Theological Principles and Liturgical Principles


The 2009 General Convention of The Episcopal Church acknowledged 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. In light of these circumstances, the General Convention directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to collect and develop theological and liturgical resources for blessing same-gender relationships. At the same time, we were asked to invite theological reflection from throughout the Anglican communion. The Commission has begun its work by articulating Theological Principles and Liturgical Principles to guide the development of resources.

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We invite your participation in this dialogue about blessing same-gender relationships. Your responses and observations here will help inform the work of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in our work of developing theological and liturgical resources for such blessings. We hope that this conversation will also be a way to renew and enliven a shared vision of the church’s mission in the world.

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114 thoughts on “Theological Principles and Liturgical Principles

  1. ‘The Commission has begun its work by articulating Theological Principles and Liturgical Principles to guide the development of resources’—is the one page document linked to at the phrase ‘Theological Principles’ the complete statement of those principles? It’s headed ‘Outline of Theological Principles’, as though there may be a fuller statement of which it is intended to be the summary. If that’s the case, I’d prefer to read that fuller statement before commenting. If no additional comment is posted referring to such a fuller statement in the next week or so, I’ll make some comments on the outline.

    • Philip, these documents are intended to be foundational for the detailed materials being prepared by the four C056 task groups (Theological Resources, Liturgical Resources, Pastoral and Teaching Resources, and Canonical and Legal Considerations). They are also considered to be works in progress. We are sharing them so that interested persons may both see our direction and participate by weighing in. Keri

  2. Having attended the last three General Conventions and participated in the study regarding blessing of same sex unions, I wholly support the efforts of those designing a rite for those who choose to be blessed. God bless all who work for a meaningful, sacramental rite.

  3. I think the theological reflections are wonderful. However Section III says little about friendship and mutuality within relationship. Surely this is the trinitarian perspective – that we are called to live in God’s image and to imitate God who lives in mutual caring and friendship within the God head.

  4. ‘1. The sacramental character of covenantal relationships (committed relationships make God’s presence and divine grace visible)’

    If we are looking to Christian history, as the sentence preceding the above quote suggested, it’s not clear that this applies to any relationship other than marriage, which throughout Christian history has been understood as a relationship between two people of different sex. Historically, I believe it’s true to say that only that relationship has been thought to have a sacramental character. In terms of Christian history, the relationship involved in joining a religious order comes to mind as an example: it’s a committed relationship, intended to be lifelong on both sides, and it’s covenantal in that it is usually expressed in a formal public statement of what the inductee and the rest of the order are committing themselves to. But I’m not aware that such a relationship was ever thought to have a sacramental character. If we are to increase the number of relationships that people can accept as having this sacramental nature, we need something more than a historical justification. There’s a theological principle missing from the argument here. This would be one place where more work needs to be done, if this is a ‘work in progress’.

    • There’s two different understandings of ‘sacramental’ which seem to be in play here, causing a lot of confusion. When the Outline refers to the ‘sacramental character of covenantal relationships,’ it is obviously not limiting those to the relationship of spouses in marriage. It is indicating that covenant relationships (of which there are more than one kind) makes ‘God’s presence and divine grace visible.’ Surely it isn’t the faith of the Church that only marriage makes God’s presence and grace visible, and that no other relationships do.

      • My comment was based on the statement in the Outline suggesting ‘a fruitful retrieval of three key touchstones from Christian history concerning the significance of those covenants’. It seems to me that if we are to retrieve something from history, as opposed to introducing it as new, then that something must be ‘findable’ in history. If a sacramental character of covenantal relationships can be found in Christian history, it will be found in something a historical Christian said or wrote. So my original response was intended to be a way of asking, ‘who said or wrote that covenantal relationships have a sacramental character?’ As far as I know, throughout Christian history that character has only been applied to marriage. I’m ready to be corrected about that, but since I haven’t been, I feel justified in proceeding on the basis that there is no sacramental covenant relationship except marriage to retrieve from history, and that the suggested principle isn’t established.

        You say ‘surely it isn’t the faith of the Church that only marriage makes God’s presence and grace visible’, and of course that is true. The church (by which I mean those who have written the arguments that have established the consensus we have had) has said that there are other sacraments, or other rites that have a sacramental character. But it has never said that other relationships, even other covenanted relationships, are among them. As far as I know—I’m still ready to be corrected.

  5. Perhaps it is a work in progress, but needing historical justification for accepting same sex unions seems to beg the question. History is not static, but it evolves as we learn more of God’s will. For example, for years Christians accepted slavery as according to God’s will, but those who accepted it were not slaves. Those of us who think that blessing of same sex unions, call it marriage or covenant, is against God will, may be wise to investigate the issue further.

  6. Just don’t call it marriage, because it isn’t. Don’t change the definition as set in the Book of Common Prayer. The moment you do that is when everything would die off.

    • It may not be correct to understand that the marriage rite in the Book of Common Prayer was intended to “define” marriage or anything else. It seems more likely that it was intended to give a form to the celebration of marriage according to the use of the Church. All the talk about “redefinition” of marriage seems to misunderstand the nature of liturgical celebration, that in the sacramental rite the Church is intending to formally celebrate a reality brought into being by God, and — in the case of a Christian couple — by the spouses themselves, and blessed as such by the community at large, the Church. When the Church includes a liturgy in the prayer book, it is not setting anything in stone forever, but giving ritual form to its understanding of a sacrament. “Definitions” are not part of the intent at all.

      • There is nothing sacramental about the blessing of anything else but between a man and woman. The sooner people understand that the better, unless this commission plans on re-writing the Bible.

      • Is it really about “defining marriage”? If we view it as recognizing and honoring a loving commitment within a Christian community – as General Convention has clearly agreed to do – there’s ample biblical support for love. The six “killer verses” in Leviticus, Corinthians and elsewhere have to be read in the context of their time; and certainly the Greco-Roman understanding of sexuality that informed the world of the Pauline letters would seem very strange to us today. We read Scripture in the light of tradition AND reason, not as inerrant, and aren’t we grateful for that?

      • Jay, I’m sure the Book of Common Prayer does not define marriage nor does it set anything in stone.
        Rather it is seeking to facilitate – in this case – a divine institution, as you put it ‘formally celebrating a reality brought into being by God’ [cf Matthew 19.6b]. But the institution of marriage is set ‘in stone’ – at least so Jesus claimed when He addressed the subject of marriage and divorce in Matthew 19.
        As with everything within the Church of Jesus Christ we must remember it is His Church not ours – for our redefintions!

      • What is happening to the Church by the hand of special interests groups is most UNreasonable, and that is putting it nicely.

  7. Congratulations, for this splendid initative. Without TEC our Anglican Communion would have been light years behind in the movement towards an honest understanding of the value of committed, monogamous, same-sex relationships, May this project be richly blessed, and may its implementation help other Provinces towards the full acceptance of the LGBTcommunity as fellow children of a Loving God

  8. In the Outline of Theological Principals document, the Vocation principle stood out to my mind on first reading.

    While the text is undoubtedly true in a generic sense, “long-term” is not, in my understanding, the measure of those vocations that the Church blesses in similar ways.

    The shortest of these is Life-Long, “until parted by death”. The others are Eternal, “marked as Christ’s own forever”.

    Is it the SCLM’s intent to invite liturgies that will uphold Covenantal Relationships for a term less than the joint life of the parties? I believe that is what this language says.

  9. Like Lawrence Gwin, I am interested in learning more about the apparent distinction between “life-long” relationships and other relationships having a “long-term” character.

    Does this reflect an understanding on the part of the SCLM that many LGBT individuals maintain relationships throughout the course of their lives that are not necessarily subject to the same “life-long” standard that heterosexual marriages are (at least nominally) subject to?

    Or is this perhaps an acknowledgment that society no longer expects relationships of a homosexual OR heterosexual nature to last a lifetime, and that it is time for the Episcopal Church to adjust to that changing reality?

