BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (RNS) Episcopal Bishop Kee Sloan of Alabama voted in favor of his church's new ritual for blessing same-sex unions — but he won't allow priests in his diocese to perform it.
“For the time being, I will not give permission,” Sloan said.
The blessing of same-gender unions is still too divisive an issue for Alabama, he said.
“It’s not good at this time in this place,” Sloan said. “I’m trying to avoid any further division.”
Episcopalians overwhelmingly approved the new rite for same-sex couples July 10 at the denomination's General Convention. Bishops do not have to allow them, however, and about 10 active bishops have said they will not. The denomination has 110 dioceses in all.
The Rev. Frank Limehouse, dean of the 3,400-member Cathedral Church of the Advent, Birmingham’s largest Episcopal church, said his church will not “bless any sexual activity outside of a marriage between one man and one woman.”
“The Bible is clear about this,” Limehouse wrote on his church's website. “If anyone who declares the Bible teaches otherwise, then I wouldn’t doubt his or her sincerity, but I would have to question their training in biblical interpretation.”
Advocates for same-sex blessings were puzzled that Sloan supported the rites, but won’t allow them in his diocese.
“All of us striving for full inclusion are disappointed that he’s not allowing Alabama to move forward with the national church,” said Brad LaMonte, former Southeast regional vice president of Integrity, which promotes gay rights in the Episcopal Church.
“He worked on the committee that developed the rite,” LaMonte said. “It’s bizarre that he’s not allowing it in Alabama.”
Sloan said he serves both the national church and a local diocese.
“When you are ordained a bishop, you are ordained for the whole church,” Sloan said. “I serve the church in Alabama. I am interested in what is good for the whole church, so I voted for the resolution.”
While Alabama is not ready to practice same-sex blessings, he wants further conversation and study of the issue, Sloan said.
“Theology is an ongoing revelation,” he said. “It’s influenced by context. There are parts of the country that are more conservative and traditional, and there are parts of the country that are more liberal. In Alabama, it would be divisive within the Episcopal Church. We are deeply conflicted about this. I’d like for us to work through and pray about it.”
He said that states where same-sex civil unions are legal may be more ready than Alabama to proceed with blessing such couples.
“What we’ve done is continue a conversation,” Sloan said. “It will continue to go for a long time.”
Sloan said same-sex blessings may eventually be allowed in Alabama.
“I don’t have a timetable in mind,” he said. “I foresee that that’s a possibility.”
(Greg Garrison writes for The Birmingham News in Birmingham, Ala.)