Resolution B012, in its final language, aims to extend marriage equality to parts as yet unreached by offering alternative episcopal pastoral support to clergy and congregations whose bishops do not currently permit them to solemnize same-sex marriages. A statement from the Communion Partners of the Episcopal Church appears to turn the tables, stating that, “Congregations that maintain the traditional teaching on marriage, no matter what their diocese, have an equal claim upon the pastoral care of the church. We offer our own ministry of pastoral care in such congregations as bishops in furtherance of that goal.”
For Bishop Daniel Martins of Springfield, “there must be a robust firewall between a community that receives same-sex marriage into its life, along with its clergy, and the rest of the diocese, including and especially the Bishop.”
In plainer language, here’s what this means: If a Eucharistic Community of the diocese wishes to conduct a same-sex wedding, it will first, through its rector or senior warden, inform me of this desire. We will then arrange an in-person meeting between the Mission Leadership Team, the Rector, and me. The first purpose of this meeting will be to discern whether there is indeed a consensus around the desire to hold such a ceremony. If a consensus is evident, we will discuss the terms, conditions, and length of the relationship between that Eucharistic Community and another bishop of the Episcopal Church. It will then be my responsibility to find such a bishop, to whom I will refer all the routine components of spiritual, pastoral, and sacramental oversight, including regular visitations, for an agreed-upon season. In temporal matters, such as participation in synod and payment of assessments, nothing will change.
This is harsh; there’s no denying it. Should we come to such a point with any of our congregations, it will be a source of deep personal sorrow—indeed, heartbreak–for me. I profoundly love all of our worshiping communities, and it would be a grievous loss to be in an impaired relationship with any of them. Nonetheless, these painful measures are vitally necessary. Precisely because all liturgical and sacramental ministry is an extension of the ministry of the Bishop, and implicates the entire diocese in whatever is done, there must be a robust firewall between a community that receives same-sex marriage into its life, along with its clergy, and the rest of the diocese, including and especially the Bishop. This does not have to mean that there is anger, rancor, or anything but sincere love between such a congregation and the diocese. The need for differentiation is not driven by emotion. But the rupture is real, because it deals with first things: the authority of Sacred Scripture, and the very doctrine of creation, which is the first article of both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds.
You can read the bishop’s letter, including more details of how B012 will apply in Springfield, here.
Bishop Martins was among nearly a dozen bishops, active and retired, who signed an Austin Statement on behalf of the Communion Partners of the Episcopal Church at the end of Convention. While generally positive in tone about the compromise offered by the resolution, the bishops make an interesting pivot towards the end to offer their own alternative episcopal pastoral support to congregations and clergy in dioceses of the church who are permitted by their bishops but not by “theological and pastoral conviction” to offer same-sex marriage within their parishes:
8 As bishops, we claim our apostolic ministry as teachers of the Faith, and our role as chief pastors within our dioceses, clearly articulated in the Book of Common Prayer. As Communion Partner bishops, we affirm without reservation the traditional teaching that “Holy Matrimony is Christian marriage, in which the woman and the man enter into a life-long union” that is “intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another…; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord” (BCP, pp. 861, 423). This is the teaching of Holy Scripture and of the Anglican Communion, articulated in resolution I.10 of the Lambeth Conference of 1998. At the same time, we recognize that other Christians of good will and commitment hold contrasting convictions about marriage. There is deep disagreement, which leads to a difference in teaching and practice among dioceses and congregations of our church.
9 The General Convention has, through Resolution B012, made liturgies for same-sex marriage available for all congregations that wish to use them, as authorized by their rectors or priests-in-charge (§7). How this will be dealt with in each diocese may differ. B012 has also provided (at §8) a structure that, in the face of our profound differences in teaching over marriage, preserves the role of bishops as chief teachers, pastors, and liturgical officers by allowing us to call upon the ministry of other bishops of the Episcopal Church, in exercising supplemental episcopal pastoral care in those congregations of our dioceses that desire to use these liturgies and seek this form of oversight. This creates a helpful space of differentiation, set within the wider communion of baptism and faith that we continue to share, however imperfectly.
10 Our church is called episcopal in order to indicate the primacy of bishops and dioceses within our polity, an ancient catholic principle. The diocese, not the congregation, forms the basic unit of the Church. We believe that the provisions of B012 for supplemental episcopal pastoral care enable the local adaptation of the historic episcopate, as provided in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, as a means toward unity within our church and with the wider Anglican Communion.
11 The convention has also acted to protect clergy and congregations who cannot, for reasons of theological and pastoral conviction, affirm such rites. Resolution B012 clearly underlines the canonical pastoral responsibilities of rectors and priests in charge (§7). Congregations that maintain the traditional teaching on marriage, no matter what their diocese, have an equal claim upon the pastoral care of the church. We offer our own ministry of pastoral care in such congregations as bishops in furtherance of that goal.
Read the Austin Statement here.
In comments to Dallas News at the end of Convention, Bishop George Sumner of Dallas sounded a positive note:
“I think we’ve come out of this with something that lets everyone stay true to their conscience,” Sumner said. “That’s not bad in America in 2018.”