    As others who have been involved in this struggle for decades can attest, it is not the universally shared goal of the LGBT community to simply mimic the standards of heterosexual marriage as historically understood in the West. And, in fact, many people in academic settings and elsewhere have articulated concerns that these conventions are marked by an inherently sexist set of assumptions and conventions. Will the SCLM take this into account when developing rites of blessing?

    Related question, following up on Philip Wainwright’s comment above: not all forms of churchmanship in the Episcopal Church expressly define marriage as a “sacrament,” with the Anglo-Catholic wing being more inclined to describe it in such terms. Will the new rite account for this, or is the assumption from the outset that heterosexual marriage is a sacrament and therefore apply the same terminology (and theology) to same-sex blessings?

    • E.S. George asks,
      >>Does this reflect an understanding on the part of the SCLM that many LGBT individuals maintain relationships throughout the course of their lives that are not necessarily subject to the same “life-long” standard that heterosexual marriages are (at least nominally) subject to?

      >>Or is this perhaps an acknowledgment that society no longer expects relationships of a homosexual OR heterosexual nature to last a lifetime, and that it is time for the Episcopal Church to adjust to that changing reality?

      Resolution C056 (adopted at the last General Convention) doesn’t address the question of whether these are understood to be lifelong relationships. However, in 2000, General Convention said this (Resolution D039):

      >>Resolved, That we acknowledge that while the issues of human sexuality are not yet resolved, there are currently couples in the Body of Christ and in this Church who are living in marriage and couples in the Body of Christ and in this Church who are living in other life-long committed relationships; and be it further

      >>Resolved, That we expect such relationships will be characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God;

      This understanding of committed relationships, including the expectation that these are life-long commitments, continues to apply to the work the SCLM is doing.

      All of these comments are very helpful as we work to develop this outline of principles into a much fuller set of theological resources.

      Ruth Meyers
      SCLM chair

      • Thank you Ruth.

        I knew that it was out there somewhere, but I’d never have been able to pull up D039.

        Insofar as the work of SCLM is concerned, I don’t believe this is the venue to discuss the merits of the case for or against SSBs.

        Actually, if we can remain within the brief given to the committee, those who favor and those who oppose should be able to collaborate on this part of the process.

        It is not in anybody’s interest that the Church consider anything that is weak, thin or ugly.

        Rather, if we do our best at the genuine work of framing a real liturgy, we will at the same time, Lex Orandi Lex Credendi, be testing the beliefs expressed.

        Those of us who prepare couples for HM know that the words of the liturgy are a great help to focus the awareness on just what they are about to get themselves into. That increased level of awareness is, I believe, something that all sides can support.

        A great liturgy will be a tool to magnify the truth. We can take comfort that it is God’s truth after all. Acts 5:38

      • That is what I would like to know Ruth. Are their people in the committee that are against this measure? Will their voices be heard?

  10. You can’t apply the same theology because there isn’t anything that could theologically support SS couples.

    • It’s hard for me to imagine that the Church would give so much time and effort to a reality for which “there isn’t anything that could theologically support” it.

      • Easy, because the powers that be want this. The ones with the cash run the show. It came down to who has money and the most supporters on their side.

      • As I understand it, that’s what this discussion is for—to discover whether there is any theological principle that could support a blessing of a same-sex relationship. I personally don’t think the document ‘Outline of Theological Principles’ even begins the work, but hopefully those who issued it can explain it in such a way that I can follow their argument.

        To assume that because the church has given time and effort to something, there must be a theological basis for it, is a bit too much like ‘the government knows best’ for my comfort.

      • A vital question. I would like to echo C. Wingate’s call for clarification from an SCLM representative on this point. Some (though surely not all!) of the acrimony here is the result of confusion over the nature of the project the Commission is tasked with doing.

    • Resolution C056, as far as it relates to the work of the SCLM, simply calls for “an open process for the consideration of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships” and for “the Standing Commission…, in consultation with the House of Bishops, [to] collect and develop” these for the next General Convention. No mention is made of ‘marriage’ per se, so it would be safe to say for now that C. Wingate’s question hasn’t been decided yet, and may not be until it is considered by General Convention.

  11. Within the Church our understanding of marriage surely must take us back to Genesis 2, at least this is where Jesus took his listeners in Matthew 19 when they questioned Him about divorce .’For this reason’ Jesus said, the two will become one – Genesis 2. That is, because of the way God created ‘man’ marriage was created and provided by our God. And this way involved ‘man’ being created ‘male and female’ [Genesis 1].
    Within the Church to pursue pseudo christian explorations on civil partnerships, or same sex unions is to redefine marriage – and takes us outside the Church of Jesus Christ.
    Jesus’ listeners in their wisdom would have had Him redefine marriage to enable divorce by their defintions but He would not grant what had not been from the beginning [ Mt 19]. Our contemporary wisdom would receive the same divine response.
    We need to remember that God is not as we are [Psalm 50.21] and what society defines to be wisdom is in reality foolishness [ cf 1 Corinthians 1,2].
    And we must remember that all of this is not because Jesus does not ultimately love us, and seek what is best for us – He went to the cross for us! – but He was about finding the lost, not leaving us in our lostness and foolishness.
    This is the challenge for the Church of Jesus Christ today, is it not? Are we willing still to be His disciples on His rescue mission to our society, who indeed claim to be enlightened [see Romans 1.22] but are blind and deceived?

    • Amen, what is right isn’t always politically correct. Keep the sacrament between who it was made for, 1 man and 1 woman.

    • Nobody disputes that God created humans male and female, or that marriage is a reality established by God for the union of a man and a woman. What is before us today is a new willingness to address the question whether our understanding of human sexuality has been adequate, whether persons who are not heterosexual may experience a vocation to marriage. It is not enough that Jesus didn’t mention it when he was teaching people about marriage between a man and a woman; that is not the issue we’re discerning today. We’re facing another question, about which arguments from silence, even in the teaching of Christ, are insufficient to decide the issue.

      • It is surely at least a possibility that Jesus didn’t mention a homosexual relationship when He was teaching about marriage because such a relationship was outwith the bounds of marriage as God ordained it. So Jesus’ teaching may not necessarily be assumed to be an argument from silence!

      • Again it seems that we don’t recognize the evolution of the faith. It is not static. We constantly learn new things about our humanity, and it seems only proper to explore the newness and how to deal with it rather than be threatened with a loss of faith.

      • Margaret’s comment would be described in a political debate as spin gone to seed!
        In the Garden of Eden Satan managed to deceive Eve into exploring newness, despite having been threatened with a ‘loss of faith’ by the Creator, if they disobeyed His command.
        Continuing to ‘walk with God’ which God Himself had offered them both was certainly not meant to be a static experience!! indeed it was the only way to life – tragically they chose death.
        Is it not at least conceivable to some on this evolutionary path that they also might be choosing death for themselves, and the church they are reconstituting?

  12. If we are to take the verse in Genesis to refer to marraieg then we have to assume that Adam and Eve were “married”, but I wonder in what sense they can be described as “married”… or their immediate descendants? without a church or state what does “marriage ” mean?

    • I think we are to take Genesis 2 as referring to the marriage of Adam and Eve. The language of Gen 2 seems to make that very clear and that was what Jesus Himself homed in on to help his hearers understand the institution of marriage.
      The implication of that ofcourse is, Caroline, that marriage is neither an anthropological nor ecclesiastical institution – it is a gracious divine institution for man as God created him, male and female.

    • As the Prayer Book service puts it, ‘marriage was established by God in creation’. For those who believe marriage is a sacrament, or even has a sacramental character, this is the justification. All the church does is witness and bless the marriage. The couple themselves ‘perform’ the wedding, by articulating their vows to each other.

      • I agree with everything you just wrote. But I’m not clear as to how that entails that only a sex-binary relationship can have that sacramental character.

