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Episcopal couples, advocates hope the church removes gay marriage restrictions

The Rev. Cynthia Black, left, and the Rev. Bonnie Perry, right, hug after Episcopalians overwhelmingly voted July 1, 2015, to allow religious weddings for same-sex couples. The vote came in Salt Lake City at the Episcopal General Convention, just days after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (USA Today) — Indie Pereira and her wife, Pari Bhatt, still want a church wedding.

The Nashville couple regularly attends St. Philip’s Episcopal Church but opted for a civil ceremony in the living room of the city’s former mayor because their bishop will not permit same-sex couples to have the religious ceremonies in the church.

Pereira and Bhatt live and worship within the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee, one of only eight dioceses in the country where such a ban exists. Their struggle is illustrative of how views on marriage continue to threaten the unity of the denomination.

The other dioceses that ban same-sex marriage ceremonies in the church are Albany, N.Y.; Central Florida; Dallas; Florida; North Dakota; Springfield, Ill.; and the Virgin Islands, according to a report from the church’s Task Force on the Study of Marriage.

“It amazes me that I could literally go to any other diocese that touches us and get married,” said Pereira.

But that could change soon.

Same-sex marriage rules could change

Episcopalians will consider altering rules related to weddings for same-sex couples when they gather this month in Texas for the denomination’s triennial meeting. The legislative session of their General Convention begins Thursday (July 5) and runs through July 13 at the Austin Convention Center.


RELATED: Episcopal Church needs to look for #MeToo in the details


Two resolutions before this year’s General Convention could make weddings like the one Pereira and Bhatt want a reality.

One resolution, authored by the denomination’s Task Force on the Study of Marriage, would require that bishops make the religious marriage ceremonies available to all couples. And it proposes changes to the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer, including stripping out gender-specific language as it relates to marriage.

Three bishops put forward the second resolution. This one would give couples access to the religious wedding, too. But it would require bishops who object to have another willing bishop step in and authorize it. This resolution would not try to change the prayer book.

“My hope is that what they are able to do at the General Convention is to open this up to those of us who have been left out without making anyone feel like they have to participate in something that they’re not ready for,” Pereira said recently as she sat next to her wife in their home.

The current patchwork of rules started in 2015 when the General Convention opened the door for same-sex weddings by approving trial-use liturgies for marriage. But the rules left it up to each bishop to decide whether the liturgies could be used within their geographic regions.

Tennessee bishop stands firmly behind his decision

Ninety-three bishops authorized same-sex weddings, according to the report by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. All but 20 of those bishops did so without conditions.

Bishop John Bauerschmidt, who oversees the Middle Tennessee region of the church, stands firmly by his decision not to authorize their use, nor allow clergy within his diocese to officiate the religious ceremonies or permit the weddings on church property.

In doing so, the bishop said, he is being faithful to his job of guarding the discipline, faith and unity of the church.

“The teaching that Christian marriage is between a man and a woman is reasonable, traditional, and scriptural,” Bauerschmidt said in an email. “There really is nothing remarkable about a Christian bishop who holds to this teaching.”

While bishops can place limitations on the use of the marriage liturgies, they must refer couples to a willing diocese if they do not authorize them. Bauerschmidt chose the Diocese of Kentucky.

Pereira and Bhatt became engaged June 26, 2015, the day the U.S. Supreme Court declared that same-sex couples could legally marry across the country. The landmark decision came just days before the General Convention approved the trial-use liturgies for marriage, and Bauerschmidt issued his decision that November.

The couple did not want to marry in Kentucky.

Bhatt is originally from India, and the need for the legal protections civil marriage offers forced the issue. Megan Barry, who was Nashville mayor at the time, married the couple on Jan. 3, 2016, in her living room.

“It clouded the day because it felt like we had to do it at a place that we didn’t want to do it,” Pereira said. “We needed those protections while we were waiting for the church to come around.”

While some members of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee disagree with Bauerschmidt’s prohibition, some church members support it.

Langley Granbery, who is a member of an Episcopal Church in Nashville, agrees with Bauerschmidt because he believes the bishop’s viewpoint matches what Scripture says as well as the church’s historic position on marriage.

“I’m very thankful that he’s taken the stance on upholding traditional marriage,” said Granbery.

