Bishop of Alabama: Yes, but no on same-sex blessings

Bishop Kee Sloan, who voted yes at General Convention to approve the new ritual for same-sex blessings, will not allow the blessings to be performed in the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama.

From the Birmingham News:

“For the time being, I will not give permission,” Sloan said in an interview.

The blessing of same-gender unions is still too divisive an issue for Alabama, he said. “It’s not good at this time in this place,” Sloan said. “I’m trying to avoid any further division.”

The Rev. Frank F. Limehouse III, dean of the 3,400-member Cathedral Church of the Advent, Birmingham’s largest Episcopal Church, posted a response on the church’s website, www.adventbirmingham.org.

“We at the Advent will do our best to remain true to the teachings of the Bible,” Limehouse wrote. “We cannot bless any sexual activity outside of a marriage between one man and one woman. The Bible is clear about this. If anyone who declares the Bible teaches otherwise, then I wouldn’t doubt his or her sincerity, but I would have to question their training in biblical interpretation.”

While many Episcopalians defected from the Episcopal Church after the approval in 2003 of the consecration of the first openly gay bishop in New Hampshire, Limehouse said he plans to stay in the denomination but remain opposed to blessing same-sex unions.

Advocates for same-sex blessings were puzzled that Sloan supported the rites, but won’t allow them in his diocese.

“All of us striving for full inclusion are disappointed that he’s not allowing Alabama to move forward with the national church,” said Brad LaMonte, former Southeast regional vice president of Integrity, which promotes gay rights in the church.

“He worked on the committee that developed the rite,” LaMonte said. “It’s bizarre that he’s not allowing it in Alabama.”

See full story here.

Comments (19)

Leaving aside some aspects of this move, provides this turn of events gives us an opportunity to ponder the sometimes contradictory calling of being both a bishop of and for the whole church and the pastor of a particular diocese.

I understand the desire to 'cut the losses' but at what price? Is our 'inclusiveness' now regional and not national. When our signs proclaim "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" in Alabama should they read "heterosexuals" the rest of you have to wait to belong to the church. I don't care what they say about belonging, the minute they define the sacraments to a particular group of people, ie., heterosexuals, then the church is not catholic it is just a club that excludes people. Keeping 'me' out to keep 'them' in..is that what Jesus taught?

I wonder if he had been bishop during the early civil rights movement, would he have voted to end segregation in TEC in general, but have stated that it wasn't yet time for it in Alabama?

Bro David

Verna Dozier of sainted memory famously called us "a peculiar people" ... and as I read post GC77 reports on bishops who voted against A049 but will allow blessings in their dioceses as pastoral response and bishops who voted FOR the resolution and are not -- for now -- going to permit the same for those congregations asking for them I think she knew us well.

To base that position on fear of the divisive, however, draws to my mind another Verna Dozier quote (from "The Dream of God"):

Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong I will trust that if I move by the light that is given me, knowing that it is only finite and partial I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today.”

So prayers today for new possibilities -- and for the healing of the fear that keeps any of us from embracing them!

Susan Russell
All Saints Church, Pasadena

Dean Limehouse states that "We at the (Church of the) Advent will do our best to remain true to the teachings of the Bible." Which ones? All of them? Have they stoned any adulterers lately?

As to the diocese where I was baptized and confirmed 31 years ago, neither geographical location nor the dominant culture's regressiveness is a valid excuse for a passivity that empowers prejudice to dictate terms to the church.

I do not envy Bishop Sloan. Having to choose between carrying a crozier and carrying a cross must be a fearful thing.

Somebody needs to tell these people that the Bible is not a person but a collection of books. It doesn't speak or say anything. Jesus did, though.

I don't envy Bishop Sloan's situation and since I don't live in his Diocese I will not second-guess him. I do note that both the Bishop and Suffragan Bishop of Alabama signed the letter to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. imploring him not to come to Birmingham.

