Episcopal Life Convention Daily
Tuesday, 11 July 2000  

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Sexuality resolution sent out to deputies

After five days of meetings and three major hearings, Special Committee 25 has cleared a path through a tangled thicket of sexuality resolutions. The committee has forged a compromise measure that acknowledges traditional teaching on marriage while supporting "relationships of mutuality and fidelity other than marriage."

The compromise resolution, crafted from a working paper of the committee and a resolution (B045) from Bishop Geralyn Wolf (Rhode Island), directs the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to draft rites that express support for "lifelong committed relationships" for consideration by the next General Convention. The rites are to be prepared for inclusion in the Book of Occasional Services, as opposed to The Book of Common Prayer. The committee adopted the compromise measure during its morning meeting July 10. In its resolution, the committee also stipulates that marriage and life long committed relationships "will be characterized by fidelity; monogamy; mutual affection and respect; careful, honest communication; and holy love," and that all church members will be held accountable to these values. The resolution further acknowledges that some members who disagree with the church's traditional teaching on human sexuality will, however, in good conscience "act in contradiction to that position." The resolution also reaffirms the 1998 Lambeth Conference's call for dialogue around homosexuality, and "the imperative to promote conversation between persons of differing experiences and perspectives."

The committee, which has been meeting as a cognate committee of bishops and deputies throughout the week, is reporting out the resolution as a substitute for the resolution D039.

In its July 10 meeting, the committee indicated it would discharge all other resolutions—other than substitute resolutions still in the pipeline—that it has received on sexuality, including the SCLM's resolution on "local option" (A065) which has won few converts either on the committee or in the hearings.

Though the SCLM, in the committee's resolution, is again being handed the issue of same-sex unions, the difference this time is that the standing commission is being given a more explicit charge, said Bishop Arthur Williams, co-chair of the committee. Committee 25's resolution directs the SCLM specifically to prepare rites that will allow the church to support committed relationships other than marriage. The SCLM, added Rebecca Snow (Alaska) and co-chair of the cognate committee, was asked to study the theological basis of such unions. Though some members of the committeethoughtnotenough has been done in that regard, her view is that "we have had a lot of efforts" in that direction. It is unlikely the church will ever create a theological understanding that will be satisfactory to everybody, she added.

Seeking a consensus

The committee had agreed to seek a consensus vote on resolutions it reports out to convention. It was able to achieve the consensus on everything but the compromise resolution's final resolve, which directs the SCLM to prepare rites that support relationships characterized by mutuality and fidelity "other than marriage." Bishops John Howe (Central Florida) and John Lipscomb (Southwest Florida) said they couldn't back a statement that supported the creation of rites for same-sex unions.

Howe said, "I personally couldn't support the creation of rites" for relationships outside of marriage, particularly because the church has not developed standards for such blessings.

Despite the committee's painstaking efforts at combining and reworking the language of the working paper and the Wolf resolution, Howe found the parts did not create a harmonious whole. "We are trying to conflate two resolutions that are basically incompatible with each other," he argued.

Lipscomb concurred, noting the absence of a theological rationale for recognizing and blessing committed relationships outside of marriage,aconcernBishop Edwin Gulick (Kentucky) also shared. The possibility of a consensus statement, however, had a powerful hold on other committeemembers. "If we are able to come up with a statement of consensus," said the Very Rev. Michael Barlowe (Iowa) "it seems to me that is a marvelous gift we can give the church." Snow thought the standards upheld elsewhere in the resolution balanced the issues raised by Howe and Lipscomb.

A separated vote

With committee members insisting that a statement of consensus was necessary, Williams approved having a separate vote on the last resolve. Bishops and deputies on the committee unanimously endorsed all but the last resolve, and on the final resolve voted 5-1 among the deputies and 3-3 among the bishops to adopt it. With the bishops ending in a tie, the majority on the deputies' side decided the issue. Voting against the final resolve were the Rev. Barnum McCarty (Florida), and Bishops Howe, Lipscomb and Gulick. At Williams' suggestion, the committee's bishops voted unanimously to request that the House of Bishops recess when the resolution comes up on the floor of the House of Deputies so that the bishops can be present during the deputies' debate.

Homosexual unions not specifically addressed

Nowhere in the resolution or the working paper does the committee include specific reference to homosexuality or to gays and lesbians. At the press conference July 10, Snow said the committee was trying to address the issue of other committed relationships in addition to those of same-sex couples. The choice of the Book of Occasional Services for such rites was to avoid any competition with the sacrament of marriage, she said, which is a rite in the Book of Common Prayer.

Asked about a threatened walkout by Bishop John-David Schofield (San Joaquin) and 25 other bishops (as reported in the June issue of Episcopal Life) if the convention passes a resolution accepting homosexuality, Williams said he expected the rest of the house would try to stay in discussion with them. Admitting that he hadn't heard about the threat, Williams said the House of Bishops did not have a contingency plan for dealing with bishops who break communion with other bishops of the church.

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