        >Editor’s note: Geoff, Thanks for your comment. Next time, we need your full name. Thanks.

  13. It is good to be invited into this ‘conversation’ and see all the hard, prayerful work that this Commission has done to bring us to this New Year. This is a word of gratitude.

    >Editor’s note: Carrie, Thanks for your comment. Next time, we need your full name. Thanks.

  14. In response to Robin – while some may indeed have agreed to redefine marriage or even love, the route they pursue is also redefining the Church of Jesus Christ.
    Certainly not all will be grateful to be following a man made religion and be part of a church which is merely a human institution rather than a divine institution, which Jesus Christ called ‘My Church’ which ‘I am building’
    From the days of Babel man has always been about building an edifice which might reach to heaven, but like the original it will never take us there.
    While tradition and reason have a function – it is within the divine wisdom and salvation God has worked for us through His Son – by His incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension. This alone is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe – ‘aren’t we grateful for that?’ !!

    • William, I am delighted to enjoy membership in a broad church so encompassing that you are free to view Scripture as you wish and I am free to view Scripture as my conscience leads me; that we all understand the importance of measuring our views in community; and that at the end of the service we walk up to the communion rail together.

      • But you may be walking up there unworthily. Do you ever reflect on that? Why not just make a commission to rewrite the whole Bible and take out the so called “clobber” verses because you’re can’t have gay marriage without getting rid of scripture as we know it.

    • Well, William McCallum, you have zinged me good with “a political debate gone to seed.” You seem to be so sure of what God intends for us. I envy your confidence. I have been and always will be one who questions. I do not apologize for questioning, for if it is truth it can stand to be questioned, be it Scripture, Theology or Tradition. Is it alway political to question?

      • That’s the problem for me with those of us who say, “This is the whole truth, and nothing can change it!” — the claim that our understanding of a reality exhausts the matter and thus leaves no room for further growth in our understanding. The current movement to include homosexual persons in our understanding of marriage does not change the reality of marriage between a man and a woman, it merely expands it to no longer exclude persons who are not heterosexual.

      • If you are continuing to question you might want to reflect on weather you have any faith at all. Truth is TRUTH. Truth isn’t a theory or an opinion, you can’t question it.

  15. It might be helpful, at least it would help me, if those of you who are ahead of me in contemplation of these rites would post your ideas for proposed Lectionary texts to inform these liturgies.

    • I found this from Dio. Mass.
      For myself this liturgy illustrates the degree of work still needing to be done.

  16. I think we’re in danger of getting to the point of ’tis/tisn’t’ that so often leads to the early end of debates on this subject.

    I personally agree with those who say that Scripture forbids sexual relationships between people of the same sex, but we aren’t being asked about that. I imagine that the members of the SCLM are well aware of what Scripture says, which is why we weren’t asked to join in a search for scriptural resources, but for theological ones. I think we’d do better to stick to matters arising from the Outline of Theological Principles.

    So I’d repeat the point I made earlier that there appears to be no sacramental covenant relationship except marriage to retrieve from history, so that principle isn’t established yet.

    And I’d add that the second principle, that there is a ‘Trinitarian imprint of covenantal life (the perpetual and mutual self-giving and other-receiving of the Holy Trinity)’, seems equally problematic, but perhaps that’s because I don’t really understand what is meant by it. Can anyone flesh out a link between the relationships between the persons of the Trinity and a committed relationship (of any sort) between two human beings?

    • I don’t read the Outline of Theological Principles to be saying that matrimony as a ‘sacramental rite’ is the only sacramental covenant relationship that has existed in history; that would be a much too narrow understanding of what it means by ‘the sacramental character of covenantal relationships.’ A broader understanding would include covenant relationships of many different kinds, not simply the relationship of spouses in marriage. So to say that since there appears “no sacramental covenant relationship except marriage to retrieve from history” may not be correct; friendship comes to mind as a form of covenant relationship that also could be sacramental, making ‘God’s presence and divine grace visible.’

      The second principle from the Outline, about the ‘trinitarian imprint of covenantal life,’ adverts to the Christian understanding of human relationships by the analogy of relationships among the Persons of the Holy Trinity. They are said to be ‘mutually self-giving and other-receiving,’ so human relationships are too; I give myself as gift to the other and receive the other as gift to me.

      • Jay,

        Thank you for your comment. It feels good to have someone support that I am not a crazy lady nor a heretic.

    • They can come up with a liturgy all they want to. There is indeed no scriptural bases for any of the actions they are taking. I can make a theological argument for drinking water. If it isn’t between 1 man and 1 woman, it isn’t marriage, and it will never be marriage, no matter how much they believe it so,

      • Martin,

        Your comment on truth reminds me of Pilate asking Jesus, “What is truth?” I also think of the father of a boy who Jesus healed saying “I believe, Help me in my unbelief.” I envy those who are so sure of truth, not that I believe they are right.

        Enough already, we are losing our courtesy. I will comment no longer,

      • The Truth is God’s Word, not making your own word. Sometimes the truth doesn’t make you feel warm and gooey. Nor is it politically correct, but it doesn’t change what it is.

  17. In the theological principles, “sacramental” is intended to refer to events or experiences that make God’s presence and divine grace visible. It was only in the 12th century that the western church identified 7 sacraments. That medieval scholastic understanding is still evident today in the 1979 BCP Catechism, which identifies “the two great sacraments of the gospel” and five “other sacramental rites.” But there are centuries of Christian history during which sacraments were understood much more broadly, and there were various lists of what constituted sacraments. Part of the historical retrieval is this understanding that divine grace is manifest in many different ways in our human experience.

  18. A number of comments refer to marriage. The SCLM work is guided by resolution C056, which directs the commission to collect and develop “theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships.” We were not directed to develop resources for the marriage of same-gender couples, nor to consider the theology of marriage. So the SCLM is asking about the qualities of lifelong committed relationships between persons of the same gender and the theological principles that would undergird the blessing of those relationships.

    While we are not developing liturgical resources for same-gender “marriage,” we recognize that there are parallels to opposite-gender marriage. A couple feels called to make a commitment to a lifelong relationship, and in that relationship they aspire to values such as fidelity; monogamy; mutual affection and respect; careful, honest communication; holy love. The couple forms a household, committing to the spiritual disciplines necessary to sustain their relationship in a faithful and loving manner. The relationship bears fruit, evident in lives of service, compassion, generosity, hospitality, and reconciling love.

    It may be that our work on theological resources for blessing same-gender relationships will offer insights for the Episcopal Church to consider anew the theology of opposite-gender marriage. That is not, however, the SCLM’s current task.

    Ruth Meyers
    SCLM Chair

    • But how does your committee know same gender relationships are ordained by God? Shouldn’t that be the discussion?

    • It’s very interesting ,Ruth, to read your language describing same gender relationships and the parallels that might exist with same gender marriage. You describe a couple’s ‘ feelings’,’aspirations’ the things a couple might ‘form’, the ‘fruits’ such relations might bear…… No problems with any of these descriptions – merely the cumulative wisdom of human observation.
      But one does not get the impression that you are aware you are comparing two institutions of a completely different character – one is of divine origin the other merely an anthropological development.
      Add to this we are seeking to develop a ‘blessing’ for one of those relationships which might parallel the other.
      Inevitably this humanising of the marriage covenant relationahip can only lead to the loss of wonder that has always been associated with the divine institution from the beginning of mankind’s history.
      It also seems to be a massive step of arrogance by the church – to feel free to seek to produce for the Church of Jesus Christ a means of blessing a humanly contrived relationship [apart from whether biblically it is a sinful relationship] in comparable terms to a divinely instituted relationship.
      Is this just another symptom of a departure from the Church’s supernatural origin and character and its growth as a living organism, or is it perceived as just the next stage in the evolutionary development of a very human organisation?
      That is a vital distinction for the wellbeing of the Church of Jesus Christ – the Headship of Christ has not yet been forfeited by Him, Matthew 16.18.

