My Personal Statement regarding the Blessing of Same Sex Relationships November 30, 2012
In 2003, returning from General Convention in Minneapolis, I was surprised that several in my parish expected to hear from me, on the following Sunday, a statement about what had happened at Convention. I was not an elected deputy from my diocese, but worked for General Convention as a Coordinator. I had no voice or vote on any matter. But, my mere presence there generated the expectation that I should take my own stand on the issue of the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. This is the article I wrote in 2003:
"As Christians we are called to a higher standard of human behavior. As part of that standard, if we choose to live life partnered with another adult rather than remaining celibate and single, we are to commit ourselves to a monogamous, mutually supportive, loving and caring relationship. Testimony from Gene Robinson’s family and friends indicated to me that he is a gifted priest, elected by his diocese to become their bishop and is, as well, a loving, committed partner and father. So, if I had had voice and vote at General Convention I would have voted in favor of Gene Robinson’s election as the Bishop of New Hampshire.
To me homosexuality is not sin. The clear and consistent witness of Scripture regarding sexual ethics is that sex is a gift from God, given to be an expression of love and enjoyment between two equal and faithful partners. Whatever its expression, it is not to be expressed promiscuously, or to dominate, manipulate, or to use another person for self-gratification. (I believe this is what the Apostle Paul is speaking against in Romans 1:18ff and I Corinthians 6:9-11. Paul had nothing to say about homosexuals in a committed, caring monogamous relationship; and, Jesus had nothing at all to say on homosexuality. What Paul insists on, as seen in his writings in I Timothy 3:12 and Titus 1:6, is faithfulness in sexual behavior among Christians.) I believe that the determination of whether or not homosexual behavior is sinful, is the same for heterosexual behavior—is the sexual act one that is devoid of commitment and is promiscuous and manipulative, or is it an expression of love within a faithful and committed relationship? I believe God condemns the first and honors the second.
I do not believe this election has to split the Church. Change is always difficult—no matter what the change. We say it every Sunday in our invitation to the Table, “the Central act of worship at St. James’ and in the Episcopal Church…is the Lord’s Supper.” I am absolutely convinced that if we can continue to come to the Table together we will remain unified as a church, as a diocese, as a denomination. All of us need to practice humility—none of us knows all the answers. All of us need to practice hospitality—we need to welcome each other; our differences are so small compared to what we all hold in common.
My hope is that the doors of the Episcopal Church will now be open even wider to those who have not before felt welcome. You heard the actions taken at General Convention that call us to open wide our doors—to all. And, specifically, we are called to follow Jesus in embracing and loving those who may be outcasts—those outside the institutional church and conventional norms.
Related to this, I believe the Church showed wisdom in waiting to authorize common liturgies for the blessing same-gender unions. My guess is that this resolution will pass in 2006, but we need time to pray, to be in conversation with one another, and to come back together as a Church before we push ahead.
Personally, I’m not sure I’m ready to perform a blessing. I haven’t been asked (yet), and haven’t had to make that decision. When I am asked, it will depend on the individuals requesting the union, it will depend on this church, it will depend on our Bishop’s direction, and it will depend on the Spirit’s leading."
It’s now hard to believe that I wrote this article almost ten years ago. In this length of time I have changed churches and have become ever more convicted that the way forward for the Church is in legitimizing the blessing of same-sex relationships. Further, I feel the call of making my voice heard in the matter of full marriage equality for all persons. Therefore, in making application to the bishop for permission to bless the relationships of same-sex couples, there are some aspects of my earlier statement I want to flesh out more fully in my own mind and heart.
The first is the belief that as Christians we are called to a higher standard of human behavior. I continue to uphold this belief and would now add the mandate that, as Christians, we must work for justice and peace for all persons. We proclaim this each time we renew our Baptismal Covenant—but, too often we fail to take action to live out this mandate. Seeking to be holy people we must live out our faith by the standard set by Jesus who was always advocating for those on the outside of the circle. Remaining silent for too long on the matters of full inclusion and marriage equality, I want to be counted among those clergy who are actively engaging in processes inside and outside the church to ensure justice and equality for all, especially the LGBT community. To this end, I have attended several clergy gatherings this fall in support of “Marriage Equality Virginia” and participated in a conference on how to help lead my parish in welcoming the LGBT community.
