In her sermon on Sunday (July 8), our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori urged us to have the courage to step over the "fence between fear and possibility" -- and yesterday we stepped over that fence with the overwhelming majority of deputies voting to concur with the previous action of the House of Bishops in authorizing liturgies for the blessing of same-sex relationships. We will leave this 77th General Convention the first church so to do in our communion or our country -- and I'm not sure I've ever been prouder to be an Episcopalian.
Not just because of the outcome of the vote -- which, of course, I applaud -- but because of the tone and timbre of the debate and of the care and concern to listen to and genuinely hear voices of difference and to craft legislation that clearly moves the church forward on the fuller inclusion of its LGBT baptized while explicitly reminding it that Anglican comprehensiveness commands respect for and inclusion of minority theological perspectives.
One deputy speaking against the resolution urged caution in "moving too fast" -- lest the church end up like a barge in her hometown Tampa Bay trying to turn on a dime and end up tipping over. In point of fact, we have been at this for a VERY LONG TIME. The Episcopal Church promised full and equal claim to its LGBT baptized in 1976. In 2002, Claiming the Blessing was formed to call the question on that promise and work to move the church forward on liturgies for the blessing of same-sex relationships. A decade later that mission was accomplished with yesterday's historic vote -- and no, we are not done yet.
And let me be very clear: this is not a question of asking for one thing and meaning another. The authorization of the liturgies for blessing was a huge and historic step forward for this church of my birth, baptism, confirmation and ordination -- but it was also exactly that: A Step.
As my friend, colleague and mentor Michael Hopkins famously said back in 2002 when the Claiming the Blessing initiative began in answer to the question "Isn't marriage and same-sex blessing the same thing?"
That they are similar is obvious. Each grounds a relationship that includes sexual expression in public covenant which gives them "a reality not dependent on the contingent thoughts and feelings of the people involved" and "a certain freedom to 'take time' to mature and become as profoundly nurturing as they can" (Rowan Williams, "The Body's Grace," in Our Selves, Our Souls and Bodies, Charles Hefling, ed).
The question remains as to whether "marriage" is appropriately defined as the covenant relationship between a man and a woman only, as is the church's long tradition. The church must continue to wrestle with this issue. To wait until it is solved, however, in order to celebrate the blessing of a faithful same-sex relationship is pastorally irresponsible and theologically unnecessary.
What was true in 2002 is true in 2012. The church is on a journey. It is, I suggest, evolving on the issue of marriage equality. In fact, A050 -- the companion resolution to A049 adopted yesterday authorizing liturgies for blessing -- calls for a task force to study the history and theology of marriage and to make recommendations to the 78th General Convention. I look forward to the work of that task force for I am quite convinced that the same Holy Spirit who has been moving us forward in faith on the full inclusion of LGBT people in the work and witness of the Episcopal Church will be in their work.
I look forward to the next three years of experiencing these rites of blessing in our congregations and engaging in the study of the theology of marriage the convention also called us to undertake. I look forward to the Episcopal Church continuing to evolve on the issue of marriage equality. And, having taken the historic steps we took yesterday over the fence between fear and possibility, I look forward to joining our UCC brothers and sisters in being a headlight and not a taillight on full marriage equality.