      • Sorry!! – the first sentence should end with – ‘opposite gender marriage’ , which no doubt is very obvious from the nature of my comment!! My apologies.

      • I hope Margaret doesn’t stop her contributions because she feels the commenters are losing their courtesy. Surely we can do better.

        I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the members of the SCLM are not aware they may be “comparing two institutions of a completely different character”; indeed, that would seem to be the very reason they are not using the term ‘marriage’ in their work.

        Notwithstanding Ruth’s comments about this work on blessing not having to do with marriage per se, I fail to see how we by including more people in our understanding of marriage we would be contributing in any way to a “loss of wonder that has always been associated with the divine institution [of marriage] from the beginning of mankind’s history.” As a matter of fact, we would be magnifying that sense of wonder by witnessing many more people as they experience it for themselves!

        In our Anglican tradition, people even with wildly different views have always been welcome and encouraged to coexist together in unity. That has even been said to be our strength. Each one is responding faithfully to what is understood as God’s calling. Let us beware the day we boldly assert “I’m on God’s side, you’re not! So away with you!” That has not been the Anglican way, and may it never be.

      • If having courtesy means I have to not call a spade a spade and turn my head to error, then I guess I don’t have any courtesy. This will destroy the Church. And if you look at the bottom, it seems that E.S. George has done just that what you are warning against. I want people to get back on the side of righteousness, I want the lost sheep to come home. I don’t want anyone thrown aside, but it won’t be at the expense of denying Truth.

      • Jay – I would be saddened to think I was lacking in courtesy, that would be the very last thing I intended to do – honestly! Strong disagreements can take place in love, for we are ‘our brother’s keeper’, are we not? I am simply seeking to follow and interpret what is being done in terms of scriptural revelation. If my interpretation is misleading or discourteous in any way then do highlight that for me and I will humbly withdraw that statement.
        But just to follow through on your own comment in your third para which I am simply trying to interpret for the help of the church – is that not what we are all attempting to do? – you talk of ‘including more people in our understanding of marriage’ – even though, as you accept in your previous para, we’re not using the term marriage for this exercise!
        There’s the redefintion in practice!
        Marriage as a divine institution given to His creation by the Creator [Genesis 2] was for ‘man’ as God had made him, male and female [Gen 1]. Within the church what has been called marriage [cf Matthew 19] is incapable of the extension you are contemplating, because God did not join two males/females with that union He created for them in Genesis 2.
        So we need all to be very careful in what we think we are doing here.
        I deeply appreciate your final para, especially in the light of E S George’s and Martin Taylor’s contributions below. I acquiesce totally with your sentiments!! Would you say they were being a little discourteous? – if we agree on this then at least our defintions of courtesy correspond!!

      • William, although I should have made clear that I do tend toward the opinion that the vocation of both heterosexual and of homosexual persons to life-long union is one vocation, and that their unions are both therefore ‘marriage’, I was in the second paragraph above addressing what I believe is the reason the SCLM is not using that word in their work. They have not been commissioned to deal with marriage per se.

        There have been other times in the history of the Church when changes in understanding have led to changes in practice that were seen by some as “massive step[s] of arrogance by the church.” Examples abound, and we’re all aware of what they are; the first that comes to mind for me is the decision to include within the Church persons who were not Jews. Other more recent developments are obvious and need not be listed. This is just to say that indeed in being “very careful in what we think we are doing here,” the Church is discerning over time a change in practice that is understood as a response, in complete Christian faithfulness, to God’s leading. No one would contemplate abandoning our faithfulness to God.

        Indeed, no one claims that the text of Scripture includes examples of “God join[ing] two males/females with that union He created for them in Genesis 2.” But to proceed to establish a theological explanation for or against the legitmacy of same-sex union or blessing based solely on this text would inevitably devolve into mere proof-texting, which in the Church’s theological tradition has not been the most legitimate use of Holy Scripture. We can all think of examples of things the Church has claimed, even based on the words of Scripture, to be God’s will, which in fact were not.

      • There is nothing biblical about same-sex unions being ordained by God. It’s mere wishful thinking. They want their lifestyles recognized as something holy, and it isn’t.

      • >> Martin Taylor says:
        There is nothing biblical about same-sex unions being ordained by God. It’s mere wishful thinking. They want their lifestyles recognized as something holy, and it isn’t.<<

        Martin, it must be a comfort to live with such certainty. It's good to live in a church where Elizabeth I endowed us with the principle that we don't seek to make windows into others' souls, isn't it?

        Could you help me understand, please, the nuances of Paul's use of "physike chresis" and "para physin" in Romans 1:18-32? Thanks!

      • Robin, Paul wasn’t speaking in any kind of metaphoric undertones. This clearly speaks against homosexual “relations”. Nothing is pure or natural about it. We ALL are deserving of death, but we have the ability to repent, to turn away from all sin and return to what is true and righteous. By the way,Millions of other Christians live in this “certainty”, this “certainty” is called living by God’s Word. You can do it too. You can start by heeding the warning in Isaiah 5:20.

  19. As a general observation, and after reading all of these comments: I wonder whether it is time to dispense with the notion that there is value in “keeping everyone at the table,” “listening to all voices,” or “honoring the diversity of viewpoints” within TEC. By now, the conservative point of view, as Bishop Katherine has tacitly acknowledged, is only a tiny minority (at least in terms of influence).

    Calling a spade a spade: we are all involved in a high-stakes political struggle, hard fought over multiple General Conventions, between two sides with totally opposing viewpoints… and the progressive side has won. Is it not time to acknowledge that reality once and for all so that both “sides” can move on– TEC into the new vision of the “Dream of God,” as Bishop Katherine has called it, and the reactionaries into whatever splinter groups or ghettoes they choose to retreat to?

    Put another way: if moving forward with same-sex blessings is a matter of justice, and if the church is indeed being called by the Holy Spirit to discover and embrace this new truth, then doesn’t consistency demand that the voices calling for this justice also declare openly that it is a sin for the church to accommodate those who disagree? At its core, is this not what the current work facing the SCLM is all about?

    • This isn’t about “politics”, it’s about salvation. “God’s dream” is set forth in scripture. We’re not the ones in sin. It’s not sin to let you know that what is happening here is in serious error. If this goes through and the leftist reactionaries get what they want, there will be no more TEC. It will cease to be a part of the One Holy Catholic Church. It will be a community of senior citizens who want to be politically correct instead of being correct as set by Scripture . Your ilk wants to be responsible for destroying the Church? You chew on that for a while.

    • My understanding, based on the following Resolved, is that General Convention disagrees with you about the value of listening to dissenting voices. Given that understanding, it is not the place of any Standing Commission to disregard a “tiny minority” of conservative voices on these issues.

      “Resolved, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge that members of The Episcopal Church as of the Anglican Communion, based on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, and in light of tradition and reason, are not of one mind, and Christians of good conscience disagree about some of these matters.” — D025, GC2009

  20. This blog is getting a bit unwieldy, so excuse me if I respond to comments this way rather than hunting through the above for each of the oiginals:

    ” I don’t believe this is the venue to discuss the merits of the case for or against SSBs”—I agree. It was General Convention that gave the SCLM this job, and they’ve got to do it whether they or we approve or not. It’s also only General Convention that can decide whether or not it’s a sin to allow us who don’t believe we’re doing the right thing in this to remain in membership with you who do, so thankfully we don’t have to discuss that idea either.

    “if we do our best at the genuine work of framing a real liturgy, we will at the same time, Lex Orandi Lex Credendi, be testing the beliefs expressed”—I thought there was a different blog for the liturgical part of the work, and that what we are exploring here are theological resources, if any. So it would help if we stuck to that, I think. And incidentally, the ‘lex orandi’ principle has never been thought to mean ‘if it feels OK when you pray it, it’s OK to believe it’. That is a theological issue, so discussion of that is fair game. The principle is that if you want to know what the church (not an individual) believes, listen to what the church (not any individual) prays. It’s the principle that allows us to point to the Book of Common Prayer as an authoritative document. That’s why it is absolutely necessary for there to be a theological discussion before any rite is approved.

