Episcopal Church to vote today on gay marriage UPDATED
July 1st, 2015
Three years ago, the Episcopal Church became one of the first denominations to allow the blessing of same-sex unions. But while this was generally perceived as allowing the conducting of same-sex weddings, the church did not go quite that far. They kept a distinction between the blessing and their marriage sacrament.
Today the church will vote on whether to take the final step and open the marriage sacrament to same-sex couples. The church’s Bishops voted yesterday to support the move.
If the change is made, the Episcopal Church will join the United Church of Christ, the Metropolitan Community Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in allowing congregations to host and pastors to officiate same-sex weddings.
The delegates have now confirmed the change, allowing same-sex marriage and authorizing two trial liturgies. Here is more detail as to the particulars. (deputynews)
The two liturgies, which were in Resolution A054, include a gender-neutral version of the current marriage service in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, as well as a version of a liturgy that was approved in 2012 for blessing same-sex unions that now also provides vows of marriage. These rites do not refer to “man and woman” or “husband and wife,” but instead use “these persons” or “the couple” to refer to the two people being married.
The 2012 rite, known as “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” was amended to include improvements identified since it was permitted three years ago, and then was approved by the bishops.
The language of the existing marriage liturgy in the Prayer Book remains unchanged.
Michigan Episcopalians on marriage
March 25th, 2014
What do you do if the Speakers for Jesus speak words that reflect the message of no Jesus that you know? If you are Episcopal Bishops in Michigan, you take to the papers. (Detroit Free Press)
As Christians, we cannot be silent as our state’s highest laws discriminate against segments of our society based on the personal biases of those in power, particularly when a majority of Michigan’s population now supports marriage equality. To remain silent is to be complicit in the decline of our society through demonizing unprotected minorities, segregation based on sexual preference, denial of benefits to selected groups, and fear-based prejudice. Our continued silence can lead only to further discrimination, bullying and other forms of physical, emotional and spiritual violence.
National Cathedral Will Host Same-Sex Weddings
January 9th, 2013
The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of Washington, D.C.’s. National Cathedral, has announced that the nation’s church will be available for same-sex weddings effective immediately. According to a press release at the National Cathedral web site:
“Washington National Cathedral has a long history of advancing equality for people of all faiths and perspectives,” said Hall. “The Cathedral is called to serve as a gathering place for the nation in times of significance, but it is also rooted in its role as the most visible faith community within the Episcopal Church. For more than 30 years, the Episcopal Church has prayed and studied to discern the evidence of God’s blessing in the lives of same-sex couples. It is now only fitting that the National Cathedral follow suit. We enthusiastically affirm each person as a beloved child of God—and doing so means including the full participation of gays and lesbians in the life of this spiritual home for the nation.”
Consistent with the canons of the Episcopal Church, the Cathedral will begin celebrating same-sex marriage ceremonies using a rite adapted from an existing blessing ceremony approved in August 2012 by the Church at its General Convention. That approval allowed for the bishops who oversee each diocese within the Church to decide whether or not to allow the rite’s use or to allow celebration of same-sex marriage. In light of the legality of civil marriage for same-sex couples in the District of Columbia and Maryland, the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde (whose Episcopal Diocese of Washington includes D.C. and four counties in Maryland), decided in December 2012 to allow this expansion of the sacrament. Hall, as dean of the National Cathedral, ultimately led the Cathedral’s decision and adaptation of the same-sex rite.
“In my 35 years of ordained ministry, some of the most personally inspiring work I have witnessed has been among gay and lesbian communities where I have served,” Hall noted. “I consider it a great honor to lead this Cathedral as it takes another historic step toward greater equality—and I am pleased that this step follows the results made clear in this past November’s election, when three states voted to allow same-sex marriage,” he added.
The National Cathedral’s official name is The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and it serves as the seat of both the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and the Bishop of the Diocese of Washington. The cathedral was chartered by Congress to serve as the “national house of prayer,” although funding for the Cathedral has come entirely from private sources. The cornerstone was laid in 1907 with President Theodore Roosevelt and the Bishop of London in attendance. The first service was held in the unfinished Cathedral’s Bethlehem chapel in 1912, and construction finally ended in 1990 with the completion of the west towers. It is now the sixth-largest cathedral in the world and the second largest in the U.S.