Perhaps we should thank them since Dr. King's response, "A Letter from a Birmingham Jail". It is one of the finest theologically based statements of Christian ethics concerning respecting the dignity of every human being.

William Albinger

[Name added by ed. See, http://www.episcopalcafe.com/lead/about_this_blog/not_seeing_your_comments.html ]

How can someone get a job being the Dean of a Cathedral of 3400 parishioners without knowing what the Bible actually does and does not say about marriage, and committed same gender relationships? Seriously. Multiple wives. Women as chattel.... For guys, there's Leviticus, but if you take that seriously, then there's a lot more one must adopt. After that the "common references" are only common in poor English translations. The Greek passages likely referred to coercive sex and temple prostitution. Jesus is mum on the topic, but his example of love and quick defense of the marginalized from the status quo is revealing.

Seriously. I question the training and biblical scholarship of that dean.

The V. Rev. Limehouse writes, "We cannot bless any sexual activity outside of a marriage between one man and one woman. The Bible is clear about this. If anyone who declares the Bible teaches otherwise, then I wouldn’t doubt his or her sincerity, but I would have to question their training in biblical interpretation."

I think that we should be reflecting that back to him with the appropriate "Huh?" If SSBs are still out in the Cathedral in Alabama, then I do not want to hear that any divorced persons are allowed to remarry, and if they do, they should be immediately stoned to death. If you're going to be a horrible biblical interpreter, then at least be a consistently horrible one.

For the Rt. Rev. Sir, to quote the KJV version, "If thou are lukewarm, I will spay thee out of my mouth."

What action can Bishop Sloan, or any other TEC diocesan forbidding use of the rite, take against a priest who performs the rite within his jurisdiction?

A. Jesse, this rite is not a sacrament, at least not officially. If it were framed that way it would not have gotten past this last GC.

B. I find Dean Limehouse's flubbing what the biblical record is on marriage - while spouting off about other people's scriptural interpretation - delicious. I think it would make the basis for a pretty good ad campaign for marriage equality: juxtapose the Dean's words with a picture of Jacob, Leah and Rachel (and Bilhah and Zilpah).

C. I'm not going to try to second-guess Bishop Sloan, either. I think that the rite probably has to follow the political reality, not lead it, and Alabama will probably be one of the last states to legalize gay anything (except, possibly, lynchings).

D. This is not my issue. The whole SSB thing seems so very Episcopalian to me, and not in a particularly good way. It puts form over content, focusing exclusively on ceremonies and ritual. It really does seem to be bass-ackward, IMNSHO - our focus ought to be on getting the legal protections and benefits of civil marriage, not liturgics. It's a distraction.

If anyone who declares the Bible teaches otherwise, then I wouldn’t doubt his or her sincerity, but I would have to question their training in biblical interpretation

Geez, are we going to trade boasts (and insults) of our seminaries now?!

JC Fisher (UTS, '92)

Note, I don't question the dean's sincerity---merely whomever trained him to say "The Bible teaches". O_o

Do click through to the article which has more from Bishop Sloan on his thinking.

I think some benefit of the doubt is warranted. The bishop voted for the rite. What I interpret him as saying is that the justice we want in terms of marriage equality can't be imposed from the top down by a bishop. In his context his role will be to facilitate a conversation in which hearts and minds are changed. That is how he sees justice being best achieved based on his assessment of the situation on the ground. Wind the clock back 10 years and many more in the church weren't ready. In some dioceses the matter was discussed and progress made. In other dioceses (perhaps this one) there was little leadership and little conversation. I can think of other dioceses where newer bishops are dealing with their predecessor's failure to confront the issue. It sounds to me like this bishop is confronting it.

But I'm not of one mind -- the letter from the Birmingham jail keeps echoing in my heart.

