Same-sex marriage rites continue to be a source of tension across the Episcopal Church, as a decision by the denomination’s governing convention mandating same-sex marriage rites across all U.S. dioceses faces a challenge from a traditionalist bishop.
In an eight-page letter read aloud to local parishes following services on Sunday, November 11, Bishop Bill Love of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany directs clergy resident, licensed, or canonically resident in the diocese (serving elsewhere) not to use trial rites solemnizing marriages between persons of the same sex.
Love cites his obligation as a bishop “called to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church” among several reasons for his decision against implementing the rites. The bishop characterizes the dispute as part of his dioceses’ “faithfulness in upholding God’s Word.”
Resolution B012 passed by General Convention July 5-13 in Austin, Texas, is slated to go into effect during Advent, the start of the church year on December 2nd. The resolution mandates dioceses provide access to same-sex trial rites over the objections of a diocesan bishop who does not agree with same-sex marriage.
“With the passage of B012, the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church in effect is attempting to order me as a Bishop in God’s holy Church, to compromise ‘the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3 ESV), and to turn my back on the vows I have made to God and His People, in order to accommodate The Episcopal Church’s ‘new’ understanding of Christian marriage as no longer being ‘a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God’ as proclaimed in the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP 422), but now allowing for the marriage of same-sex couples,” Love wrote.
In his letter, Love insists that B012 will cause “tremendous damage …not only in the Diocese of Albany, but throughout The Episcopal Church and wider Anglican Communion.” The resolution conflicts with diocesan marriage canons in Albany, and Love notes that implementation of B012 also is at odds with the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10, the Windsor Report of 2004, and the various requests of the Primates of the Anglican Communion.
Episcopal Church canons override diocesan canons if they are in conflict, but B012 was passed as a resolution, not a canonical change, so it is unclear what path national church officials might take in seeking to enforce it over the objections of a diocesan bishop. Anglican blogger and attorney A.S. Haley writes about the language of the resolution and the authority of diocesan bishops on his Anglican curmudgeon blog here.
Dissident same-sex marriage supporters in Albany have been outspoken in favor of the resolution. This past Sunday, parishioners at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Albany gathered after the service and burned Love’s letter in front of the church building. St. Andrew’s is one of a handful of liberal parishes in the Diocese of Albany operating under a Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) arrangement. Such arrangements place parishes under the authority of another diocesan bishop (in this case, Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe of the Diocese of Central New York) with the assent of the local diocesan bishop.
The inter-diocesan oversight required by General Convention Resolution B012 is not the same as DEPO: affected parishes continue pastoral relationships and financial obligations with their local diocese aside from the same-sex marriage oversight provided by the visiting bishop. The Episcopal Diocese of Dallas – one of eight U.S. dioceses that did not permit same-sex marriages following General Convention 2015 – recently announced an agreement with Diocese of Missouri Bishop Wayne Smith to oversee implementation of same-sex marriage rites in three of its congregations. Other conservative dioceses are announcing similar arrangements along with processes for parish vestries and rectors to work through if they wish to implement use of the rites.
The addition of same-sex marriages conducted within the Episcopal Church beginning provisionally in 2012 has not significantly lessened a decline in the overall number of church weddings. In the past year alone, marriages conducted in the denomination dropped 8 percent, contributing to an overall decline of 43 percent in the past decade, and down 59 percent since 2002 – the year before the consecration of Gene Robinson as the church’s first openly partnered gay bishop.
Marriage has been a central issue in the denomination, which officially redefined marriage as between any two persons in 2015.
“Recent statistics show that The Episcopal Church is spiraling downward,” Love noted in his letter. “I can’t help but believe that God has removed His blessing from this Church. Unless something changes, The Episcopal Church is going to die.”