The Boy Scouts’ coming confrontation
July 17th, 2012
There are a lot of “firsts” when it comes to Boy Scout troops. There’s the “first Boy Scout troop”, the first to be chartered under the Boy Scouts of America, the oldest continually chartered, and Los Angeles’ Troop Ten which “is said to be the oldest Boy Scout troop in the United States sponsored continuously by the same organization.”
It’s sponsor is St. James in the City Episcopal Church, which has been shepherding boys to manhood on campouts and badge earning exercises since 1914. You may recall that I mentioned St. James before as an example of a church that is thriving and joyous and teaching the sort of Christian values that you would want your children to learn.
They also have this emphatically stated on their celebration of their long Boy Scout tradition:
In keeping with the policies of Saint James’ Church and School, Troop Ten and Pack Ten do not discriminate against any person on the basis of race, religion, national origin or sexual orientation in the conduct of their activities or choice of leadership.
So far the BSA has not ousted Troop 10, nor has St. James kowtowed to bigotry. I get the feeling that St. James feels that it answers to a higher authority than the current leader of the Boy Scouts of America.
And this raises an interesting situation.
Many of the oldest troops in the Boy Scouts were started by churches that are part of denominations that are increasingly finding that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a violation of God’s commandments. It’s not just the 1,200 Episcopal Church sponsored groups or the 1,800 UCC troops, who have an official policy of pressuring the BSA to drop their bigoted position. Growing segments of Lutherans (with 3,900 troops), Methodists (with 11,000 troops), and Presbyterians (with 3,600 troops) will soon find that they are being required to teach their youth values that are in contradiction with their beliefs about Justice, Mercy, and the message of Christ. And devout believers take such matters very seriously.
And then there are the secular troops. Thirty percent of the boy scouts are affiliated with civic or educational groups. Without the demands of a prophet in Utah or a Holy Father in Rome directing their position, they will increasingly find discrimination masked as moralizing to be distasteful.
Sure, the 38,000 Mormon troops (about 16% of all Boy Scouts) dominate the organization. And with their new political allies, the Catholic Church, there are another 8,500 troops that at least nominally can back the LDS. But they may want to tread softly. With their obsessive drive to be considered mainstream and to fit in as “real Christians”, the Mormon Church probably doesn’t want to be known as “The Church that Destroyed the Boy Scouts”.
Episcopal Church formally approves blessing
July 11th, 2012
Following Monday’s approval by Episcopal Bishops, the House of Deputies (clergy and lay members) passed Resolution A049 last evening. (Episcopal News)
In a vote by orders, the House of Deputies concurred with the House of Bishops to pass Resolution A049, which authorizes provisional use of the rite “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” starting Dec. 2 (the first Sunday of Advent). Clergy will need the permission of their bishop under the terms of the resolution.
The motion in the House of Deputies carried by 78 percent in the clergy order, with the clergy in 85 deputations voting yes, 22 no and four divided; and 76 percent in the lay order, with laity in 86 deputations voting yes, 19 no and five divided. The bishops had approved the resolution on July 9 with a roll call vote of 111 to 41 with three abstentions.
The new liturgy, which is considered a “work in progress”, is a blessing rather than a marriage rite, but it closely follows (and some heterosexual couples say is an improvement on) the church’s marriage liturgy. It includes vows, rings, and language such as “til death do you part”, as well as a formal proclamation by the priest.
Episcopal Church bishops approve new same-sex liturgy
July 9th, 2012
After two years of study, input, discussion and careful consideration, the Episcopal Church had crafted the language of liturgy for uniting same-sex couples. The church has in the meanwhile allowed the blessing of marriage in states where it is legal and the blessing of other forms of unions elsewhere, with or without legal standing, but it has not had formal language across the church.
The new liturgy, The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant, closely follows the church’s marriage liturgy but does not use the word “marriage”. (Though, undoubtedly it will be referred to as marriage and will likely adopt that language in the future). Combined with the ability of a bishop to authorize civil pronouncement of marriage in equality states, this subtle distinction will likely be lost on all but the technical minded.
The Episcopal Church is bicameral in it’s legislature, with liturgical rites requiring the approval of both Bishops and Lay bodies. Today the first step was accomplished. (msnbc)
Episcopal bishops approved a resolution to create a liturgy for same-sex unions Monday during the Church’s 77th General Convention in Indianapolis, with 111 votes in favor and 41 opposing.
The proposal was amended to disallow coercion or penalty to any bishop, priest, deacon or lay person who either supports or opposes the change, thus giving some comfort to more conservative Episcopalians (and to more supportive members of conservative dioceses).
