Saturday, June 19, 2010

Same-gender blessings task force meets today in the Diocese of Virginia

Today I am participating in the "R-14 Task Force," the 11-member panel appointed by Bishop Shannon Johnston of the Diocese of Virginia to determine how/when/whether we can proceed with same-gender blessings. This will be the first meeting, and I will give a report in this space as best as I am able when we are done.

So that you are on the same page with me, I am reprinting below the "R-14" resolution approved by the Diocesan Council of Virginia that set up this task force, followed by "C056" approved by General Convention last summer that called for a "generous pastoral response" on same gender blessings. Please read these carefully.

I am mindful that the stakes are large for many people, and there are only 11 of us on this task force. So I invite your advice, your wisdom, your opinions and especially your prayers. Please feel free to post here on this blog under "comments." And please have the courage of your convictions by giving your name and church affiliation. I will not respond to anonymous comments -- they interest me not -- but I will consider all comments with all due respect. Hateful or bigoted comments will be deleted with no apologies.

Here are the resolutions, beginning with C056, the General Convention resolution, followed by R-14, the diocesan resolution:

C056 - approved by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge the changing circumstances in the United States and in other nations, as legislation authorizing or forbidding marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian persons is passed in various civil jurisdictions that call forth a renewed pastoral response from this Church, and for an open process for the consideration of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships; and be it further
Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, collect and develop theological and liturgical resources, and report to the 77th General Convention; and be it further
Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, devise an open process for the conduct of its work inviting participation from provinces, dioceses, congregations, and individuals who are engaged in such theological work, and inviting theological reflection from throughout the Anglican Communion; and be it further
Resolved, That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church; and be it further
Resolved, That this Convention honor the theological diversity of this Church in regard to matters of human sexuality; and be it further
Resolved, That the members of this Church be encouraged to engage in this effort.
R-14 - approved by the Council (convention) of the Diocese of Virginia
Substitute for R-3 (Inclusiveness in Ordained Ministry), R-4 (Authorizing Rites of Blessing) and R-11 (Defining Sacramental and Civil Definitions of Marriage)
Adopted as substituted.
Whereas, the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston stated in his pastoral address to the 215th Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia:
“I do regret that, in this address, some important matters in our common life will seem to be slighted while others are omitted, such as the several topics arising from the debate on sexuality. But I look for us to address these issues thoroughly in regional forums in 2010. It is unfortunate that some of the weightiest deliberations that come before us cannot be adequately and justly dealt with in the very short time allowed by Annual Council,” [verbatim transcript of the bishop’s pastoral address], and
Whereas, the necessary process will involve both the bishop’s regional forums, which will allow for broad individual contributions on these issues, and the drafting of proposed canons for the effective and consistent exercise of pastoral ministry should same-gender blessings be authorized; be it therefore
Resolved, the 215th Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia recognizes that:
1. Our clergy and people remain divided over the wisdom and theology of blessing same gender relationships, as well as how much weight to give to the views of others in the Anglican Communion about these issues, particularly to views from those with whom we are in mission partnership;
2. The growing differences between Christian and Civil understanding of marriage and relationships create immediate pastoral issues for our clergy and congregations;
3. There are numerous same-gender couples in our diocese engaged in long-term monogamous relationships who have engaged in productive and vital ministries for the proclamation of the Gospel. Many of these couples strongly desire the church’s blessing of their relationships;
4. These issues deserve to be collectively addressed in an orderly, careful, and deliberate way assisted by appropriate legal and canonical experts; and
Recommends that:
1. Our Bishop is asked to empanel a group of clergy and lay people, including attorneys admitted to practice in Virginia and recognized experts on canon law, as well as knowledgeable clergy and lay representatives of a variety of theological perspectives on the issue of blessing same-gender relationships.
2. Such panel shall recommend consistent standards to be written into diocesan canons so that, if services of blessing same-gender unions are authorized, our clergy and people have a clearly understood and enforceable set of rules to guide the application of clergy discretion in providing pastoral care to same-gender couples seeking such blessings.
3. In formulating these recommendations, the following issues may be addressed (based in part on General Convention Canon I.1.18 and I.1.19):
(a) Whether individual members of the clergy have the right, as a matter of theological principle, to decline to conduct any such service, without adverse disciplinary consequences or personnel action;
(b) Whether individual members of the clergy have the right to decline to conduct such a service for a particular same gender couple, without adverse disciplinary consequences or personnel action, similar to the current rule for clergy asked to conduct weddings;
(c) The age, capacity and degree of kinship, if any, of the parties;
(d) The effect of prior marriages or unions blessed by a licensed clergy person or registered with civil authorities, the responsibility to any former spouse or partner in such union, and responsibility to minor children of any prior marriage or union;
(e) The appropriateness of advance medical screening, if any;
(f) The effect of any legal union or marriage entered into between the parties in another jurisdiction;
(g) The appropriate role of the Bishop for advanced review of any proposed blessing of a specific same-gender couple;
(h) Review of financial arrangements to protect the parties in the absence of state law presumptions governing married couples, presumptions intended to protect the weaker party from potential exploitation, oppression, or improvident action by the other party in the relationship;
(i) Other factors listed in the General Convention canons for marriage, Canons I.1.18 and I.1.19, including the baptismal status of the parties, the commitment to life-long union, the voluntariness of consent, the absence of coercion, fraud, mistake of identity of the other party;
(j) The minimum time line between notification of the clergy of a desire to obtain such a blessing and the performance of the ceremony;
(k) The number of witnesses and the record-keeping requirements for the clergy and any congregation involved;
(l) Any requirement for written affirmation by the couple that the commitment is to a life-long union;
(m) Any statement of the theological basis for the union to which the partners are to subscribe;
(n) Provision to address possible dissolution of a blessed same-gender relationship, including the considerations of factors enumerated in Canon I.1.19 to address marriages which are in distress or which have been terminated by a civil court, as well as the circumstances, if any, under which another same-gender relationship may be blessed where both partners to an earlier such relationship remain living;
(o) The restriction in the General Convention canon on marriage in the church to heterosexual couples;
(p) Whether any blessing service for same-gender union may be used in lieu of marriage for heterosexual couples under any circumstances, and if so, what those circumstances are;
(q) How these might apply to all members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans-gendered community;
(r) Any other factor deemed important by the panel.
3. If the Bishop appoints such a panel, the panel shall strive to deliver its report (including proposed canonical language) to the Executive Board by All Saints Day, 2010, in time for careful and orderly consideration of its recommendations by the 216th Annual Council of the Diocese. The panel is not to opine on whether the blessings of same-gender unions should be authorized, but it is to set forth its canonical recommendations to govern blessing such relationships if such services of blessing are authorized.
4. The consideration of any authorization for Virginia clergy to enter same gender unions should be deferred until after consideration of the preceding process.

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