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Vol I No. 1
Theology & Liturgy

Two Responses to the TEC Marriage Task Force proposals

by William J. Martin

The Revd. Canon Jordan Hylden of the Diocese of Dallas and a member of the Marriage Task Force has written his own powerful response to the latest proposals and this is set out below.

The Task Force records that it had sought input from all thirty nine Provinces of the Anglican Communion over a period of five weeks and evidently was able to obtain seven of which it recorded only one as positive (from the Episcopal Church of Scotland, though it was stressed that in regard to that church’s own provision for same-sex marriage this had been made without a new definition being made explicit in the Code of Canons [which is to say without making any change in its actual doctrine] and notes that: “In this respect, the SEC has rejected the approach of TEC.” ).

The longest response was from Mr William Nye, The Secretary General to the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England who wrote at some length and said  that  “the pressure to dissociate the Church of England from TEC [the Episcopal Church], in all manner of ways, would increase” and adding that the proposals could be “potentially damaging” to work in the Church of England to create a new teaching document on sexuality

He concludes that : “It is a source of great regret — shared by many in the Church of England, including many who are deeply sympathetic to LGBTI+ people — that this step has been taken by TEC without a much wider consensus across the Communion and among our ecumenical partners.

“Whatever the formal consequences which may follow for TEC in relation to the Communion, the introduction of these new liturgies cannot but hinder, in numerous small ways, the good relationships and close cooperation between our two Provinces for which we in the Church of England pray daily. We will watch with considerable interest and some concern to see how the new rites are introduced into the pastoral life of TEC.”

(The full text of his response can be read here:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/y2otwm44m466az4/NyetoTEC.pdf?dl=0

and all the responses at

https://extranet.generalconvention.org/staff/files/download/21045

MINORITY REPORT

(to that of the Task Force on Marriage)

A More Excellent Way?

A Minority Report

BY JORDAN HYLDEN

I am grateful to our church’s presiding officers for appointing me as a member of this triennium’s marriage task force. In our enabling resolution (2015-A037), the General Convention called for appointments that reflect the “theological diversity in the Church.” That was judged to include me, as the one appointed (as I take it) to represent those in our church who find the 1979 BCP to be a faithful rendering of the witness of Scripture and the catholic Church on marriage as “a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman” (BCP, 422). I was glad to serve, but felt a need to write this minority report as I cannot affirm what my Task Force colleagues propose, in particular passing on first reading the addition of gender-neutral marriage liturgies to the Prayer Book along with revisions consistent with this to the BCP Catechism. In what follows, I will explain my concerns.

They fall into three chief areas: the nature of the deliberative process we as a church have undertaken; the proposed rites themselves as set within a wider discussion of Prayer Book revision; and the effects that Prayer Book revision at this time may have on our efforts to live into “communion across difference” as one church that includes all Episcopalians, walking together with our Anglican Communion sisters and brothers.

DELIBERATIVE PROCESS CONCERNS

First, I would like to suggest that it was not adequate to General Convention’s intent to appoint only one (white, married, heterosexual) person on this Task Force to represent the traditional view. Two to four out of our fifteen would have been better. While my colleagues were gracious, they recognized that my position on the committee was a difficult one. It would have been helpful, I suggest, also to include Episcopalians such as Dr. Wesley Hill, a celibate gay man who has written extensively on marriage and sexuality; and Bishop Lloyd Allen of Honduras, a respected leader in Province IX who holds the traditional view of marriage.

While I was glad to be included, I felt inadequate as a white person to speak for the non-white members of our church who hold a traditional view of marriage. We saw in 2015 that most of our Latin American sisters and brothers in Province IX did not vote in favor of authorizing new rites for same- sex marriage. While one of our number was from Venezuela, he supported the progressive view of marriage; moreover, the political situation in his country prevented him from participating in many of our sessions. I am grateful that the Province IX bishops responded to our invitation to submit a reflection. Their statement makes clear their traditional view of marriage, grounded in Holy Scripture, and urges our church to avoid revising it in our Prayer Book. “If the Church approves these changes,” they write, “they are greatly deepening the breach, the division, and the Ninth Province will have to

learn how to walk alone.” These are clearly significant words, and I am troubled by a deliberative process that does not take the time to listen well to the concerns of this community. In recent decades, we in TEC have emphasized our character as a multi-national, diverse church, but I fear that we have not acted this way in our deliberative process, in which native-English-speaking Anglo- Americans seem to do most of the talking and not always enough listening.

I must mention also indigenous and non-white U.S. communities who tend in a more traditional direction. Our survey of congregations included one largely Afro-Caribbean parish, which finds itself a conservative outlier in its largely white and progressive diocese. They reported that they would likely face significant departures and fractures if the BCP marriage service is revised. I imagine there are other similar voices in our church, but I fear that they have not been consulted. We should be wary, I think, of reproducing mistakes from our past. In 2000 (Resolution B034), General Convention apologized for the way in which it effected the transition to the 1979 prayer book, noting that many indigenous peoples experienced this as an occasion of harsh cultural superiority.

As a matter of principle, I submit that whenever our church undertakes revision in a substantial doctrinal matter, we ought to build meaningful conversation into our deliberative process with those who hold the received position, as well as with those who hold it should be revised. This conversation must I think take particular care to listen to the voices of non-white persons and all the nations of TEC. This I think is true not only for marriage, but also for other issues of substance, such as the evergreen question of whether our canons should permit the communion of the unbaptized. Although our enabling resolution (2015: A037) called for this Task Force to “represent the cultural and theological diversity in the Church,” I do not think this intention was realized.