This new liturgy give formal Episcopal blessing – whether in Massachusetts or Alabama – to same-sex couples with all of the pomp and formality that a stain-glassed, hundred-year-old, wood pewed, Episcopal church can bring. And believe me, that is saying quite a lot. Aunt Thelma can’t help but shed a tear or two.
In the name of God,
I, N., give myself to you, N.
I will support and care for you:
enduring all things, bearing all things.
I will hold and cherish you:
in times of plenty, in times of want.
I will honor and keep you:
forsaking all others,
as long as we both shall live.
This is my solemn vow.
If rings are to be exchanged, they are brought before the Presider, who prays
using the following words
Let us pray.
Bless, O God, these rings
as enduring signs of the covenant
N. and N. have made with each other,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The two people place the rings on the fingers of one another, first the one, then
the other, saying
N., receive this ring as a symbol of my abiding love.
If the two have previously given and worn rings as a symbol of their commitment,
the rings may be blessed on the hands of the couple, the Presider saying
Let us pray.
By these rings N. and N. have shown to one another and the world
their love and faithfulness.
Bless these rings, Holy God,
that they may now be signs of the covenant
N. and N. have made this day,
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Presider says
Inasmuch as N. and N. have exchanged vows of love and fidelity
in the presence of God and the Church,
I now pronounce that they are bound to one another
in a holy covenant,
as long as they both shall live. Amen.
February 8th, 2012
For the past 134 years The Living Church has been speaking to Episcopalians – especially those of the Anglo-Catholic “high church” wing – on matters of faith. In the January 29 edition, there is a fascinating article entitled “Tradition, Novelty, and the Need for Discernment” by David Newheiser, which reinspects what tradition has to say about same-sex marriage.
Those who appreciate a scholarly and thoughtful approach will enjoy this article. Here’s a taste:
The relevant question for faithful Christians is thus not whether Paul would have affirmed homosexual marriage: on the basis of the conceptual apparatus he had available, he would have been able to grasp neither the concept homosexual nor the Nicene affirmation that the Son is “of one substance” with the Father. Even if, as is likely, he would have been alarmed on both counts, this does not settle the issue, for the force of Paul’s teaching may point toward developments that he would not have expected. Just as Athanasius argued that the teaching of Scripture recommends ways of speaking that the authors of Scripture would not have recognized, it may be that the fidelity to tradition requires new ways of thinking about the status of same-sex unions.
I don’t always find that an article changes my perspective or opens new ways of thinking. But after reading Newheiser’s piece I came away with a new understanding of tradition.
Theological responses to same-sex marriage are no more longstanding and traditional than theological responses to online dating or sexting. Tradition is more than just “doing what we did before” when there is no “before” with which to compare. Rather, the church should utilize another tradition, that of applying discernment to questions before it. And that is, indeed, an old and established tradition.
Bishop demands that gays get married
July 20th, 2011
The new marriage equality law in New York not only changed the ability of gay people to marry, it also introduced a requirement for some of them to do so. (Christian Post)
In the wake of gay marriage soon becoming a legal institution in the state of New York, the Episcopal Bishop of Long Island, has ordered that homosexual priests wed their partners.
Long Island Episcopal Bishop Lawrence Provenzano has put his foot down against gay clergy who residing in homosexual relationships, and has given a nine month deadline for them to either get married or stop living together, according to the News Observer.
“I need to be mindful that the church has always asked people to live in committed monogamous, faithful relationships. I won’t allow heterosexual clergy to live in a rectory or church housing without the benefit of marriage. When one puts it in that context, then you see how it all begins to make sense,” said Provenzano.
Sounds fair to me.
San Joaquin Episcopalians bless marriage
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.
Bishop Robinson to Retire
November 7th, 2010
There are few people whose lives have a global impact. Gene Robinson is one of them.
In 2003, when the Episcopal Church elevated Robinson, an openly gay man, to Bishop of New Hampshire, a shift in global religion, politics and power occurred.
While other factors had been leading to such a change for a long time, Robinson became a symbol, a rallying point, for those who were unhappy with the influence that England had over Christendom and the related political power she wielded.
The Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion, the largest body of Christians outside the Roman Catholic Church. And while the Episcopal Church in the US is smaller and perhaps a bit elite, the Anglican faith dominates vast portions of Africa and is the voice of Christianity in many nations.
