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San Joaquin Episcopalians bless marriage

Timothy Kincaid

June 9th, 2011

When non-Californian’s think of the state, the great San Joaquin Valley is generally not what comes to mind. This southern half of the Central Valley is vast, rural, and green. There are no trolley cars or movies stars. Just mile after mile of grape vines, pistachio orchards, cotton fields and lettuces of various kinds, providing a 250 mile drive of mind numbing sameness from Bakersfield to Sacramento.

The San Joaquin valley is also politically very conservative, especially on gay issues. Although Orange County is notorious for sending anti-gay activists to Washington (Dannemeyer, Dornan), it is in the valley that anti-gay animus is planted, tended, and watered. While Orange County voted for Proposition 8 with a 57.8% approval, none of the eight counties in the San Joaquin Valley had an affirmative vote lower than 65% and five of them were in the 70’s.

And this conservatism can be found in the churches that dot the landscape, even the generally-supportive Episcopal Church. The ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson, a gay man living in a long-term relationship, did not sit well with the San Joaquin Diocese. And after much rumbling and threat, the rather effeminate Bishop John-David Schofield (a “cured homosexual”) led a revolt that pulled his diocese from the Episcopal Church and aligned it with first a church in Argentina and then with the Anglican Church of North America, a denomination which draws its distinction based on its rejection of gay people.

The Episcopal Church did not recognize Bishop Schofield’s right to defection and there is an ongoing legal battle over the assets of the church. Faithful congregations retained affiliation and other Episcopalians who sought to remain within the fold left their houses of worship to join together and build new congregations within the dioceses.

But any hope of reuniting now appears even more unlikely. After a temporary shepherding by a retired bishop, in March Rt. Rev. Chester Talton became the Episcopal Bishop of the San Joaquin Diocese. And today he issued a letter to his pastors that solidifies the distinction between the two groups:

Effective on Pentecost, June 12, 2011, clergy in the Diocese of San Joaquin may perform blessings of same gender civil marriages, domestic partnerships, and relationships which are lifelong committed relationships 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.” Said relationships shall be called “Sacred Unions” for purposes of the blessing and recognition of these relationships. A liturgy authorized for use within the Diocese will be published separately.

As yet Canon Law (and California civil law) do not allow for the official solemnization of marriage, but this step in recognizing and blessing same-sex relationships signifies that the Episcopal Church has placed the mission of grace ahead of any reconciliation based on potential concessions to the breakaway group.

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