest to Pete! When will the institutional church and its purple princes learn that you can dress it up in fancy vestments, use theological language and blow holy smoke from a turible all around it but that won’t change a thing. It still looks and smells like prejudice.

    Then again, I’m thinking at least some of the folks in GA are quite familiar with “separate but equal”. Separate water fountains and sitting in the back of the bus were eventually ruled for what they are “prejudice”. As I recall, the church assisted in the process of helping the government to see through the charade and to look at the injustice.

    Isn’t it interesting that now that the shoe is on the other foot in another issue, the church is the one saying, “Segregation yesterday. Segregation today. Segregation forevah.”

  2. laurenstanley

    “Of course, we know that the culture does shape our thoughts, at least to some extent. It is nearly impossible to hermetically seal the Church off from cultural influences. Nevertheless, I must make decisions as free of cultural influences as possible and rather focus all discernment through the lens of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, and his grace bestowed in the New Covenant.”

    I understand what the bishop thinks he is trying to say, but it is, at heart, delusional to say we are not formed by our culture. JESUS was formed by HIS culture, and no one seems to have minded THAT! PAUL was formed by HIS culture – and we argue over that all the time.

    This marvelous blessing that we call “life” never takes place in a vacuum. And neither does God. God does not simply “exist” outside of everything – God exists in US.

    So please: If you don’t agree, that’s fine. But please don’t pretend that we can ever exist outside of our existence (which is another way to say, “culture.”)

  3. It is nearly impossible to hermetically seal the Church off from cultural influences.

    And why would we wish to? What was the purpose of the Incarnation? Jesus immersed himself in the culture of his day. In the midst of the real world he lived in, Jesus taught his followers to love God and love their neighbors as themselves and to do as they would be done to. As I see it, the teaching applies to followers of Jesus to this day.

    I am concerned with doing what is right in the eyes of God.

    As are those of us who wish to see marriage equality in the Episcopal Church.

    June Butler

  4. Paige Baker

    I can be happy and grateful that my LGBT brothers and sisters in GA will have the opportunity to have their relationships blessed—and still be offended by the ungracious and autocratic way in which that opportunity was offered.

    I think that the good bishop might benefit from a refresher CPE course.

  5. Bishop Gene Robinson

    If I were a committed gay couple and looked at this, my reaction would be: “Is that it? Is that all? A 2-minute sidebar diversion, buried in a eucharist?! The blessing of a new altar frontal takes longer!”. And can you imagine what committed straight couples would say if this were all THEY were offered in blessing their relationships??!!

    I suppose the Bishop of Georgia has the right to do what he has done, in “adapting” the authorized rite — although even in Parliamentary Procedure, when a resolution is so profoundly altered that the original is no longer remotely present, it is not an “amended” resolution, but a “substitute!”

    IMHO, Bishop Benhase offers a “substitute,” and a deplorable, weak and unacceptable one at that!

    Follow me on Twitter @BishopGRobinson

  6. Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

    Before giving any props to the bishop, you should “read the fine print.”

    Some particularly choice bits:

    (1) This is such a radical adaptation of the Rite that it renders any references to the GC approved Rite meaningless.

    (2) The process for allowing this to occur is cumbersome in the extreme. The priest of the parish must “initiate” consideration. If not, then it is a non-starter. It requires a 2/3 majority of the Vestry to approve its use.

    (3) At least one of the couple must be a member of the congregation in which the rite is offered. This closes off any real possibility of getting the rite in a parish not one’s “own,” meaning, forget about going to Atlanta to do it. You would have to leave your parish to get it if they are not offering it. Great way to clear out the queers from your ranks?

    (4). The couple must sign a document of understanding that this Rite does not now and never will confer any civil rights. It is not “Matrimony” and that they affirm that “Matrimony” is between “one man and one woman.”

    Pah. Keep your lousy rite. It’s worse than the crumbs under the table. It’s licking the master’s boots.

  7. billydinpvd

    Personally, I like the format of having the blessing incorporated into the regular Eucharist, like the Adelphopoiesis service is, and rather wish that straight marriages were handled the same way – or followed the 1928 wedding format, which isn’t much longer than this service. I’m not a fan of weddings* in general, though, and find the long, drawn-out modern variants too “My Big Day”-ish and sentimental.