As the Church of England – and her Western sisters – have become increasingly liberal and increasingly the faith of modern industrious secular nations, ideological differences were bound to build in third world nations where there is a different perspective on life. And as there are far far more Anglicans in Africa than in The West, the deference given to the Church of England and the West became galling to local religious leaders.
Robinson’s appointment became a point of contention and an ultimatum arose. Either punish the Episcopal Church for daring to raise a gay man to Bishop, or the Global South (Africa and Asia) would be in schism.
Much negotiation and positioning has gone on since that time. The Episcopal Church has been slapped down (but refused to back down), a “solution” that appeased no one and resolved nothing. And while the current fragile relationship of the Anglican Communion is one of uncertainty, it seems to me that a break-up of the communion is inevitable.
This shift has also empowered African politicians to take up anti-gay causes, knowing that this is – within the church – an item of pride of identity and a symbol not only of African independence but African superiority.
And during all of this, Robinson has been a figure of international scorn and one of the most hated men on the planet. it hasn’t been easy. And now he has decided to retire. (Guardian)
The Rt Rev Gene Robinson, of New Hampshire, revealed his plans yesterday, at an annual diocesan meeting. He will be 65 when he steps down, seven years below the retirement age.
He told the convention that being in the eye of the storm had proved too much. He said: “Death threats, and the now-worldwide controversy surrounding your election of me as bishop, have been a constant strain, not just on me, but on my beloved husband, Mark, who has faithfully stood with me every minute of the last seven years, and in some ways, you.
“While I believe that these attitudes, mostly outside the diocese, have not distracted me from my service to you, I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that they have certainly added a burden and certain anxiety to my episcopate.”
However, this will not be much of a point of celebration for any Anglicans or a symbol of conservative victory. In May of this year, lesbian Mary Glasspool was consecrated bishop in Los Angeles. The Episcopal Church is not walking away from its gay members and the division will continue.
I wish Robinson well.
Episcopal Church drawing up official same-sex blessing rite
July 29th, 2010
From the New York Times
Armed with a new $400,000 grant and the support of the Episcopal Church, a Berkeley seminary is convening priests from across the country to craft the liturgical rite for same-sex couples to receive religious blessings.
The new rite, which will take years to complete, will most likely consist of a series of original prayers, Bible readings and two essays: one on the theological meaning of same-sex blessings, and one advising priests who administer the new rite. If approved, the new blessing would be just the third addition to Episcopal liturgy since 1979.
The Times is being careful not to say “marriage” and it still remains to be seen just how close this new rite will be to that of the Episcopal marriage rite. This task is a multi-year endeavor and with the rapidity in which the concept marriage equality is sweeping the world, it may be very close indeed.
Mary Glasspool Consecrated in Los Angeles
May 15th, 2010
In a celebration reflecting the incredible cultural diversity of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles Diocese, the former Rev. Canon and now the Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool was consecrated as Bishop Suffragan. Bishop Glasspool’s consecration marks the second time an openly gay clergy has been consecrated as bishop in the Episcopal Church. She is also the first lesbian to be so ordained.
Also consecrated as Bishop Suffragan was the Rt. Rev. Diane Jardine Bruce. The ceremony was presided by Most Rev. Katharine Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church. The event took place before a large crowd in the Long Beach Arena.
The ceremony was briefly interrupted just following the opening prayer by two protesters who were sitting among the congregation on the floor of the arena. First a middle-aged man stood up, held up a sign that I was unable to see from my vantage point, and shouted “Repent! Homosexuality is an abomination to God!” He continued to shout anti-gay slogans as church officials calmly escorted him out of the arena.
After he was escorted out, a smaller child (he appeared to be a pre-teen boy) stood up near to where the man had been standing and shouted, “Homosexuality is an abomination to God.” He, too, was patiently escorted out, while shouting the entire time. Just as he left the arena, someone was heard to yell from the balcony, “we’re praying for you” to the gentle laughter of the congregation, and the ceremony continued.
I was very impressed with the quiet dignity with which church officials and the congregation bore the interruptions, as well as the insults heaped upon them as they entered the arena before the service.
In addition to Westboro Baptist clan who protested at an entrance to the Long Beach Convention Center complex near the arena, a pair of very noisy protesters who appear to have been unrelated to Westboro held signs and shouted anti-gay slogans right in front of the entrance of the arena.
