by Eric Bonetti
While many have applauded the decision by Sewanee to allow the blessing of same-gender relationships in the chapel, the details of the decision may prove troublesome in the not-so-distant future. How so?
The issue lies with the school’s decision to grant a couple’s home bishop or bishops a veto over the decision of campus clergy to bless the couple’s union, at least if they plan to use the school’s chapel. In short, the whole premise of the Sewanee Compromise is this: Want to do something potentially controversial? If so, you now have two or more bishops to whom you report—your home bishop, and the bishop or bishops of the couple seeking your blessing. And any one of them can exercise a veto over your actions, at least if you plan to use the Sewanee chapel.
This is a dangerous precedent, one not approved by general convention, and one that risks incentivizing cross-border raids.
We hope, of course, that American and Canadian bishops will work collaboratively to resolve differences. But we know that some will not.
And what happens if one of the bishops comes from another province? Is Sewanee saying that it will permit a veto by one of the Nigerian bishops? If so, by whose authority has Sewanee allowed cross-province involvement in such decisions?
Similarly, is Sewanee prepared to offer the same “courtesy” to clergy from other faiths? For example, may an Orthodox rabbi prevent a heterosexual couple from marrying if one of the spouses is Orthodox? Or lives in Israel, where restrictions exist on inter-faith marriages? One hopes that our sisters and brothers of other faiths will be accorded the same prerogatives.
On a larger scale, the Sewanee Compromise provides impetus to a troubling move away from the “broad tent” of historic Anglicanism. No longer are we content to maintain uniformity of communion, while avoiding uniformity of belief. Our traditional approach of welcoming Anglo-Catholics, evangelicals, and virtually every other shade of religious belief has fallen prey to a de facto belief that we must cease and desist if our views or practices differ from those of others.
Perhaps most telling are the stated concerns of Vice Chancellor John M. McCardell about “forum shopping” among couples whose bishops oppose blessing same-gender relationships. Neither local law nor local canons impose residency restrictions for same-gender couples who wish to get married in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington or several other jurisdictions, yet he is worried that Tennessee, which does not recognize same-gender marriages, will open the floodgates?
Under the circumstances, it seems unlikely that travel agents will soon be running a Sewanee-based, “Get Your Relationship Blessed and Get Two Nights’ Free Lodging” weekend special any time soon. But then, given the school’s efforts to increase its endowment, perhaps the idea is worth a second look.
Eric Bonetti lives in Northern Virginia. He is executive director of a small non-profit that provides affordable housing to persons in need and is a member of Grace Episcopal in Alexandria, VA. He is a frequent commenter on Episcopal Café.