    “Part of the historical retrieval is this understanding that divine grace is manifest in many different ways in our human experience”—yes, but it is not manifest in every human experience, and not even every pleasurable human experience, so the mere fact that some human experiences make grace visible won’t help us decide whether or not this is one of them.

    “There are centuries of Christian history during which sacraments were understood much more broadly, and there were various lists of what constituted sacraments”—can you give us a reference so we can look at these lists in context?

    • You don’t think that it’s biased? Look at who is in the entire commission. I bet there isn’t anyone on the traditional side of the aisle in this discussion.

  21. If you’re going to quote Leviticus, then put down that ham sandwich!

    Leviticus mandates all sorts of practices that would be abhorrent to modern sensibilities; if we consider Leviticus binding, then ALL of it is.

    If you look at the original Greek of the passages in Paul, he was talking about what today we would call pedophilia/pederastry, not relationships between consenting adults.

    Jesus never addressed homosexuality directly, but look at the story of the Centurion’s Servant. The servant is referred to not as ‘doulos’ or ‘therapeues’ (slave or attendant) but as the centurion’s ‘pais’–his ‘boy’. That word had definate sexual connotations in Hellenistic Greek, yet Jesus didn’t utter one word of condemnation. He indeed was quite complementary to the centurion.

    And, to go back to the OT, what of David & Jonathan? The author(s) clearly disapprove of many things David did, but there is not a whif of disapproval of their relationship; the only person in the story who condemns it is King Saul, who is clearly depicted as being in the wrong for doing so.

    • The only encouragement, from both tone and content, I can take from your comment, Bruce, is that you make contact with Scripture!! To which we must always turn for theological understanding and liturgical development.
      In that context, surely all our understanding of Leviticus and the rest of the OT stands in the light of the role of Jesus, God’s Son, who said He came to fulfil. The book of Hebrews, among other NT epistles, then fills that out for us in terms of the sacrifices etc being shadows of which Christ is the substance.
      If the David/Jonathan relationship was a covenantal relationship of friendship it would not call for a’whif of disapproval’ If there had been any ‘homosexual content’ it most certainly would have called for disapproval. Not all, by any means, assume what you seem to assume about that relationship!
      The same would go for NT references – indeed whenever homosexual relationships are mentioned explicitly condemnation follows. Although not all would read as I read such references!!
      If you want to engage in textual exegesis then read the scholarly commentaries – but over the whole spectrum of scholars. In any case it would be crucial that all of this biblical exploration be engaged in with a careful and genuine spirit of searching for truth – which spirit seems well nigh impossible within the church in our generation,with so much at stake.
      But in our present liturgical explorations it is incumbent upon the church not to move away from all that God has spoken – otherwise it will not be the Church of Jesus Christ’s worship which we are making provisions for.
      In short, we’ll need to put down more than a ‘ham sandwich’ !!!

  22. I think the arguments by the New Testament scholar Robert Gagnon in The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics have dealt with Bruce’s interpretation of the Scripture passages pretty effectively, and as far as I know have not yet been answered. But in any case we are not going to get anywhere discussing the Scripture passages in this forum; I wish we could get back to the issue of theological principles.

    • Philip it was good to see your contribution to Bruce’s observations – but it might have been more helpful, from his perspective, to give a broader spectrum of scholarly interpretation.
      However if we were to follow your advice of not ‘discussing the Scripture passages’ there will be little prospect of light on ‘ the issue of theological principles’. Remember Paul’s adage ‘do not let the world around you squeeze you into its mould’ wherever that world may exist!!

  23. A quick word of thanks to everyone who has thus far contributed comments and observations on these topics. This is exactly what all of us working on this project have been hoping to generate — conversation and reflection. As the chair of the theological resources task group of this project, I’m particularly grateful for these comments so that we can fine-tune the theological principles that we have been developing. The long history of Christian theological language is, obviously, complex — no more so than human relationships. Articulating theological language for today is certainly more an art than a science. I’m grateful for the input here. I’ll make some more specific observations in the following posts.

  24. “Sacramental Relationships”. Following up on Ruth Meyers’ helpful comment about sacraments, I think it’s important to note that a variety of human relationships in Christian history have been understood to reflect a “sacramental character” and not just marriage. The vocation to monastic life, for example, was often understood as a relationship to a community of people, which reflected a particular charism of divine grace. In recent years, some fascinating research has also been done on the ancient rite of “brother making.” This was often (but not always) a rite performed for soldiers going off to war and the rite sealed them as “brothers,” joining their two families. This was not a “marriage” nor was it what we today would call a “gay” relationship (though it was same-gender) — but it was understood as “sacramental” in character. These and other examples offer, it seems to me, helpful reminders about the many ways that divine grace is made manifest in and among human relationships.

    • References to the sources would be helpful if we are to think about how these rites relate to the rites the SCLM has been asked to worik on.

  25. “Theology and Trinity”. Several comments here about the theological principles suggest to me the various ways all of us understand what theology itself is all about. I appreciate that variety as a reminder that theology isn’t always or even necessarily about “justifying” something. Theology is most often, it seems to me, a disciplined reflection on where and how God is working among us. Decades of such theological reflection on same-gender relationships led the 2009 General Convention to pass resolution C056. That is, by recognizing the “fruits of the Spirit” and the workings of divine grace in those relationships, the Convention has now called for collecting and developing those theological resources. In that regard, a few posts here have noted the awkwardness of the phrase “Trinitarian imprint.” I’m grateful for those posts so that we can refine that language a bit. In brief, we were trying to retrieve from Christian history the notion of that human beings are created in God’s image — the image of the Holy Trinity. Given the long history of Trinitarian reflection, we were trying to articulate how human relationships reflect, however imperfectly, the mutual self-giving of divine life. We’ll continue to try to make that far less abstract.

  26. “Scripture.” A quick note about this important touchstone in our work. Scripture is most definitely a part of theological reflection! What we have tried thus far to address in our work is the variety of human relationships one finds in Scripture and to reflect theologically on how God seems to be working in them. The importance of “covenant” and “covenantal” relationship seems to run throughout all of those many stories and relationships, especially as the covenantal commitment humans make to each other reflect (either well or not so well) the covenantal commitment God makes with God’s own creation, most especially of course in Christ. In addition, those of us working on this project are certainly aware that some in our church believe that Scripture would prohibit doing this work at all for same-gender relationships. While addressing that concern is not at the forefront of our work, we will include in our materials a concise (and we hope helpful!) summary of the many resources and scholarship stretching over many decades now, that have contributed to a different understanding of the Bible in relation to same-gender couples.

    • ‘Scripture is most definitely a part of theological reflection!’

      Yes. But my experience has been that discussions lead nowhere when some participants believe that Scripture is a record of a growing human understanding of God’s will, a growth that continues even though the canon of scripture is closed, and others believe that the canonical Scripture is God’s living and active word, and that what it said in the 1st century AD it still says today (this summary does justice to neither view, I realise, but I’m sure that everyone who participates in this discussion knows the distinction I’m referring to.

      So to ‘include in our materials a concise (and we hope helpful!) summary of the many resources and scholarship stretching over many decades now, that have contributed to a different understanding of the Bible in relation to same-gender couples’ will be helpful to some, but not to others. Those of us who take what is sometimes called the ‘reasserters’ position have probably read many of the materials that would be included in it already, but didn’t find them helpful because we have a different view of what Scripture actually is.

      If there’s some discussion we could have while acknowledging the difference, I’d be glad to try and follow it, but I find the idea of looking at what the church has found theologically fruitful in history rather than looking at what scripture says a more promising approach. Even theology as a ‘disciplined reflection on where and how God is working among us’ is not going to lead us forward, because those with differing views on Scripture are bound to differ about whether or not it is God that is at work when we are discussing something that goes beyond what we can agree Scripture says.