Due to the tight configuration of buildings at the entrance, every attendee of the consecration ceremony had to walk past the protesters as a sort of anti-gay and anti-woman gauntlet. The protesters seemed equally agitated that the bishops being consecrated were women as much as the fact that one was a lesbian. One harangued the gentle crowd with demands that the women grow out their hair long and be subservient to their husbands, “as the Bible commands.” But clearly, it was Rev. Glasspool’s consecration that drew the most condemnation. “A Bishop must be a man married to his wife, not a lesbian to a woman,” he shouted to no one who listened.
Aside from the outburst following the opening prayers, the rest of the three-hour ceremony went off without incident. The Bishop of Los Angeles, the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, delivered the homily in which he reflected on the diversity of the church:
We are a mixed batch, but we are stronger because we are all of those things. We are stronger because we respect the dignity of every human being, that we stand for their right to stand up and be the people of God. I doesn’t matter what their physical ability is, it doesn’t matter who they are, what race, what country they come from, what sexuality they have. It matters that they are people of God.
In a nod to the protesters, he referred to the point in the ceremony in which the the congregation is asked whether there are any objections. Bishop Bruno said,
I don’t think there was one person in the place that was more nervous than I was about objections. But we didn’t have any objections today from anybody who was an Episcopalian. [laughter] We had people outside and inside who came here because they don’t understand the inclusive nature of the Episcopal Church.
…We, as bishops of this church, are called to be exemplars of Jesus’s presence in this world. We’re called to teach people and bring them to a place of self understanding so that they don’t, out of fear or anxiety or fear of change become Ideological idolaters of the past.
Following that homily, history was made again, when Revs. Bruce and Glasspool were consecrated through the ancient practice of the laying on of hands by a multitude of consecrating bishops. They were then given the Mitre and symbols of office and presented to the congregation to roaring cheers and applause.
Episcopal Church approves lesbian bishop
March 17th, 2010
From the New York Times
A majority of bishops and dioceses of the Episcopal Church have approved the election of the church’s second openly gay bishop, the Rev. Mary D. Glasspool, a decision likely to increase the tension with fellow Anglican churches around the world that do not approve of homosexuality.
Congratulations Bishop Glasspool
The great Lutheran schism that wasn’t
February 26th, 2010
When the Episcopal Church confirmed Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire even though Robinson was in a long-term committed relationship with a man, it resulted in a world-wide shake-up of the Anglican faith. Several congregations, including some with historical reverence, separated from the denomination. Three dioceses voted to leave the church, and legal battles have warred over church property. In total, the Episcopal schism included as many as 700 congregations and in excess of 100,000 congregants.
Internationally, this decision was catalyst for a split between more liberal Western members of the Anglicanism and the churches in the Global South. Primates in Africa and Asia, which have more congregants but are poorer and traditionally less influential have seen this as an opportunity to redefine the global power structure of the Anglican Communion and to redirect the flow of Anglican Christianity in a more conservative direction.
The Episcopal Church, and other western bodies of the union, have shown no inclination to rethink their liberal understanding of Christianity or to adopt anti-gay attitudes or rules that the Bishops of Nigeria and Uganda (among others) sought to dictate. But having had a taste of international prominence and influence, conservative African Anglican leaders are unlikely to “allow” Anglicans in the United States, Canada, or even the United Kingdom to set their own policies. It seems inevitable that the corporate structure of the third largest Christian community in the world will fracture.
So when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the seventh largest denomination in the nation, came together in August of last year to consider several changes to the way in which the church would recognize gay Lutherans, some pointed to the Episcopal schism and warned of the same. And after the ELCA voted to adopt a new social position on sexuality that included as valid those who advocate for full civil marriage, changed their rules to allow gay partnered pastors, and authorized blessings of same-sex unions (all with significant majorities), dissenters warned of a great consequence that the church would have to pay.
Six months have passed since the denomination chose a more inclusive stance towards gay Lutherans. And while several local newspapers have carried stories about positions and actions of specific congregations, it has not been immediately clear to what extent the changes have impacted the body. But an article in the Washington Post has now provided the answer: not much.
Since August, congregations have not left the ELCA in huge numbers. The denomination has about 10,000 congregations, and in all 220 have taken at least one of two required votes to leave. So far, only 28 congregations have actually approved leaving, which requires two separate votes that each attain a two-thirds supermajority.
“Even if that number doubles or triples, it would still be less than 5 percent of the ELCA,” said Bishop Peter Rogness of the St. Paul, Minn. synod. “So it’s not as though a schism has happened, where we’re a denomination split in half. Nothing on that magnitude is in the offing.”