Parker Palmer, in his book Healing the Heart of Democracy, talks about the importance of individuals exhibiting the human characteristics of “chutzpah” and “humility” when speaking out for the common good. To have the courage to speak out and take a stand, coupled with the humility of knowing that I don’t have all the answers, is the position I am taking on the issue of blessing same-sex relationships. I don’t know if it was the marriage of my niece to her lesbian partner in Vermont last year, or the courageous (albeit uncomfortable) questions raised by our lesbian partnered seminarian last year about our parish’s openness to the LGBT community, but I can no longer pretend this issue isn’t relevant to me or to the church. It is, and it matters.
To expound further on scriptures that often are used to prohibit the blessing of same-sex couples, from my perspective the verses in the Holiness Code (specifically Leviticus 18:22, 20:13) are referring to homosexual behavior that was characterized by promiscuity, prostitution, domination and manipulation. As I understand it, ancient cultic religious practices to elicit the favor of the fertility gods often resulted in illicit sexual practices. Referencing the Old Testament account of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah it is my interpretation that the text focuses more on violence and rape by the men of Sodom than it does on homosexuality. And, in the Gentile world of the first century, it was commonly accepted practice for older men to cultivate and use young boys for their own satisfaction—a practice known as pederasty. Further, masters often raped their male slaves as an act of power over them. Homosexual prostitution—both male and female—flourished and was even practiced in temple worship. All of this is this abhorrent behavior that, I believe, is condemned by scripture as unacceptable, and especially for Christians.
Instead, what God seeks is that we love one another as Christ loves us. In the church we often call this relationship to God and one another a covenant—a sign of God’s love expressed in our commitment and faithfulness to the other. This covenant is based on seeing the face of Christ in one another. This covenant is based on the recognition that each of us, male and female, is made in the image of God. And it is based on the belief that in our Trinitarian understanding of God, we are created to be in relationship with one another.
In our Episcopal tradition, one of the ways we experience this covenantal work of God in our lives is through the sacraments. Sacraments, being “the outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace,” allow us to see multiple ways in which God’s grace is manifested in our lives. For example, in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony as vows are made before God by the couple, an inward grace is bestowed to help them fulfill these vows. Traditionally we have imagined these vows to be strictly between a woman and a man. But, matters of love are not always dictated by tradition. Sometimes God decides to do a new thing, a surprising thing. Sometimes cultural norms and values shift the traditions of the church, pushing the church to re-think old ways of seeing and acting. That a man and a man, or a woman and a woman can profess their love, commitment, and fidelity to one another is a new way of understanding this vow. I’ve seen this with my own eyes and been moved in my own heart as I witnessed the marriage of my niece to a woman.
For those who contend that marriage is for procreation, we are all aware that, even in heterosexual marriages, children are not guaranteed. But, when children are desired, there are always children who need loving parents. That my niece gave birth to a daughter who now has two mommies is a new way of thinking about procreation—as is adoption. One has only to watch the television show “Modern Family” to see the many configurations in which families are not only imagining but accepting variations of home life and relationships in new and diverse ways.
If the church has any hope of maintaining a relevancy to our culture we must open our hearts and doors to everyone. We must be intentional about offering hospitality to the stranger and outcast. And we must work for justice and peace in concrete ways.
Changing minds and shifting systems takes time. It’s taken me ten years to come to the place of taking a firm stand on the issue of blessing same-gender relationships. If permission to do so is granted by my bishop, and if I am asked by two persons who are able to make their vows before God and the church, I will bless a same-sex relationship. How timely it is that the liturgical resource for Blessing Same-Sex Relationships, authorized for provisional use by the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, is now available for use beginning on the first Sunday in Advent of this year, December 2, 2012.
As a final note, as I become more informed and connected to the LGBT community, I am aware there is more to the acronym than lesbians and gays. I am just beginning to hear more of the pain and struggle of the bi-sexual and transgendered community. Here again, a family member is helping open my eyes and heart to the need for compassion, understanding, and acceptance.
In conclusion, let me say that we must do these things not simply because we are progressive or enlightened or because the times have changed, but because we believe it is demanded of us by the Gospel of Jesus—in whom we see, as Saint John says, grace upon grace upon grace. Why now? Because whenever we seek to do the right thing, it is the right time. As we work to become unstuck from our turbulent past, the Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships is one aspect of living into our vision statement of St. Andrew’s being a joyous, growing, inviting and caring Episcopal Church. Establishing clarity about publicly welcoming and affirming LGBT people, including the priest’s ability to bless same-sex relationships, will assist us in answering the question “what is it that we want to create together as St. Andrew’s Church?”