      • Thank you, Philip. That’s a very helpful observation. I agree with your assessment — there is indeed a significant gap in some quarters of the wider church about how one understands the character of Scripture itself and not just how to read or interpret it. Of course, that has been true throughout Christian history. I think the challenge for us today is to find new and fresh ways for all of us to be in conversation about the role of Scripture in our lives, our faith, and our theological reflection. I think there is much we can learn from such conversations. I would also highly recommend a short book that came out a couple of years ago by Dale Martin called “Pedagogy of the Bible.” One of the things I like about it is that he offers a really good overview of just how diverse approaches to Scripture have been over the centuries and how Christian communities in the past managed to live with that diversity.

  27. “Marriage.” As Ruth Meyers has noted here (among a few others) resolution C056 does not call for the development of a “marriage rite.” Those of us working on this project, however, do believe that the resources we are collecting and developing can be helpful and useful for the wider church in its ongoing reflection on marriage. I think it’s important to realize just how much marriage itself has changed over time and across cultures. The difference between what biblical writers understood marriage to be and what we understand it to be today is quite vast. Even within modern western history, marriage has changed considerably over the last century or so, not least in the recognition that wives are not the property of their husbands. But I would also urge us to remember that as late as 1967, inter-racial marriage was both illegal in many parts of this country and also considered by many Christians to be contrary to Scripture. In the light of those and many other changes, I look forward to this ongoing conversation and our work with the Standing Commission so that whole church can engage in further theological and spiritual reflection on human relationships.

    • Jay Johnson,

      Thank you for your good comments on the theological and scriptural basis for debate. Several days ago I said i would comment no longer, for I detected some “meanness” entering the conversation. I try not to judge, but my mind closes when I meet what I think are closed minds. My sin. Your comments give this questioner hope. Yes, believe in truth, but I am not sure always what truth is. Your comments and those of Ruth Meyer have an openness that is refreshing. God bless all who are working so hard to find unity in our diversity.

      • Thanks for coming back Margaret, we’re all needed in the discussion! May we all take your concerns to heart, and always remain open to each other, and never condemning or mean. Thanks for calling us all back to treating one another as brothers and sisters!

    • It must be fascinating to an objective contributor – no such exists on this earth, ofcourse, because we are all fallen, and because we have all constructed our philosophical presuppositions, by this stage in our lives – to try to deconstruct what one means by openness, another by meanness, another by condemning others, another by courtesy,
      It is no easy task for us to arrive at unity in our diversity!!
      From my perspective I was totally discouraged on reading Jay’s observations. It is now crystal clear where this exercise is going; her mind is totally closed to all who think outside her mindset. Leaving one to wonder, are there any representatives of another mindset within her task group?
      Why are such appointments made and, at the same time, discussions like this opened up to give a charade of openness, and the impression that we are working hard to find unity?
      The answer I suppose is that it convinces many, appears even good to many – and the church allows itself to think it is being led by the spirit to find the truth [sadly,it is lower case for both!!].

      • Just a couple of observations about the SCLM’s work.

        First, I would encourage everyone to remember that this particular project is responding to the tasks set forth in General Convention Resolution C056. That resolution calls on us to collect and develop resources for blessing same-gender relationships, not whether such relationships should be blessed. Given that mandate, the appointments to the various task groups in this project reflect what we are called on to do. Debating whether we should do it is precisely what the next General Convention can address.

        Second, given the limited scope of this project as outlined in the resolution, we cannot address all of the concerns it raises about “church unity.” All of us are eager to hear from everyone but how the material we collect will be received by the wider church is what General Convention will need to address.

      • William McCallum writes:
        “It must be fascinating…to try to deconstruct what one means by openness, another by meanness, another by condemning others, another by courtesy.” But we all know, surely, what these words mean, and how to proceed together charitably!

        “It is no easy task to arrive at unity in our diversity!!” Our unity is found as we seek together to serve God’s mission in the world, not primarily in our “diverse” understandings of the truth, and it is a gift of the Lord’s faithfulness to us. All the members of his Church have their unity, ultimately, as a gift from him; we don’t bring it about by our work or by simply agreeing to believe the same things.

        “[T]he church allows itself to think it is being led by the spirit to find the truth [sadly,it is lower case for both!!]” Even when we find ourselves greatly discouraged, we can take still greater comfort in the Lord’s promise that he will never abandon his Church. So really, let’s not let what we perceive as even profound missteps on our road down through history distract us from “hear[ing] what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

    • Jay,
      I agree that the work done here is a part of a great re-examination of Holy Matrimony, and cannot be discounted as “just blessings” as if this was no more weighty than pets on St. Francis’ Day.

      The challenge for the SCLM and the Church is:
      Are we to be peers in dialogue with the culture? or
      Are we called to speak with authority to the culture?

      If only the former then it will not be sacrament, it will be fashion. The season will change and the rite will change with it. So be it. Such a matter is of little import.

      If the latter however, SLCM should test it’s work against a timescale of eternal significance. We still refer to 1662 to enlighten 1979, few would say the same of 1892.

      Yes many things have changed in recent times, but humanity does not look to the Church for News or for Fashion.

      Humanity turns to the Church for context in eternity.

      I pray that SCLM will do this work at that level.

      • Those are great questions. In my view, the work we are doing in this project can at least help the wider church recover its own particular theological voice in the wider culture. For example: what could retrieving the notion of “covenant” and “vocation” in long-term relationships contribute to a culture in which “marriage” is understood mostly as a “contract”? I think retrieving more substantial theological reflection on the vocation to relational commitment would be a great spiritual voice in our culture.

  28. I note that multiple commenters have alluded to understandings of sacramental relationships in the past tense: e.g., “…it was understood as ‘sacramental’ in character.” Is this meant to suggest that these understandings were in fact misunderstandings? Or that these relationships were in fact sacraments but are no longer believed to be so?

    Apart from this, there is perhaps an unacknowledged distinction here between so-called “sacramentals” (e.g., holy water, blessed objects such as medals or rosaries) on the one hand, and Sacraments (means of grace, instituted by Christ himself: Marriage; Confession; Holy Orders; Baptism; etc).

    I believe this discussion has given rise to at least one very important theological question. To help guide how the faithful are to respond to this ongoing project, it is vital to know: will the same-sex blessings the SCLM are tasked with designing be added to the “list” of sacraments– becoming, as it were, the Eighth Sacrament– or will they merely exist on a lesser plane than marriage as currently understood in the Prayer Book?

    • I can’t speak for others, but when I used the phrase ‘understood as sacramental in character’ I was referring to two things that I believe to be true; first that whatever I was referring to was not a sacrament in the sense that baptism and holy communion are, but share some qualities with them, as do ordination, marriage etc, and second that not everyone is required by the teachings of the church to agree that whatever it was shares those qualities. Sorry if I was a bit opaque.

  29. As Ruth Meyers noted in an earlier post, the BCP catechism focuses the church’s attention on two sacraments: baptism and eucharist. Yet there are many other things the church does that exhibits a “sacramental character,” which means (both simply and profoundly) that divine grace/presence is made visible. That’s what we’re trying to articulate with this work; we are not trying to add to any list of “sacraments.”

  30. “The challenge for us today is to find new and fresh ways for all of us to be in conversation about the role of Scripture in our lives”—ain’t it the truth? If that’s something we want to try here, I’d welcome a suggestion about what new way there might be that doesn’t require anyone to give up the view they currently have.