So the great Lutheran schism exists more in the minds of those who are theologically anti-gay than in reality. Considering that Lutherans, on the whole, are less liberal on the grand scale of religious ideology than Episcopalians, this might come as a surprise to some.
But there are several reasons why the ELCA is not fracturing over the issue of homosexuality in the church.
First, there are far fewer ELCA member with sharp ideological differences but a long affiliation to the history of the denomination.
Unlike the Episcopal Church, there is not one official historical organizational body for Lutherans. While ELCA is the largest Lutheran community, there are many others including the traditionally more conservative Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod (the nation’s eighth largest denominational body). And the ELCA has only been in existence since 1988, when it was the result of a merger of three smaller Lutheran groups. And those who were somewhat similar in thought probably would not have merged at that time.
Secondly, leaving the ELCA is not administratively easy. It requires a two-thirds agreement of congregants in two votes separated by 90 days. It is not easy to keep a sense of anger whipped up for three months.
And Lutherans are not known as a divisive or confrontational bunch. The “oh, sure, you betcha” stereotypes are not without a basis. In more than one instance, church leadership got all fired up only do discover that the members just didn’t care that much.
Next, there is no unified schismatic organization to lobby for continued division.
Unlike the Episcopal offshoot, The Anglican Church in North America, those who left or are leaving the ELCA have a number of options with whom to affiliate. The Lutheran Core, which sought to be the anti-ELCA, moved too slowly to create their own new community and with so many Lutheran groups focused on the positive who are ready to welcome breakaways, it is less easy to organize around anger and discontent.
Finally, there is no sense of international outrage and thus no feeling of entitlement in breakaways or any sense that they are the “real” Lutherans.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is part of the Lutheran World Federation. But unlike the Anglican Church, Lutherans are more dominant in Northern Europe and have a much lesser presence in the developing world (other than Ethiopia, which seems to have been a religious anomaly for millennia). As the ‘official church’ of a number of Scandinavian countries, Lutherans in Sweden, and Norway, Denmark have long since become accustomed to ever more inclusive theology.
Going forward, other denominations may be well served by looking at the resulting situation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America rather than that of the Episcopal Church. The Lutheran model is probably much closer in structure and international presence to most other mainline churches.
Episcopalians house homeless gay youth
December 8th, 2009
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Christendom has a well-deserved reputation of behaving abominably towards gay people, particularly gay youth. Every gay person knows someone who during their youth was mocked, tormented, or thrown out of their home, all in the name of Christianity. For some, it was even worse.
We regularly confront those who, like those “family” organizations that testified in opposition to marriage equality yesterday in New Jersey, come bearing the title of minister but blatantly spew hatred and lies. We know that when we hear “the Bible says” that it is almost invariably going to be some quotation of Scripture that is selected to bash, condemn, or demean gay people.
The Catholic Church in D.C. recently went so far as to claim that if gay people received equal marriage treatment under the law, then they would stop providing care for the poor. There is little wonder that for many gay people, all of their experiences tell them that “Christianity = Hate”.
So Carl Siciliano, the founder of the Ali Forney Center, a group that helps homeless gay youth, was hesitant when he was approached by a Christian group. Although they said they wanted to help, gay people are accustomed to “help” that is less charitable than it is an attempt to “save the homosexual from his sinful and destructive lifestyle”. (New York Times)
“For a lot of us, when we hear about Christianity, our stomachs kind of churn,” Mr. Siciliano said in an interview. “Another part of me is very grateful the church is making this kind of gesture.”
But this time the help was genuinely charitable. The Episcopal Community Services of Long Island and the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island contributed $200,000 to create and house a new 16-bed shelter at the Church of St. Andrew’s in Astoria.
But the partnership is less about politics than about simple charity, said Bishop Lawrence C. Provenzano, who represents 146 congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island (which includes Brooklyn and Queens).
“I think it’s an obligation to care for God’s people,” Bishop Provenzano said. “This is basic nuts-and-bolts Christianity.”
There is no small amount of anti-Christian hostility from many readers of our site. And though we try to minimize broad-stroke attacks on people of faith, there is no doubt that public Christianity has earned mistrust and even hatred from gay people many times over.
But perhaps this story – and I do see this as part of a trend – can begin the process of repairing the image of the faith. And I dare say that if all Christians behaved like the Episcopalians on Long Island, far more Americans – including our readers – would see religion as a positive force in the world rather than a vehicle for superstition, bigotry, and control of others.