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Bishop Little sets policy on blessing same-sex unions

Bishop Little sets policy on blessing same-sex unions

The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little, Bishop of Northern Indiana, has issued a pastoral letter on the provisional liturgy of blessing same-sex unions.

Bishop Little first recaps what happened at General Convention, before turning to his diocese:

Many in the diocese have been yearning for this liturgy; their sense of theological conviction, and of pastoral care for gay and lesbian Christians, requires them to extend the church’s blessing to same-sex unions. At the same time, many in the diocese believe that this development subverts the church’s traditional and biblical teaching on holy matrimony. People of good will – Christians deeply committed to Jesus and seeking the best for the church – come down on both sides of this difficult question. In my address to the 113th Convention of the Diocese of Northern Indiana last October, I recognized both the diversity of conviction and the necessity that I now face of articulating a policy in the diocese regarding the provisional liturgy.

Bishop Little excerpts his address before turning to the specific ground rules for the Diocese of Northern Indiana:

In light of the actions of General Convention, and of the convictions and pastoral concerns articulated last fall at our diocesan convention, I make the following response.

First, the provisional liturgy entitled “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” is not authorized for use in the Diocese of Northern Indiana. There will be no exceptions to this policy.

Second, priests of the Diocese of Northern Indiana who, for pastoral reasons, wish to use “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” may travel to a neighboring diocese to do so. I have spoken with the bishops of Chicago, Western Michigan, Michigan, Ohio, and Indianapolis (dioceses that border our own), and they have agreed that Northern Indiana priests may request permission to use a church in their dioceses for such a liturgy. Those priests should also apply for a “license to officiate” from the bishop of the neighboring diocese, since the liturgy would be under that bishop’s sacramental covering rather than mine.

I have attempted in this two-point policy to find a solution that will honor the conscience of all. On the one hand, as your bishop I believe that every sacramental act in the diocese is an extension of my own ministry; and, by theological conviction, I cannot extend my ministry to include the blessing of same-sex unions. On the other, priests who believe that they are called to use this liturgy have an avenue for doing so, though it will require traveling to a nearby diocese. In recent years, I have been both vocal and quite public about the importance of creating a “safe space” for people of divergent theological convictions. This policy is an attempt to do just that. While the solution is far from perfect, it will – at least in the short term – provide space for everyone to exercise conscience, and will require no one to act in a way that violates the deepest convictions of heart and mind.

We are utterly dependent upon the grace and mercy of Jesus. There are no good or perfect solutions to an issue that generates such passionate convictions and such a breadth of response. But Jesus is Lord, and we can rely on him to lead us into all truth (John 16:13). We can rely on him as well to enable us to “maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3). St. Paul’s words are wonderfully appropriate for the Episcopal Church – and our diocese – in this challenging season: “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body” (Colossians 3:14-15).


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In such cases, I think it’s useful to ask the question, “What conclusion would I reach if the group affected by the decision were a different group?” Thus, I believe the discussion about Mississippi is onto something. If, for example, Bishop Little had decreed that clergy could marry mixed-race couples, but only in other dioceses, what would we conclude? Or that clergy might minister to Hispanics, but only outside his diocese? If we tweak the underlying question, we start to get a handle on the underlying problem here, which is that Bishop Little’s attitude on this issue stinks.

The other matter that is troubling is that he does not respect the consciences of clergy who wish to promote equality. Yes, things could get worse, and indeed they are worse in other dioceses. But that doesn’t reach the underlying moral question–it just states the obvious. Nor is Bishop Little’s solution the “safe space” that he purports it to be. Saying that inclusion stops at the borders of the diocese is not a safe space–it’s the theological equivalent of don’t ask, don’t tell. Goodbye moral conviction, hello political expediency.

Shame on you, Bishop Little.

Eric Bonetti

Gary Paul Gilbert

Susan, I agree a conscience clause, both in secular and church politics, may be necessary to get something passed. But there is always a negative side of providing a precedent for saying that even though legislators have recommended something as good by passing a particular bill, they at the same time suspend their recommendation.

So it still is not clear what the status of same-sex couples is in the Episcopal Church. I don’t see calling for equal protection as perfectionist in any way.

It all seems very Dickensian as in “IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief…”

Gary Paul Gilbert


@Gary … re: “the conscience clause” in A049 does nothing more than make explicit in the resolution that which is already implicit in our polity. In a perfect world we wouldn’t have to restate the obvious in order to move legislation for adoption in the church any more that we would need to restate in our civil marriage legislation that the First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion — including any clergy person deciding to marry or not to marry any couple for any reason whatsoever.

The last time I checked, however, the world was not perfect. We lost nothing by making explicit in the resolution what is implicit in our polity. What we gained were votes in the House of Bishops — which is why I argued FOR its inclusion as a member of the legislative sub-committee crafting the resolution’s language for adoption.

Susan Russell

All Saints Church, Pasadena


Ms. Porter … You, too, have a right to your opinion. What you don’t have a right to is confuse your opinion with facts.

The facts are cases for the full inclusion of the gay and lesbian baptized in the work and witness of the church abound. You may not agree with their conclusions but you cannot deny their existence and retain any shred of credibility as a commentor on the 21st century church. If you’d like a reading list I’d be happy to recommend one. I am, however, not holding my breath. In my experience, those who believe they have Sole Possession of the Capital T Truth don’t need to both with pesky little things like Capital F Facts.


The Reverend Canon Susan Russell

All Saints Church, Pasadena

Nicole Porter

Rev.Russell, you have the right to your opinion, I happen to disagree with what you believe sin to be. I still stand by what I said. There isn’t a case for any of this nonsense but one built on emotion. There is nothing traditional,scriptural,or logical about taking actions that will kill the church. Better get your last draws from the well before it’s all gone.

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