By A.L. Sapinsky —
Times are changing. Our world is ever-revamping what is deemed right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable. Even the realm of religion is shifting to meet the perpetually shifting viewpoint of the world. Despite an assured onslaught of criticism from both extremes the Episcopal Church has taken the plunge into reformation.
Following their recent General Convention in Salt Lake City, the denomination in large has endorsed new liturgies for same-sex couples wishing to marry in the church. The bishops approved changing the church’s rules to make them gender neutral. Resolution A036 altered wording of the Episcopal Canon, in section 1.8, compromising language and substituting terms like “man and woman” with “couple.” The right to refuse to perform same-sex marriages was also given, and bishops, the right to refuse to allow the services to take place in their diocese.
The compromise will not become active until Nov. 1, 2015.
The resolutions marked the culmination of a conversation launched when the 1976 General Convention said that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance and pastoral concern and care of the church,” said the Very Rev. Brian Baker, deputy chair of the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage. “That resolution began a 39-year conversation about what that full and equal claim would look like. The conversation has been difficult for many and painful for many.”
Who’s pro-reform? Branches such as those in Washington, Los Angeles, and New York will perform same sex marriage.
Who’s anti-reform? Churches including those in Dallas, Albany and Orlando aren’t likely to participate.
“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Mark 10:6-9
“And God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Genesis 1:28
Concepts that Christians once held with certainty have been challenged and questioned for years. In an increasingly tolerant and inclusive world, ceremoniously religious gay weddings have been increasingly allowed within churches, most recently by the Episcopal Church. Some are happy, others enraged.
Verses like Mark 10:6-9 and Genesis 1:28 have created turmoil amongst even church leaders, who debate the theological core of the words God has given.
Procreation is a central tenet to the Christian faith, said Bishop Stephen Bauerschmidt of Tennessee, at the 2012 meeting of the General Convention in Indianapolis. “It must have the potential to be fruitful in the procreation of a third person,” he said.
“Fruitful.” This word alone is the center of controversy between fellow church leaders. While many believers associate the term with literal procreation, some, like Bishop of eastern Michigan, Todd Ousley, find that definition theologically inaccurate. In his opinion, theological studies on marriage undertaken over the past few years have provided a more expansive understanding of the word “fruitful.” Many researchers speculate as to what the true meaning is, theorizing that it is our actions and spiritual maturity.
For others, like Bishop William Rose of Albany, the issue isn’t same sex-union, but sex itself. Quoting Matthew 9:5, Rose recites when Jesus described the physical union of a man and woman.
“If our Lord is the son of God, God incarnate. He is quite aware of the nature of marriage, and could have offered alternatives, but did not,” he said. The Episcopal Church supported the full civil rights of gays and lesbians, Rose continued, but “God has told us that is not appropriate to use the gift of sexual intimacy” outside of the marriage of one man and one woman.
For Bishop Edward S. Little II of Northern Indiana, the “issue is not the welcome of gays and lesbians,” he stated, at the recent convention, but, “whether we should alter the received faith of the church.”
All technicalities aside, the reformation of Episcopal marriage laws should come as no surprise to anti-gay marriage congregation members, considering the church’s history. Not only has the topic of LGBT believers deserving of equality and acceptance come up as early as 1976, but by 2003 the first gay bishop, Gene Robinson, was ordained; in 2009, the General convention concluded that “God’s call is open to all” ; by 2013, a provisional rite blessing same sex relationships was established, and discrimination against transgender persons in the ordination process was strictly prohibited.
The continual conflict within the church continues to boil down to love and acceptance, a very present theme for many Christians, in the Bible, against the cold hard verses specifying things like the natural order of sex and marriage. Perhaps, like Ousley had speculated, there are deeper meanings to the words that the Bible uses to describe matrimony and sexual intimacy. But, as God fearing Christians, these truths must be uncovered responsibly, not with our own thoughts or ideals, but truly with the word of God – something that all people of all shapes and sizes must come to learn, no matter who it is they choose to love.