On Wednesday, the House of Bishops at the 76th General Convention approved Resolution C056, entitled “Liturgy for Blessings.” The version passed by the Bishops and now forwarded to the Deputies is a thoughtful and temperate document. It reflects that within our Church we are in a period of prayer and discernment that mirrors similar reflection we see going on in our national life.
Presently, fourteen states plus the District of Columbia recognize either same-sex marriage or some form of legal civil unions or partnerships between people of the same sex. At the same time, thirty states ban same-sex marriage through constitutional amendment, and nineteen states disallow any kind of legal recognition for same-sex couples.
All that is to say, our society and culture are grappling with how best to respond to the growing consensus that one’s human sexuality is an orientation largely influenced by biological factors and not primarily a social choice. Our reality is a world in which very many gay and lesbian persons are attempting to conform their relationships to an ethic of monogamy, fidelity, and love. Given this reality, Resolution C056 seeks to offer “a renewed pastoral response” so that the Church is not left out of society’s conversation about same-sex unions.
There are surely those who would prefer the Church remain on the sidelines, and in all honesty some days I’ve felt that way myself. And yet, our Lord calls us into the world with a Word of Good News. We are not given the option of sideline-sitting. Neither are issues surrounding same-sex unions clear-cut theologically. They beg the questions, “What is marriage?” and “Are there appropriate faithful covenant relationships outside of marriage that can be entered into by same-sex partners seeking to conform their lives to God?” These questions must be addressed by the careful study of Holy Scripture and thoughtful theological reflection using our God-given reason and an examination of God’s creation.
Resolution C056 seeks to provide space for such study. The version passed by the Bishops and forwarded to the Deputies calls for an “open process for the consideration of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships.” This process will invite participation by any group within the Church (including input from across the Anglican Communion) that is ready to do the serious theological work necessary to inform our understanding.
C056 also allows bishops in those dioceses in which the civil authorities have legalized same-sex unions to respond pastorally to couples who have committed their lives to one another in this way. I imagine that such responses would most often include prayers that both partners will honor their relationship with love, fidelity and mutual respect.
Any theological or liturgical resources developed through the Church’s process of discernment will be brought back before the next General Convention. Because the media will likely mischaracterize C056, it is worth saying clearly that the resolution does not authorize the creation of any liturgies for use. Rather it offers us an opportunity to think, listen, and pray about how we as the Body of Christ can respond faithfully in today’s world.