A Response to #GC77

Sunday, 15 July 2012 05:34 am
cjbanning: (Trinity)
[personal profile] cjbanning
As many of you reading this may well already know, the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church happened this past week. And of course, the entire world is talking about how TEC reauthorized use of the 1979 lectionary as an alternative to the Revised Common Lectionary with the permission of one's bishop and reaffirmed the sacrament of baptism as the normative entry to Holy Communion.

Okay, pretty much nobody's talking about those things. But they probably should be. So it goes.

Admittedly, the things everyone is focusing on--those having to do with sex--are pretty important too. D019 and D002 were resolutions which explicitly forbid discrimination against transgender individuals for lay ministry and ordination, respectively. These two resolutions are, to my mind, unmitigated goods. The morning after the House of Bishops passed them, essentially ensuring their passage as it is more conservative than the House of Deputies, I was messaged on OK!Cupid by a trans woman asking about "what [your] christain church thinks about ppl like me???" I was proud to be able to tell her.

I am slightly more conflicted--but only slightly--about the progress on same-sex unions. A049 approved a liturgy to bless same-sex unions. Now, these unions are not marriages, but I think the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music correctly decided a revision of the sacramental marriage rite in the Book of Common Prayer would go beyond the mandate given to them by the 76th General Convention. However, they did propose resolution A050 to create a task force on the study of marriage. They explained their reasoning as follows:
As the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music developed liturgical resources for blessing same-gender relationships, it faced repeated questions about marriage. What makes a marriage Christian? What is the relationship between the Church’s blessing of a relationship, whether different-gender or same-gender, and a union, “marriage” or otherwise, created by civil law? Is the blessing of a same-gender relationship equivalent to the marriage of a different-gender couple, and if so, should this liturgy be called “marriage”? Because the Church’s understanding of marriage affects so many of its members, the Commission believes it is important to engage in a Churchwide conversation about our theology of marriage.
To me, this makes a lot of sense. I think it is important that we as a church take time out to articulate our theology of sacramental marriage. What is the function of the sacrament? For many people, it is to differentiate between licit and illicit sexual acts, but I actually reject that answer as still far too socially conservative. But if it is not about regulating sex, then what is the purpose?

There are many ways in which the sacrament of marriage is the odd one out among the seven traditional sacraments. (I feel the need here to note in passing that the BCP distinguishes between baptism and eucharist as "sacraments of the gospel" and the other five as "sacramental rites.") I know I'm not the only one to find Mt 22:23-33 strangely in tension with Mt 16:18-19 and Mt 18:18-20. While the understanding of marriage as a sacrament dates back to at least St. Augustine of Hippo, the Church herself did not officiate marriages until the second millenium C.E. Now it is true that anyone can baptize and that within Anglicanism lay persons can hear confessions, so the non-sacerdotal application of the sacraments is hardly without precedent. But it still makes me pause in my considerations of just what the sacrament of marriage is, exactly, and how it works as a means of grace. I look forward to hearing the conclusions of the taskforce in 2015 with excitement.

In any case, I am confident the foundation is being laid for full sacramental marriage to be expanded to same-sex couples within TEC within the next decade. I look forward to that time.
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"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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