He worries the denomination could eventually shift far astray of its past position on marriage. This year, he hopes the General Convention will not overrule bishops  such as Bauerschmidt nor change what the book of prayer says about marriage.

Granbery is concerned that eventually there may no longer be space in the Episcopal Church for conservative positions like his.

The future is unknown

Bauerschmidt has tried to emphasize unity in the face of the division within the diocese, but the ban has strained relationships for those on both sides of the issue.

In January, church members voted nearly unanimously during their diocesan meeting to send an official message to the General Convention, asking the bishops and deputies to “take in account the exclusion, competing convictions, and loss of community experienced by members of this diocese” because of the 2015 policy change.

That step was driven in part by the work of All Sacraments for All People, a local grass-roots group formed in response to the bishop’s ban. The organization wants all Episcopalians to be able to belong to a congregation that allows them to receive all the sacraments, including marriage.

Connally Davies Penley, who is a part of the group, does not know what to expect from the General Convention, but is hopeful.

Davies Penley wants the resolution that does not require a bishop’s permission passed.

The group has been in touch with church members in some of the other seven dioceses where the use of the marriage liturgies is banned.

Members in the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas put together a similar campaign. The national group, Integrity USA, also continues to push for LGBTQ inclusion in the church and hopes the General Convention will make it so couples can marry in the church regardless of where they live in the U.S., said Bruce Garner, president of Integrity.

The Rev. Susan Russell, of California, who served on the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, said the bishops’ resolution is well-intentioned but would enshrine a separate and inherently unequal status for LGBTQ church members.

“We can do better,” Russell said in an email.

Resolutions can change as they make their way through the General Convention process. So it remains to be seen what will happen in Texas.

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Holly Meyer

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  • Churches have altered their doctrines before, of course. Many times. The problem is that the hardliners always deny it and claim that each new change is “falling away from the true path.” It’s an empty argument.

  • I think that much of his comes down to how one views theology. Did our knowledge and understanding of God ossify in the Middle Ages and may not be changed, or does our knowledge and understanding of God grow as our understanding of ourselves and the world around us grows?

    It’s true that a male and female are necessary for human procreation, but is procreation the only basis for intimate human relationships? If so, heterosexual couples past child-bearing age ought not to be permitted to engage in sexual intimacy; neither should those who have fertility issues. Perhaps we should station a police officer in every bedroom (or back car seat — yes, I am being sarcastic here) to ensure that anyone who engages in sex without the aim of procreation be labeled a sinner and dealt with accordingly.,

  • The Episcopal Church’s polity (or way of doing things) is messy, but honest – and time-consuming. They first began grappling with LGTB issues in the early nineties, right after they ordained their first female bishop, which came a decade after they ordained their first woman priest. So now, almost thirty years hence, the conversation is still going on, just as loud and rancorous as always. But at least they’re slogging it out and making changes, however slowly.

    Compare and contrast that with the Bishop of Rome, who only recently approved the official use in Vatican print of the letters “LGTB.” I’m sure hoards of conservative Catholics are fuming that the Pope is no longer instructing gay people that instead of calling ourselves “gay” we’re supposed to be “struggling with same-sex attraction.” How many straight people “struggle” with their opposite-sex attraction? Not many, I should think.

    So it’s all a matter of degree, I suppose. In Rome, they’re finally clawing their way out of the fifties as millennials have moved on, palling around with their gay friends, having fun, living it up in the world – far away from church.

  • I’ve long maintained that if the Catholic Church truly believed that sex was for procreation only they’d absolutely require fertility tests from every couple before the marital process even begins, just as they require other tests. But of course that never happens. When I once asked an old Catholic priest why the church allowed old people well beyond their child-bearing years to be married in church do you know what he said? “In order to allow for a miracle.” Seriously.

  • “Bishop John Bauerschmidt, who oversees the Middle Tennessee region of the church, stands firmly by his decision not to authorize their use, nor allow clergy within his diocese to officiate the religious ceremonies or permit the weddings on church property.”

    A shame this group allows one old man to decide what they can or cannot do.

    I am a secular humanist now…but when I was a Baptist, I always preferred the SBC model..i.e. every church was autonomous.

    The mainline Protestant hierachry is silly

  • “Granbery is concerned that eventually there may no longer be space in the Episcopal Church for conservative positions like his.”

