January 9, 2013

National Cathedral Rings (Same-Sex) Wedding Bells

The National Cathedral has mostly been known for hosting funerals, such as former President Gerald Ford. (photo: Daniel R. DeCook, Wikimedia Commons)

The National Cathedral has mostly been known for hosting funerals, such as former President Gerald Ford. (photo: Daniel R. DeCook, Wikimedia Commons)

The Dean of the Washington National Cathedral has announced that the Episcopal Church’s flagship congregation will begin solemnizing same-sex marriages immediately.

The move by Cathedral Dean Gary Hall will come as a surprise to few. The Episcopal Diocese of Washington was one of the first in the church to offer blessing of same-sex unions, beginning the practice long before the denomination formally authorized a “provisional” rite at July’s triennial Episcopal General Convention. Additionally, the diocese allowed its Washington, D.C. churches to conduct same-sex marriages when the District of Columbia began granting marriage licenses for same-sex couples in March of 2010. Several suburban Maryland counties are also in the diocese, that state began allowing same-sex marriage this month.

The Cathedral will use a version of the recently approved “provisional” rite for the blessing of same-sex unions, modified into a marriage rite. The “provisional” rite is itself a light modification of the church’s marriage service, found in the Book of Common Prayer.

Like other Episcopal dioceses and congregations that have moved to authorize same-sex blessings or marriages, the cathedral has listed a series of guidelines. These rules are supposed to alleviate concerns that the Episcopal Church is not serious about marriage, even as it unilaterally redefines it contrary to almost all of Christendom:

“At least one person in the couple, therefore, must have been baptized. Only couples directly affiliated with the life of the Cathedral—as active, contributing members of the congregation; as alumni or alumnae of the Cathedral schools; as individuals who have made significant volunteer or donor contributions over a period of time; or those judged to have played an exceptional role in the life of the nation—are eligible to be married at the Cathedral.”

So rest easy, those of you who fret about the National Cathedral becoming the gay marriage equivalent of a Las Vegas wedding chapel: couples seeking marriage must actually be involved in the Cathedral – unless they are “significant” donors. Such integrity!

The Cathedral’s embrace of same-sex marriage follows Hall’s commitment last month to place the congregation at the center of the nation’s debate on firearms restrictions.

In an October interview with the Detroit Free Press (Hall was formerly Rector of Christ Church in Cranbrook, MI) Hall tellingly revealed “I’m not about trying to convert someone to Christianity. I don’t feel I’m supposed to convert Jews or Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists or Native Americans to Christianity so that they can be saved. That’s not an issue for me.”

Hall was also direct in his common cause with those who did not profess a faith in Jesus Christ.

“I have much more in common with progressive Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists than I do with certain people in my own tradition, with fundamentalist Christians. The part of Christianity I stand with is the part in which we can live with ambiguity and with pluralism.”

Hall has frequently spoken of the church’s role as being “at the center” of American public life. While no one contests that the Cathedral’s grand setting atop the highest point in Washington, D.C. has hosted important prayer services and funerals, I’m betting that most of the 311 million Americans would not name the Episcopal Cathedral as the center of the nation’s public life. Indeed, its membership is far, far less than any number of other D.C.-area mega churches, some of which draw seven to eight times the Cathedral’s attendance on a typical Sunday.

On the surface, the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, as the church is officially known, looks healthy: an attendance of just over 1,600 (massive by Episcopal standards) that has only gradually edged down since 2007. Deeper digging reveals numbers that don’t add up, however. Other Episcopal congregations with similar attendance receive far larger plate-and-pledge income than the Cathedral’s relatively meager $2 million a year. The large (now Anglican) parish of the Falls Church in nearby suburban Virginia has a plate-and-pledge of nearly $5 million, while the similarly-sized St. Martin’s in Houston, Texas has plate-and-pledge income of over $9 million. In short, a church claiming attendance equal to the National Cathedral should have plate-and-pledge income several multiples higher than what the Cathedral reports. Either the Cathedral is counting camera-wielding tourists and other visitors in its self-reported statistics, or the Cathedral’s own churchgoers are surprisingly tight-fisted in their tithes.

Approximately half of the churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington are in a state of decline, according to Bishop Maryann Budde.

Follow Jeff Walton on Twitter @JeffreyHWalton


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  • http://4simpsons.wordpress.com/ eMatters

    “So rest easy, those of you who fret about the National Cathedral becoming the gay marriage equivalent of a Las Vegas wedding chapel: couples seeking marriage must actually be involved in the Cathedral – unless they are “significant” donors. Such integrity!”

    Nicely put.

    Re. his pluralism: I actually appreciate the honesty. Anyone who actually reads the Bible would know that he is teaching the opposite of it. Not just a little different, but the opposite. There are over 100 passages teaching that Jesus is the only way to salvation. That isn’t what makes it true — his resurrection does that — but it means that anyone claiming the name of Christ must hold that view (among other essentials). We have a very specific term for people like him: Non-Christian.

  • http://4simpsons.wordpress.com/ eMatters

    If he is that candid with his members then they have no excuse for following him. I sometimes feel sorry for those taken in by wolves in sheep’s clothing, but not for wolves like him who got too warm and took the sheep’s clothing off.

  • Gabe

    “I have much more in common with progressive Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists than I do with certain people in my own tradition, with fundamentalist Christians.” It’s always “tradition” with these guys. That’s all it ever is when referring to the historical creeds and tenets of the Christian faith.

    “I’m not about trying to convert someone to Christianity. I don’t feel I’m supposed to convert Jews or Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists or Native Americans to Christianity so that they can be saved. That’s not an issue for me.” That’s too bad, Christ was talking about faith in Him being THE way to salvation quite a bit.

    • http://thearminian.net/ William W. Birch

      I was thinking the same.

      He remarks, “The part of Christianity I stand with is the part in which we can live with ambiguity and with pluralism.”

      Ambiguity and pluralism are not a part of Christianity; so I am wondering, to what religion does he actually belong? What part of John 3:1-8 is ambiguous? What part of John 14:6 or Acts 4:12 is pluralistic?

      • http://www.classicalarminian.com/ William Birch

        [I forgot that the link to my name, William W. Birch, refers to an old website. Sorry 'bout that.]

  • Paul Hoskins

    Well, I’m glad this Hall person has his spiritual priorities straight:
    1) Solemnize the “marriage” of two men or two women, and
    2) Don’t try to convert anyone to Christianity.

    For the life of me, I cannot figure out WHY this denomination could be losing members.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steven.hardy.102 Steven Hardy

    It’s so sad to see this holy place that was paid for, beautifully and painstakingly built, and dedicated to the glory of God being used as a temple of apostasy.

  • Mary

    If our bible teaching church, THe Falls Church Anglican (the church referred to in Va.) had not left this pluralistic, unscriptural denomination, this would have sent us over the edge & we would have been gone yesterday! Thank God for our wonderful bible teaching church!