Today we Mark the final Sunday of pride month. Downtown thousand people are gathered for San Francisco’s Annual Pride Parade. Today also marks our final service focused on Pride in 2018. And today we focus on the question of marriage equality, and we do so because once again this issue is about to go before the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.
Our Old Testament scripture of this day continues the story of David, the shepherd boy who becomes the great king of Israel. There are many tales we tell about David. My favorite is the story of David and Jonathan, two men whose relationship – in David’s words – exceeded the love between man and women. As such, David and Jonathan are seen as examples of same-gender relationships in the Old Testament.
Likewise, Ruth and Naomi serve as examples of women who form lasting relationships in the Old Testament. It is Naomi who says to Ruth (in Ruth 1:6):
“Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.”
Today is this section of scripture is often read during the marriage ceremonies that join two women together in holy matrimony.
You might think that, since the Episcopal Church has done all we need to do. After all, back in 1976, the Episcopal Church promised “full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance and pastoral concern and care of the Church” to its gay and lesbian members.
In the decades since, we have seen many milestones along the way in the journey toward making that resolution a reality — not only for gay and lesbian Episcopalians but for all LGBTQ+ people. You might think we’re done. But you would be wrong.
Today, Ninety-three bishops have authorized priests in their dioceses make sacramental marriage equally available to all couples. But eight bishops have not.
You might also think that since we are at Christian Church that men who lead each diocese is a man of Goodwill and would be both able as well as willing to find ways of accommodating the spiritual needs of same-gender couples.
It would be reasonable to expect that people who disagree on whether the church ought to marry same-sex couples could still find ways to make this sacrament available to people within the diocese who sought to marry one another.
You might think that that would happen in these eight dioceses. But once again you would be wrong.
My much older brother Fred and his wife recently moved to the diocese but includes Albany New York. The bishop of that diocese is one of the nine who refused to marriage equality. That Bishop has forbidden any same-gender marriage to occur in any church building in his diocese. He has forbidden any priest to preside in a same-gender marriage outside of a church in his diocese. He is forbidden and a priest to attend a same-gender marriage of a member of his Parish even when that marriage is held outside of his diocese. This is not gracious accommodation. It is a petulant sign of personal patriarchal power. It demeans couples who seek to have the most important relationship of their life blessed before God and upheld by their own spiritual community. It cannot continue to stand.
Next month the General Convention of the Episcopal Church will meet in Austin Texas. The general convention emerged as our governing body shortly after the Revolutionary War included. Up until the defeat of the British government, the Anglican Church in America was the state church and it prayed regularly for the health and well-being of the British monarch. The church in America was also ruled by the Church of England’s hierarchy.
The rebel victory of the American Revolution presented an existential crisis to Anglicans in our nation. Not only could they no longer pray ‘God Save the King!’ they needed a way to govern themselves and their church. The solution which emerged with encouragement from the man who became our church’s first bishop, Samuel Seabury, was to govern the church through a general convention which meets every three years. The general convention is patterned along the lines of Congress. Like Congress, the convention is comprised of two legislative bodies: the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. Both houses must concur four major to be adopted.
During the upcoming General convention, both houses will be asked to approve a measure which will extend marriage equality throughout the Episcopal Church. Individual bishops will no longer be able to absolutely forbid same-gender marriage within the diocese where they serve. Instead of safeguards will be in place to make sure that the draconian policies of patriarchal princelings no longer apply.
Even in making this change, the proposal ensures that no priest will be forced against their will to preside at a same-sex marriage. The proposal also does not require any church to hold a same-gender marriage against their will. It simply provides a way for congregations which wish to host same-gender marriages to do so despite the personal beliefs of the individual who happened to be the bishop of that diocese. It reminds all of us the diocese belongs to the Episcopal Church, it is not the personal property of a single patriarchal leader.
No doubt there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the supposed restriction of the authority of a bishop to lead of their diocese. But it is time to let our yes be yes.
It is time to offer all sacraments to all people.
It is time make full and equal claim full and equal.
We can be proud that the deputation from the Diocese of California, along with our Bishop the Rt. Reverend Marc Andrus, are soundly and firmly behind this change. For this is an important move and one which is long overdue.
In the past, when it came to the issue for example of ordaining women, the Episcopal Church allowed a handful of Bishops to bar ordination of women in their diocese. Rather than require universal access to ordination across the Episcopal Church, our leaders hemmed and hawed and allowed the situation to go from bad to worse.
Finally, many of the Bishops who opposed the ordination of women left the church, attempting to take their buildings and their Diocesan structure with them. That is led to a flurry of court cases. By and large, the right of the Episcopal Church to retain ownership of its property, and diamonds, and the houses the structure has been affirmed by the courts. Some of those who lead people away from the church have now returned and been welcomed back. Others have moved on to join the Roman Catholic Church or remain in a pseudo-Anglican Church which is not officially part of the Anglican Communion.
We are told that those who ignore history are bound to repeat it. The proposed change going before next month’s General convention allows us to avoid repeating the mistake we made with allowing the ordination of women to be thwarted by individual Bishops. It’s time to be clear that while the Bishops have an important and historical role to play in leading a diocese, it is not their diocese but rather belongs to the church as a whole. For an overview of the marriage equality debate ahead at the General Convention of our church, please see this Report Full & Equal Means Full & Equal from Claiming the Blessing.
As the general convention near as you may also see extravagant claims about other proposals for taking the next steps in normalizing marriage equality. Some conservatives, for example, have already claimed online that the marriage service of the Episcopal Church will be changed to eliminate the terms bride and groom. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is another example of the fake news the right uses to puff up and enrage their base.
We commend the report in it entirely to you and we urge support for Resolution 2015-A085: Trial Use of Marriage Liturgies which presents a roadmap for General Convention to fulfill forty (40) years of promises of full inclusion in the life of The Episcopal Church for LGBTQ individuals. Part of what is being proposed is the addition of a new service which is better suited to meeting the needs of same-gender couples. As anyone who looks at our prayer book knows, we have several options for liturgical text to use in celebrating communion. This is also true for text to use in celebrating marriage. As in the past, rather than replace an existing surface text, we are simply adding new options and leaving in place the old text. So if your heart is set on being married with a service that calls for a bride and a groom, we’ve got you covered. If your heart is set on being married with a service using old Elizabethan English, we’ve still got you covered. And if you want a service which is better suited for the 21st century, well we’ve got you covered there too.
Finally, some will claim that any action on marriage will damage the Anglican Communion. Let’s be honest. The damage that’s been done to the Anglican Communion over LGBTQ inclusion has been done by conservatives with ulterior motives. Whether or not they will use a change in our prayer book or internal governance to spark further disruption of the Anglican Communion is completely up to them. Whatever happens at the general convention in Austin, the Anglican Communion will move on. We will continue to work with those diocese and Anglican Churches which welcome our help. There is no justification for slowing the progress we have made to heal the wounds inflicted on LGBTQ people by pseudo-Christians. So, on this Pride Sunday of 2018 we look ahead to a new day of healing for LGBTQ people within our church and across America. And we pray that our church leaders will continue in these good works that God has put before us.
Let us pray: Keeper of our lives, you know the hardness and gentleness of human hearts. You call your people to faithful living. Through the storms of life that bring suffering and fear, joy and laughter, teach us to turn to you for all we need, so that we may come to know your presence even in the midst of the trials that surround us.
May the church say: Amen.