  31. Jay Abbott says “we can take still greater comfort in the Lord’s promise that he will never abandon his Church”. Indeed we can and as Lord Reith once said the Church of Jesus Christ will still be standing even at the grave of the BBC!!
    But the crucial issue for us all will be, who will be found within that Church on that day? It is for that vital [eternally vital] issue that Jesus Christ holds us as the shepherds of His flock responsible.
    From the beginning of God’s covenantal relationship with man there have been associated blessings and curses; Jesus did not let up in His time on the nature and purpose of hell, at the same time as promising that he would build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it.
    As I have indicated in previous posts let us not assume that whatever we do we will have God’s blessing – the OT covenant community in their confident cries of ‘peace, peace’ to their total consternation found themselves at the receiving hand of God’s curses which He declared that He Himself had brought upon them.
    And let no one try to avoid such warnings by thinking they are only issued by those who think it won’t apply to them!! – we must all take heed lest we fall.

    • William McCallum says, “[T]he crucial issue for us [is] who will be found within [Christ’s] Church on that day? It is for that vital…issue that Jesus Christ holds us as the shepherds of His flock responsible.”

      Doubtless there may be efforts within the Church that some do not agree that Christians should pursue. But to say who belongs within the Church and who doesn’t is in no way the responsibility of anyone within the Church, but rather of the Church as a whole. As for “who will be found within that Church on that day”, let’s not usurp the Lord’s prerogative, but leave that for him to decide. In the meantime, it is not for the shepherds to expel anyone from the flock; if there are tares among the wheat, they now grow together (sorry to mix metaphors).

      Also: “let us not assume that whatever we do we will have God’s blessing…” True, and may we never be so bold as to act merely as we choose apart from God’s leading. These current efforts to develop liturgical resources for blessing are undertaken, hopefully, in the awareness that this is precisely what God has been calling us to do; they are our response to what “the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

      • Jay, how does the church as a whole make decisions if there is no reponsibility devolving on anyone within the church? The NT does describe tares and wheat growing up together, but that parable does not absolve the church from exercising discipline, else why all the concern in the NT epistles for a right leading of the church of Jesus Christ? [eg Galatians, Jude, 1 Corinthians].
        Not to usurp the Lord’s prerogative is not equivalent to deserting the responsibilities He has delegated us [cf Acts 20.28f], surely?
        “let us not assume that whatever we do we will have God’s blessing…” True. !!
        But you then go on to assume (?) you have God’s leading, God’s calling of us, the Spirit’s leading us.
        We surely need some kind of objective measure to know this – otherwise we are still maintaining whatever you do will have God’s blessing. There are many within this same church convinced that we have God’s leading, God’s calling, and the Spirit speaking in Scripture, who would lead us in a totally different direction. Are you just not prepared to let this wheat [or tares!] grow up in our church?
        If you insist on your model of the church you would surely need to allow different congregations with different leaders within the one church – some with such worked out ‘blessings’ some without.
        Are you willing to accept such an outcome,Jay?

      • William, please feel free to email me if you’re interested in continuing our discussion in a more direct way.

        Briefly in response to your questions: (1) “[H]ow does the church as a whole make decisions if there is no reponsibility devolving on anyone within the church?” This church as a whole makes its decisions, as you know, through our General Convention. It alone is the voice of our portion of Christ’s Church speaking for itself in a corporate way. Of course this does not mean that “no responsibility devolv[es] on anyone within the church,” and I would not argue that point.

        (2) “We surely need some kind of objective measure to know [we have the Spirit’s leading].” But in these matters we may not be dealing with certainty, as much as we would like it, but with discernment, listening for the Spirit speaking. It has been only after a great deal of time spent in careful, prayerful and faithful discernment that we can say that this is what we believe God has been calling us to. I would be careful to say that I do not claim to know with absolute certainty that God is calling us to this, and indeed I may be wrong.

        (3) “[Y]ou would surely need to allow different congregations with different leaders within the one church – some with such worked out ‘blessings’ some without.” This is the way it has been till now, and surely it will continue in the same way for some time to come. No one would expect that these liturgies for blessing be used in places where some, or even the majority, of consciences find them objectionable.

  32. I understand that I have read much less theology on these matters than the theological resources task group members. As the task group elaborates on this outline for future documents, I would appreciate a more explicit reference for the task group’s understanding of these relationships as “covenantal relationships”. In particular, this Outline appears to me to use “committed relationship” and “covenantal relationship” interchangeably; is this intentional? If the two terms are interchangeable in this context, is there another context where they would not be? If not, what are the different nuances of meaning contributed by using the two different terms?

    The current task is to provide resources for blessing same-sex relationships under an independent rationale from that provided for marriage. Ruth mentioned 2000-D039 earlier in this discussion, suggesting that its standards for couples “living in other life-long committed relationships” informs the Commission’s expectations for the relationships to be blessed with these new liturgies. That resolution said nothing about the gender of the “other life-long committed relationships” in question; indeed, I read it as applying equally to life-long committed relationships of opposite-gender couples which somehow stop short of adopting the “solemn and public covenant… in the presence of God” that characterizes holy matrimony (1979 BCP, p422). In this light, I think it may be interesting for the task group to consider (1) whether the theology developed through this process could equally justify the creation of a liturgy for blessing non-marital life-long commitments by opposite-gender couples, and (2) whether there are life-long committed same-gender relationships for which the Commission’s to-be-completed liturgy might be inappropriate.

  33. This is an extremely tough issue and I’m glad SCLM wants input. A question: I think SCLM was directed by GC to get input from the church at large on HWHM; one of the comments above, though, was that SCLM didn’t have to get comments on the rites/theology/same sex blessing issue. Dr. Meyers–is that right? If so, I’m glad input is being requested anyway. Another question: about the Greco-Roman world, mentioned early-on in this discussion by Robin Garr: “….. certainly the Greco-Roman understanding of sexuality that informed the world of the Pauline letters would seem very strange to us today.” I’m assuming Robin means the Greco/Roman very “liberal” sexual practices as opposed to the Jewish ones at the time: soldiers being encouraged to have middle-aged men lovers, open and widespread male prostitution, promiscuous lesbianism, etc. This is something 21st century Christians in the West would not approve of, although people like Hugh Hefner promoted a quite liberal sexual philosophy in the 20th century. –Robin, are you saying that Paul’s “strict” sexual pronouncements are reacting to that type of thing, which is not “the norm” today? –Another question, related: I have read many places, as well as in a couple of the comments above, that one of the goals of the blessing of same-sex relationships is to give societal support to monogamy. Calling such relationships “covenantal” gives added weight to the ideal of life-long fidelity, although the fact that these are “sexual covenants” is not mentioned and perhaps detracts theologically from the analogy made with other types of covenants, which are not sexual. –Still another comment: the analogy with slavery precludes allowing for difference of opinion on this issue. It seems to be one that will require every loyal member of TEC to subscribe to. Since many loyal members of TEC worked and continue to work very hard for civil rights for all races(slavery in the US not being a 20th-21st century issue, but civil rights are), but are opposed to the blessing of SSR’s, this seems unjust. I wish there were a way to allow for ambiguity and continued conversation on the sexual issues.

    • >> Another question: about the Greco-Roman world, mentioned early-on in this discussion by Robin Garr: “….. certainly the Greco-Roman understanding of sexuality that informed the world of the Pauline letters would seem very strange to us today.” I’m assuming Robin means the Greco/Roman very “liberal” sexual practices as opposed to the Jewish ones at the time: soldiers being encouraged to have middle-aged men lovers, open and widespread male prostitution, promiscuous lesbianism, etc. This is something 21st century Christians in the West would not approve of, although people like Hugh Hefner promoted a quite liberal sexual philosophy in the 20th century. –Robin, are you saying that Paul’s “strict” sexual pronouncements are reacting to that type of thing, which is not “the norm” today? <<

      Celinda, it's a little more complicated than that – for one thing, remember that most early Jewish Christians were steeped in Greco-Roman society themselves, so its cultural practices were not alien to them. I'd love to share an article by the theologian Dale Martin that we studied in Scripture II (New Testament) at the Louisville Theological Seminary last spring, but I don't think it's possible to attach PDFs here. If you would like to Email me at, I would be happy to share it with you.

