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Marriage redefined by The Episcopal Church

By Sharon Dewey Hetke 

MAJOR CHANGES to church law as well as the election of a new leader dominated the General Convention of The Episcopal Church (TEC) when it gathered in Salt Lake City, Utah from June 25 to July 3.  

On June 30, the House of Bishops passed resolutions to provide new marriage liturgies as well as to make changes to Canon 18, which governs the Church’s practice on marriage. Both the new liturgies and the revised Canon are ambiguous as to the sex of the partners.

One day later, the House of Deputies approved these resolutions, which do include a provision protecting clergy who choose not to perform same-sex marriages.

Communion Partners, a conservative group within TEC, responded with the Salt Lake City Statement, saying that these developments constituted “a significant change in the Church’s understanding of Christian marriage.”  They also said that they remain “committed to the Church and its people, even in the midst of painful disagreement” and pledged to “speak the truth in love,” writing, “When we disagree with the Church’s actions, we will do so openly and transparently and – with the Spirit’s help – charitably.”  In response, TEC’s House of Bishops issued a statement saying that in spite of their different views, the Communion Partners were an “indispensable part of who we are as the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church. Our church needs their witness.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, responded to the passing of these Resolutions, expressing “deep concern about the stress for the Anglican Communion following the US Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops’ resolution to change the definition of marriage in the canons so that any reference to marriage as between a man and a woman is removed.” 

In the statement from his office, Welby also recognized the “prerogative of The Episcopal Church to address issues appropriate to its own context” but said that “its decision will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith relationships.”

The General Convention also elected a new Presiding Bishop, following the retirement of Katharine Jefferts-Schori. Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina was elected to the office on the first ballot with support from 79 percent of the bishops and 98 percent of the Deputies. Curry, TEC’s first African-American Presiding Bishop, is known for his fiery preaching, his social liberalism and his emphasis on evangelism. Curry opened his sermon by saying, “I love this Church; I love our Lord; and God is not finished with us yet.”

General Convention also dealt with a contentious resolution urging the Church to divest from companies in the West Bank. The resolution’s supporters argued that those investments link the Church to  “products and/or actions [that] support the infrastructure of the occupation.”

This resolution was met with strong opposition from the House of Bishops. Some bishops raised the need to care for those relying on TEC pensions, and, according to the Episcopal Church News Service, “Others reminded the house that Archbishop Suheil Dawani of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem has urged the Episcopal Church not to adopt a policy that would make it more difficult for him to manage his congregations and the more than 30 social service institutions throughout Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Territories. Those institutions include schools, hospitals, clinics and centres for people with disabilities and serve people of all faiths.”

Among the other highlights of the Church’s 78th Convention were a march against gun violence; a direction for the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music to prepare revisions of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the 1982 Hymnal; and the passing of several resolutions supporting fossil fuel divestment and addressing concerns about climate change.

TEC’s next General Convention will be held in July of 2018 in Austin, Texas.  TAP      

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