    Bill Dilworth

    *except royal weddings 🙂

  8. Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

    Thanks, Ann. I respectfully retract part of my criticism 3. I guess you could leave your home diocese and go to Atlanta. Not sure that this leaves much option for a few gay-friendly parishes in Dio Georgia to do much, however.

  9. revsusan

    Let’s not do political, societal or cultural … let’s do Bible. Jesus did not send the Syrophoenician woman away with crumbs from under the table – he healed her daughter. And yet that’s what the Bishop of Georgia offers the LGBT baptized in his diocese – crumbs from under the table rather than the rite for blessing authorized by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Methinks the Bishop of Georgia’s concern about “doing what is right in the eyes of God” would be well served by doing a little remedial reading on the work and witness of the Radical Rabbi of Nazareth.

    My heart aches for those who will receive from these cavalier and condescending crumbs offered by this “pastoral letter” another slap in the face from the institutional church rather than a welcoming embrace by the Body of Christ. By offering this pathetic substitute — which the Bishop of New Hampshire has called “deplorable, weak and unacceptable” — the Bishop of Georgia has perpetuated the heresy that LGBT people have some kind of second-class baptism that entitles them to only a percentage of the sacraments.

    Having the “right” as bishop diocesan to make this choice does not make it the right choice – for the proclamation of the gospel or for the LGBT people in his pastoral care — and it is precisely an act like this that draws into sharp relief how much work there still is to do to make the 1976 promise of “full and equal claim” to the LGBT baptized a reality and not just a resolution in the Episcopal Church.

    The Reverend Canon Susan Russell

    All Saints Church, Pasadena

  10. Matthew Buterbaugh+

    I’d like to give them props, but it’s almost a why-bother. I suppose its better than nothing, but it’s kind of insulting.

    On the other hand, my own frustration with GC’s Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant is that is that it is not marriage-like enough. Things like this blessing remind me that not everyone in the Church is where I am, and perhaps that’s why the GC liturgy seems watered down from my perspective. We do straddle an awfully wide fence sometimes.

    Baby steps, I guess. Even if they are really small baby steps.

  11. Terry Pannell

    This is Bishop of Georgia’s idea of a blessing rite? The “rite” as adapted is as perfunctory as his letter is offensive.

  12. The presenting logic as I discern it: (1) the Church doesn’t cave to the world, but if we don’t do something the pressure will be unbearable; (2) here is a smallish rite; (3) please note how much I am holding my nose as I do this.

    Torey Lightcap


  13. Paige Baker

    Jeffrey–I couldn’t get to the originals from my phone. Now that I’ve read them, I agree with you–and with Bishop Robinson, Susan Russell, and Terry Pannell

    Is a grudging and miserly “blessing” really a blessing at all?

  14. billydinpvd

    “On the other hand, my own frustration with GC’s Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant is that is that it is not marriage-like enough. ”

    And yet that is its saving grace for some priests. I know a rather conservative member of the SSC who would have no problem presiding over the GC’s rite, precisely because it makes no claims of being a wedding service.

    Really, since one of the arguments used in favor of SSBs for years was precisely, “What, we can bless medals, cars, dogs, and houses, but we can’t bless a committed relationship between two people of the same sex?” it’s hardly surprising that the result was a service of blessing, rather than a revision of the marriage service.

    Bill Dilworth


    As a man married in the church to another man, I am deeply grateful to those posting their pain and indignation over the Georgia Bishop’s small-minded autocratic pronouncement. How vain, unloving, and sad. I thank Rev. Susan Russell, Bishop Gene Robinson, and all of you personally. I feel less alone and marginalized when you stand up so strongly.

    As the co-author of the NY State Bar’s Report and Recommendation on Marriage Rights for Same-Sex Couples, I commend everyone who sees this as shameful denigration, a lowly second class status, less than separate but equal. But these legal framework is poor compared to the loving framework of our covenants with God and our neighbors.

    I join Matthew Buterbaugh in sadness over the GC’s incrementalist approval of the alternative same-sex blessing rituals. The groundbreaking committee report was theologically powerful, devastating the Bible-based myths used to justify our marginalization. From that place, its recommendation was for alternative, not equal; separate, not same.

    The only solution is marriage for all who come to it with the same commitment, devotion, and preparation for the covenants and the “outward and physical signs of the inward and spiritual grace.”

    Once we stood at the altar steps, watching our parents from different faith traditions share in the bread and wine and presence of Jesus in our midst, once our priests pronounced us married, gone forever was any sense that God’s love for us was less. The church’s mission is to spread this good news.