    • Celinda, you say “the fact that these are “sexual covenants” is not mentioned”

      My covenanted relationship with my same-gender spouse is not a “sexual covenant” any more than heterosexual marriage is a “sexual covenant” . Though our relationship certainly includes a sexual aspect it includes far more – the most important aspect for both of us is a faithful life (faithful to each other, faithful to God, faithful to our callings) of shared ministry in God’s service. We didn’t choose to have a covenanted, and now a married, relationship because we wanted to have sex but because we wanted to make a commitment to God’s service as a partnership.

      Israel’s covenant with God is sometimes portrayed by the prophets as similar to marriage – eg Hosea, and traditionally most people have made sense of the inclusion of the love poetry of the Song of Songs within the canon as it representing the relationship between God and Israel or Christ and the Church.

      So I think the “sexual covenant” idea is really a red herring.

  34. Robin, I’m assuming that the practices weren’t “alien”–that’s how St. Paul knew about them. I’ll read the article you recommend, but so much in both testaments has to do with warnings to “God’s people” about not aping the surrounding culture. — Instead of referring to “very ‘liberal’ sexual practices as opposed to the Jewish ones of the time” I should have said “as opposed to the formal Jewish teachings of the time.” I don’t think there were formal Greco-Roman ethical teachings against those practices (please correct me if I’m wrong).

    • Celinda, again, most modern theologians and historians, as I understand it, see the historical reality of the time as much more nuanced than we see from either side in the modern culture wars. Again, it would be simpler if I sent you Dale Martin’s article, which helps understand how both the Greeks and the Rebbinical Jews and Jewish Christians of Paul’s time understood sexuality and sexual attraction more in terms of excess than gender direction. Both sides, but particularly the anti-SSR advocates, err to some extent when we bring a modern analysis to First Century culture. It’s really most reasonable to read Scripture with at least one eye to the way its writers and their contemporary readers understood the issues.

      Please feel free to Email me at the address above, and I’ll send you a copy of Dale Martin’s article. It’s scholarly, not polemic, and I think you’ll find it interesting. Maybe even enlightening.

  35. Did the Greco-Roman ethical teachers talk about the excesses: the recommendation that soldiers take lovers among older men, the male prostitution, etc. I haven’t read about those practices in the writings of “anti-SSR advocates,” just in a huge tome about homosexuality written a number of years ago whose authors were trying to be impartial. That tome had a lot to say about homosexual practices (and approval of them) in most cultures, African tribes, for example, in contrast to what Jews were advised to do by their spiritual leaders. It will be interesting to see what Martin says about it. –It will also be interesting to see what he says about writers of scripture warning against blending into the majority culture in general, when the culture is going against basic teachings.

  36. Friends: A quick observation (or two!). First, thanks so much for this ongoing conversation! It’s very helpful to our work in the task groups and for the SCLM.

    A note, first, about historical scholarship on sexual practices in the Greco-Roman world. There’s very little dispute at all among scholars that the way the ancient Greeks and Romans understand sex and marriage and family differs in some rather dramatic ways from how the modern West (and therefore all of us) understand those things. This is important for our work for at least this reason: developing theological resources for any kind of sexual/romantic/committed relationship is indeed a challenge when one is trying to attend to the texts and practices of that ancient world view. Just one among many examples: The ideal of an egalitarian relationship between husband and wife (or at the least that a wife is not the property of her husband) would be very, very strange indeed to the ancient world, including most biblical writers. So this is challenging work, though certainly not insurmountable. That’s precisely what we’re engaging in our task groups — how to remain faithful to our traditions in a new cultural situation.

    Second, I appreciate the variety of comments and perspectives on whether the SCLM should be doing this work at all. Let me remind everyone, however, that we are not addressing that question in our work. To be sure, the question of whether we should will surely be raised at General Convention 2012. But for now, General Convention 2009 gave us a very specific task: develop theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same-gender unions. That’s where we have to keep our focus.

    And to that second, point as the chair of the theological resources task group, I would gratefully receive even more comments and feedback on the theological principles themselves. What have we omitted or what have we not articulated well enough concerning the theological significance of covenants and committed relationships? We are eager for even more of that feedback.

    Thank you!
    Jay Johnson

  37. Do theologians look at literature as a witness to the times they are studying? From what I know of Greek and Roman mythology, for instance, there are a lot of “strong women” who don’t act, at least, although they are the property of men. –Shakespeare’s “Portia is Brutus’ mistress, not his wife”–the famous lines the bard attributes to Portia, trying to get Brutus to confide in her and apparently failing–are late 16th, early 17th English perceptions of Roman life, but are they completely wrong? And there are many women who think for themselves, who lead, throughout the OT and the NT. Perhaps what modern theologians are saying is that those women are the exceptions rather than the rule–that the actual social structure kept women down, and no doubt that is true. But I don’t think that was the “ideal.” Growing up and reading the Bible, and classical literature, I never felt “put down” as a female. But perhaps that was because of the people I read the Bible and literature with at the time, those who taught it to me, or discussed it with me ; their sense was that the Bible was liberating to women, and that “an egalitarian relationship between husband and wife” would not be as strange and unheard of as said above. I can’t help thinking that the “ideal woman” in Proverbs, for example, who handled the economic business of life so well, was NOT thought of as “chattel” by the husband who praised her.

  38. The 2012 General Convention is fast approaching- and with it, it is safe to presume, the approval of churchwide same-sex blessings on (at a minimum) a trial basis.

    One question I haven’t yet seen addressed here is that of preparing ministers of the church in how they should prepare same-sex couples for their blessings. Whether or not the blessed relationships are called ‘marriages’ or not, will premarital (or pre-blessing, if you prefer) counseling will be an expected part of the process?

    To put not too fine a point on it: The default expectation for sexual behavior in TEC is, at least nominally, that sexual acts are properly reserved to those in a married state. For example, cohabiting couples can expect to hear during pre-marital counseling that they should refrain from further sexual relations until married, and live apart until their marriage.

    Will the clergy be expected to counsel same-sex couples according to the same standard? Take the example of a young same-sex couple, perhaps fresh out of college and looking to settle down. Will clergy be expected to advise them the way they would advise a heterosexual couple: for the good of their souls to refrain from marital relations until they are married in the eyes of the church? Will training materials or workshops be offered to clergy to guide them in this matter?

    If not, does this project contemplate a broader reconsideration of the church’s teaching about sex to homosexual and heterosexual couples alike?

  39. Dear E. S. George: Thanks for your GREAT question. The short answer is yes. The Commission divided the various areas of responding to the Resolution into several “task groups.” One of those is on “pastoral and teaching resources.” That group has been hard at work at reviewing what is currently available for preparing couples and congregations for celebrating a committed relationship and there will be lots of material included around all of that in the final “product.” What is being considered here on this blog has to do with the “theological resources task group.” Thanks for that important question!

    • I agree that E. S. George has asked an important question and am glad that the answer is “yes.” As for limiting the blog to the theological resources task group, can we separate the theological from the practice and remain true to the task? Perhaps the union of the pastoral and teaching resources will result in a satisfactory “final product.”

  40. it is distressing how often the question comes back to sex, as though same sex relationships are defined only by sexual activity in a way that straight relationshps are not. This of course is completely untrue. It’s also quite, quite offensive and generally shows that the ones making the description don’t actually KNOW any married same sex couples.

    My wife and I married civilly, during the pre-Prop8 window in2008,, for the same reasons that any straight couple would marry under law. When our civil marriage was blessed in church just a few weeks ago, we were given the additional recognition as well as expectations of that community. it was a quite profound experience. (And I highly recommend separating the civil marriage and the wedding party, from the more intentional experience of a church blessing).

    The expectations for us as a couple, and the process we went through for the blessing, were as they would be for a straight couple. No one is asking for anything different. NO one wants anything different.

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