    Alas, alas, for Mr. Granbery. He alreadly knows that an extreme horror is racing down the train track that he’s traveled for many years. He knows exactly what will happen to Bible-believers like himself. He looks out the window, waiting.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9_g1NuoT6s

  • Besides being utterly stupid, that idea is truly abusive to children. I am now fortunate enough to be a grandmother. Being around m grandchildren (who, by definition of being my grandchildren are marvelous :-)), simply reinforces the fact thta old people ought not be rearing children, unless they absolutely have to.

  • “This institution (male-female heterosexual marriage) has always been intended primarily … to serve the needs of children. It provides an ideal scenario for parents and children.

    Not every individual or individual couple lives up to the ideal, of course, but the ideal remains effective nonetheless — except, of course, in societies that are breaking up.”

    — Paul Nathanson and Katherine Young, “Answering Advocates of Gay Marriage”
    https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/controversy/common-misconceptions/answering-advocates-of-gay-marriage.html#05

  • There are three schools of thought on this. The first one says that God revealed his word however many centuries ago that he revealed it, the gods word never changes, and that we should just obey. The second school of thought is that God continuously reveals his word to the world, and that it wasn’t delivered once and for all time however many centuries ago in the past that the delivery was made. The third school of thought says that the only people who know what God‘s word is always know that God‘s word seems to match up with their own desires.

    That covers the first two schools of thought perfectly.

  • I think that, in many ways, the Catholic Church is clawing its way out of the Middle Ages. I find it exasperating that it was OK for philosophers and scientists to view theology through the prism of current scientific knowledge in the Middle Ages, but after that, it became blasphemous. The Catholic Church, before the Reformation, had been in the forefront of scientific research. Then, it decided that knowledge could no loner progress. It all makes no sense to me.

  • Straight Catholics generally struggle with opposite-sex attraction when they are tempted to engage in sexual conduct outside of marriage.

    Same-sex attracted Catholics struggle with same-sex attraction.

    Everyone struggles with something.

  • There is no teaching of the Catholic Church which states that viewing theology through the prism of current scientific knowledge is blasphemous.

    Now, teaching heresy is another matter.

    The Catholic Church has continued to encourage and support scientific research.

    For example Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître, a Catholic priest and a member of the Royal Astronomical Society proposed that the universe is expanding, confirmed by Edwin Hubble, and was the first to derive what is now known as Hubble’s law and made the first estimation of what is now called the Hubble constant, which he published in 1927,

  • The Catholic Church does not teach that procreation is the only reason for sexual contact.

    That is why it does not teach that heterosexual couples past child-bearing age ought not to be permitted to engage in sexual intimacy, nor forbid those with fertility
    issues.

    You appear to be relying on paraphrases of Humanae Vitae by the usual critics who don’t understand it and don’t want to. Perhaps you graduated from Notre Dame while Richard Peter McBrien was still mucking up the Theology Department?

  • If the Catholic Church believed sex was for procreation only, it would teach it.

    It does neither.

    Seriously.

  • One church member “believes the bishop’s viewpoint matches what Scripture says as well as the church’s historic position on marriage.”

    Substitute the word “slavery” and we have the experience of the Church of Rome.

    The wheels of progress move slowly, but at least they’re moving.

  • I suspect our fellow blogger is using “blasphemous” in a hyperbolic sense to stress Rome’s refusal to reconsider the disparaging language about homosexuality from JPII’s catechism prepared under the direction of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a.k.a. “Emeritus Pope B16”. The Vatican seems to move at a snail’s pace — if it moves at all! Sad.

  • “If the Catholic Church believed sex was for procreation only, it would teach it.”

    It effectively still does in the minds of more “traditionalist” prelates and clerics, even though, if I remember, Vatican II put companionship and procreation on equal footing.

  • “The world is coming to an end, the world is coming to an end, the world is coming to an end, the world is coming to an end……..”

    FEAR-mongering.

  • Begging the question, but:

    (1) What’s so bad, anyway, about “making anyone feel like they have to participate in something that they’re not ready for”?

    (2) Why “le[ave] it up to each bishop to decide whether … liturgies could be used within their geographic regions”? And why is it a good thing that “the General Convention will not overrule bishops”?

    (3) Why is “Christian marriage … between a man and a woman … reasonable, traditional, and scriptural”? And why be “very thankful that … the stance on upholding traditional marriage” is being “taken”? But why be “concerned that eventually there may no longer be space in the Episcopal Church for conservative positions”?