    Hunter Thompson Carter

  16. revsusan

    Just a suggestion for those looking for a way to put their discouragement into action: Communicate your suport to the presiding officers (PB and PHOD) for a speedy convening of the Task Force on Marriage called for in GC Resolution A050 and look for ways in the coming months to move TEC forward on marriage equality in Salt Lake City at GC2015.

    Let’s parahraise President Obama who said during the recent campaign “Don’t boo. Vote.” by saying “Don’t just blog. Organize.”

    The Reverend Canon Susan Russel

    All Saints Church, Pasadena

  17. Ann Fontaine

    From the Friends of Jake blog – couples sign the following before the blessing can take place:

    “We, ________________________________________________________,

    desiring to receive the blessing of God in the Church and having committed ourselves to a life-long relationship characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection, respect, and holy love, acknowledge and understand that this Rite bestows upon our relationship God’s grace-filled blessing. It does not bestow upon our relationship any legal status in

    civic life or from any civil authority. The Canons of the Church state: “Holy Matrimony is a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman, entered into within the community of faith, by mutual consent of heart, mind, and will, and with intent that it be lifelong” Canon 1.18.1(2)(b). We understand that this Rite is not Holy Matrimony.”

  18. Jim Hammond

    I find it interesting that those who argue for inclusion are so quick to pounce when moderates make an attempt to be responsive. Case in point is the way the homosexual and lesbian lobby is excoriating the decision of Scott Benhase, the Bishop of Georgia, to permit same gender blessings under his directions. No good deed goes unpunished. His approach is mercilessly attacked because it is deemed insufficiently gracious in the minds of those who want everything their way.

    The verbal grenades tossed at him are reminiscent of the same hurled at Ed Little, the Bishop of Northern Indiana, when he announced his method of dealing with the same issues within his diocese. As one who leans left, I find the response of some within the gay and lesbian lobby inappropriate, inconsiderate, unthoughtful, unhelpful, non-inclusive and, indeed, unchristian. Shame, if there be any, does not rest with the Bishop. of Georgia, but on those who simply cannot tolerate any ideas other than their own.

    Jim Hammond


    Warrenton, VA

  19. tgflux

    Wow, you could call that “blessing” the “We reluctantly acknowledge you’re sharing an apartment—we really HOPE w/ separate bedrooms!” liturgy, huh?

    No vows (and no “forsaking all others”): would any opposite-sex couple accept that?

    And in the very FIRST line:

    “Let us pray for N. and N. in their life together and for the concerns of this community.”

    For the ***concerns*** of this community??? [Church as homophobic Concern-Troll Congregation! O_o] Given equal emphasis w/ the couple IN their 2 minute “blessing”??

    There’s one word for this, and the word is FAIL.

    JC Fisher

    [edited here]

  20. Gary Paul Gilbert

    The Diocese of Georgia has a strange history. They segregated their parishes from 1907 to 1947. The same diocese is promoting Deaconess Anna Ellison Butler Alexander for inclusion in Holy Men, Holy Women. She was the first African-American deaconess will be considered for inclusion by the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music.

    Alas, Episcopal polity means diocesan bishops can do pretty much what they want! Too bad we don’t have alternative episcopal oversight for liberals living in such dioceses.

    Contra the Bishop of Georgia, one can no more transcend one’s culture than one can jump out of one’s skin. Incarnation would suggest that there can only be infinite embodiment of the ideals of the tradition.

    Gary Paul Gilbert

  21. tgflux

    “[edited here]”

    {Checks Inbox: no moderation notice sent to me}


    Mr Hammond used the hideous phrase “homosexual and lesbian lobby”, and I (pretty respectfully, IMO) called him on it. If my person—my human dignity—is going to be reduced to a “lobby”, then I don’t feel I’m being treated as a friend. In good conscience, I stand by the assertion (but wish I didn’t have to take the time to type it again!)

    JC Fisher

    P.S. If the Bishop of Georgia should happen to be reading, that goes to you, too. You don’t have to like me (does anybody? ;-/), but if you’re being true to your baptismal (nevermind ordination) covenant, respect my human dignity!

  22. Jim Naughton

    JC Fisher, we don’t send moderation notice. Your speaking rudely does not impose duties on us. We don’t care for the phrase Mr. Hammond used either, but it doesn’t give us license to say more about him than that we think he used inappropriate language.

Comments are closed.