The General Convention made this abuse of power possible by requiring the approval of diocesan bishops for separate-and-unequal blessings of same-sex couples. Like many bishops in the Episcopal Church, Bishop Sloan would prefer to punt and let the civil authorities move things along, as if church leaders had no responsibility to work for more just civil laws. He says his job would be easier if civil unions were legal in Alabama. He would rather punt than lead. The Diocese of New York waited for New York State to start marrying same-sex couples and for the General Convention to authorize blessings before it would move on and follow the lead of just about every other diocese in New York State, conveniently forgetting that Albany already recognizes the marriages of same-sex couples who married elsewhere. Leadership, it seems, is in short supply in the episcopate perhaps because the bishops are too busy pushing unity/the status quo.

People have said for some time that that if one wishes to change the church it is easier to start with society.

Bishop Sloan has to know that blessings are not religious marriage and that therefore they change nothing in the Episcopal Church. They only serve as a precedent for eventually treating same-sex couples like sex-discordant couples.

Perhaps what is needed at this point is alternative oversight for liberals in unfriendly or lukewarm dioceses.

Gary Paul Gilbert

@Bill Dilworth re: "IMNSHO - our focus ought to be on getting the legal protections and benefits of civil marriage" ... #GC77 was actually all over that one -- passing D018 ("Urging Congress to end federal discrimination against same-sex married couples") so overwhelmingly I never even got a chance to give my clever under-a-minute support-for speech on the floor of the House of Deputies.

I did, however, write about it on the Huffington Post, so you can read that here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-susan-russell/episcopalian-church-doma-_b_1690659.html

Meanwhile, In My Own NSHO sacramental apartheid is just as worth fighting to end as civil marriage discrminiation is. La lucha continua.

Susan Russell
All Saints Church, Pasadena

Thank you, Susan, for the excellent link! Yes, we need both/and. General Convention needs to be thanked for passing D018, which asks Congress to strike section three of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Section three prohibits the federal government from recognizing the legal marriages of same-sex couples, denying these families at least 1138 protections and benefits.

Section 3 is currently being litigated because it is easier to go after than section two, which allows states not to recognize legal marriages of same-sex couples from other jurisdictions. Section three is weaker because it took away the right of states to determine who is married. A married same-sex couple in a state such as New York is married at the state level and single at the federal level. Murdoch and I can speak about that schizophrenic setup.

This a bad both/and, whereas Susan's both/and of working for civil and religious equality is good.


Gary Paul Gilbert


Gary, how exactly is this an "abuse of power," since the bishop in question is acting within the scope of the resolution authorizing the rite in the first place?

It seems to me that if the GLBT Episcopalians have such a problem with the resolution that we are labeling actions it specifically authorizes as an "abuse of power," and invoking the struggle against segregation in our critiques of it, maybe we should have opposed the measure loudly and clearly. Supporting the resolution beforehand and then damning it once it's passed makes us look like we're speaking out of both sides of our collective mouth.

In response to Mr. Gilbert's comment: Four progressive parishes in the Diocese of Albany have requested and received DEPO. They are St. Andrew's, Albany; St. George's, Schenectady; St. Luke's, Saranac Lake; and St. John's, Essex. Albany is a mixed diocese, though it styles itself conservative and its leadership (and General Convention deputies) lean very, very hard right.

Robert T. Dodd

@Bill: I think the frustration is less with the measure than with the tendency inherent in the TEC, which is to send a measure to committee, bloviate for the next several decades, finally get a compromise passed, then declare victory by virtue of the fact that something actually got done.

In the instant case, we have managed to dither around for 35 years since the passage of the full-and-equal-claim provision. Persons have lived and died waiting to see equality, and we are not yet there. So just as I think few would argue that Brown v. Board of Education was a bad thing, so too can we say that the footdragging after the original decision indeed was a bad thing, or what we term sin.

In sum, I'd say there's wonderful and positive change underway within TEC, but there also are thick layers of sin, frustration and fear, all of which are common when change is afoot. So, in the previous comments I don't hear that anyone is unhappy about the legislation--the unhappiness is that there are still roadblocks, more than 40 years into the discussion, to full equality and inclusion. And for prophetic voices in the church, calling us forward, all I can say is thanks be to God.

Eric Bonetti

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