  • I hear you, fellow brother in the Christ Jesus.

    So what say ye if Granberry and you & I just give up on the Episcopal Church. That’s what I see, “look[ing] out the window”.

    Babylon mahn! Ya mahn.

  • Where, then, is your non-“empty argument” that “each new change” is on a “true[r] path”?

  • But bob, I’ve been told on these very pages that i can’t equate the sin of adultery, theft, murder, etc. to homosexuality.

  • Male-Female Gender Complementarity is what powers procreation. Why? Because men and women are not interchangeable. Both complementary genders are necessary for procreation.

    But what about childless or too-old married couples? Same thing, even without kids. M-F-G-C is required if it’s a marriage at all. Men & women are not interchangeable. Period.

    The two genders, male & female, carry unique strengths, virtues, emotional & spiritual aspects that complement each other. (Plus both the outside plumbing and inside plumbing.) This is real.

    The unique, God-given M-F-G-C, is exclusively what defines marriage itself; there’s no “one-flesh” union, no marriage at all without it. Both Genesis and Jesus affirm this. Ditch any church that disagrees.

  • That “the General Convention will not overrule bishops” is non-factual.

    It has done so in the past.

  • Sorry, that ain’t what I posted. I am neither Episcopalian nor Methodist. I’m just not into all these Slo-Mo Train-Wrecks.

  • The more important question is: What is God hoping the E Church does, and what does God hope we do.

    Does He hope we look at the “half-unity” that He wrote plainly and kindly on our body, and draw the obvious conclusion that we were made for unity with a complementary otther?

    We were made for unity. He wrote this on our body.

    Only the prideful and self-seeking could make this complicated and get it so wrong.

  • You mean like before? When on “June 21, 2006 – During its convention in Columbus, Ohio, the Episcopal Church approves a resolution calling on church leaders involved in picking bishops ‘to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate … whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion'”?

    Source: CNN, August 25, 2017, “Episcopal Church Fast Facts”.

  • The Biblical teaching on marriage is clear: a man and a woman. Other practices – before marriage, outside marriage, between same sex, human with animal – is forbidden. You can try to explain it away, throw it away because you imagine our modern age has insights and understandings that duller ancestors did not possess, but there it is: the model God intended or whatever the flavor of the month is, as determined by culture. If the church is not true to its inherited truth, then it is as salt that has lost its taste. The mainline churches that embrace same sex marriage have sold their birthright and are leaking cisterns with no message of worth or value to a dark and dying world.

  • I consider you a friend. I look up to one Ben in Oakland. I’m kindred with floydlee. Bob Arnzen & I are talking.

    But nobody has ever gone on Disqus-sion like you & me, though, for > 2 weeks. That was special.

    Peace, my brother.

  • Mark 10:6-9
    Jesus said,
    6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife,[a] 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

    Luke 5:32
    Jesus said,
    32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

  • As all church doctrine always is… you’re not getting the point here, are you?

  • And all your comments always are …. you’re not getting the point here, are you?

  • Of course, the obsession many Christians have with trying to “own” marriage is silly to begin with. The notion that any couple who fails to follow their rules and model for “proper” marriage somehow doesn’t count is false on the face of it–after all, millions and millions of non-Christian marriages exist today, and always have. But the idea that their church needs to control this process is just another failed power grab that positively consumes the worst examples of Christianity.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/2018/07/05/the-unequally-yoked-club-how-marriage-became-a-cult-in-toxic-christianity/

  • In the SBC, every church is autonomous…until it does something the other churches don’t like.

  • Christians seem focused on marriage in their own churches.

    In the Orthodox, Catholic, and some other churches marriage is considered a sacrament.

    None of this constitutes an “obsession”, nor do Christians generally concern themselves with secular marriages.

    This article deals solely with marriage in the Episcopal Church, so the relevance of your comments and your citation seem to approximate close to zero.

  • I would dare say most heterosexuals struggle with opposite sex attraction, whether married or not. Resisting the temptation is what God asks of us.

  • To be fair to floydlee, I meant he wasn’t “FEAR-mongering” but “Heartbroken. Is all.” So you and I and he are all “Heartbroken” by all these happening to Christians, churches and Christianity. I did click on his YouTube. He called me “intrepid” once upon a time; but, nah, he is the “intrepid” one!

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