When we dodecide to revise our teaching, a genuinely inclusive conversation may allow us to find space for all members and communities of our church. As far as I can tell, all of our Anglican Communion and full-communion ecumenical partners who have moved ahead on some such doctrinal issue in recent years (such as the ELCA, the Church of England, and the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia) have built this kind of conversation into their deliberative process, and the result has been a way forward that allowed most (if not all) to move forward together in good conscience as one church. I submit that if we move forward, we need a more truly inclusive conversation about how we are to live together in “good disagreement” with “communion across difference” as a diverse, multi-national church.

PRAYER BOOK REVISION CONCERNS: PROCESS AND SUBSTANCE

My second chief difficulty concerns the notion of what some call “piecemeal” or “surgical” Prayer Book revision, as set within the larger discussion on revision carried forward by the SCLM.

First, there is the question of whether the Trial Use rites have been sufficiently received in the Church, so as to recommend inclusion in our Prayer Book. I have spoken to several colleagues in TEC who are in favor of revising our practice of marriage, but who are nonetheless not sure that the current Trial Use rites are seasoned enough to merit inclusion in the BCP at this time.

Traditionally, of course, proposals for prayer book revision come from the SCLM, rather than from a special task force. There are good reasons for this. The SCLM as a standing committee is charged with seeing the ‘big picture’ of stewarding our church’s authorized worship, rather than any particular portion thereof. It is unwise, it seems to me, for special task forces to propose their own changes to the Prayer Book. Might we have another task force propose that we add a sentence in the Baptismal Covenant about stewardship of creation? Perhaps we should make this change and many others; but it does not seem wise to publish new Prayer Books every few years to keep up with new “surgical” changes that “we absolutely must make”—or so I can already hear it being said.

Speaking for myself, I think that the Cranmerian “Dearly beloved” exhortation in our Prayer Book represents a catholic and ecumenical theology responsive to the whole witness of canonical Scripture, displaying the resonance between creation and covenant in the sacrament of marriage. This I see in the Prayer Book’s dramatic presentation of male and female made in God’s image coming together as one flesh, joined as man and wife, charged to be fruitful and multiply and thereby participate in God’s creative act by passing along God’s gift of life to the next generation (Genesis 1-2); and all of this as mysteriously signifying to us the fruitful union between Christ and his Church (Eph. 5), the countless children of whom number as many as the stars in Abraham’s sky.

From this perspective, I see problems with “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 2,” proposed for inclusion in the BCP:

  • The reference to marriage as a bond “established by God in creation” in the “Dearly beloved” exhortation is cut, thus removing the resonance between creation and covenant.
  • “Procreation of children” is replaced with “the gift of children.” As the Church of England’s lengthy response to our proposals points out, this arguably is a significant change of the doctrine of marriage.
  • The prayer at the Ministry of the Word replaces “you have created us male and female in your image” with “you have created humankind in your image.” This is a distancing from biblical language.
  • The recommended Scripture readings are changed; though other readings remain permissible. Gen. 2:4-9, 15-24 is gone (referencing created sexual complementarity: bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; the man shall cleave to his wife and they shall become one flesh); Eph. 5:21- 33 is gone, leaving only Eph. 5:1-2 (the cut portion includes submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, and the citation of Gen. 2:24 [becoming one flesh] as a profound mystery that signifies Christ and the church). Mark 10:6-9, 13-16 is also omitted, which is where Jesus cites Genesis 1:27 (“he made them male and female”) and 2:24 (“one flesh”), saying that what God has joined together let no man separate. Omitting these suggested readings would seem to be an admission that the new rite is in significant tension with the plain sense of those biblical passages.

It would seem that these changes sit uncomfortably with the historic words of Article 20 on the authority of the church: “It is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s

Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.” In other words: it would seem like authorizing this rite is precisely what Article 20 said that the church does not have authority to do.

To authorize a marriage service as the doctrine and common prayer of our church that would appear to sit in significant tension with Holy Scripture and our Lord is a matter not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly. As the Church of England notes in their official response to the Task Force’s proposals, this would represent “a very big step to have taken unilaterally” that constitutes “a clear divergence from the understanding of marriage held throughout the history of the Christian church itself and by the great majority of Anglicans, and other Christians, today.” If some will conclude that revising our marriage practice is not disobedient to our Lord—and I trust that progressive Christians do not intend to disobey our Lord—then surely they might recognize that there will be other Christians whose consciences are bound in obedience to our Lord as they understand him, not to mention the discernment of the wider Anglican Communion and catholic Church of which we claim to be a part.

As one who conscientiously holds this view under the authority of Scripture, I feel duty-bound to make this case. However, I understand most of my sisters and brothers in TEC are not persuaded by it, and hold their views conscientiously as well, under Scripture as they read it. I also understand that many lesbian and gay persons bear witness that they experience God’s blessing on their lifelong, committed unions, and that the traditional view of marriage has been used by too many Christians to justify unjustifiable discrimination and abuse of same-sex attracted persons. It is my sincere hope that we can find a way to flourish together as faithful members of one church, united against homophobic prejudice, in which we all have a place as beloved children of God.

CONCERNS REGARDING DOCTRINE, “COMMUNION ACROSS DIFFERENCE,” AND ANGLICAN RELATIONS

My final area of concern is to do with the effects Prayer Book revision may have on our own efforts to live into “communion across difference” as Episcopalians (as the 2015 House of Bishops statement expressed it), “walking together” with our Anglican sisters and brothers around the Communion, as our Presiding Bishop committed to at the 2016 Primates’ Meeting.

It is often said that our church puts great stock in the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi: the law of prayer is the law of belief. In The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer, Bishop Pierre Whalon writes: “To include a rite, or a text, in a Book of Common Prayer or its functional equivalent is to make de facto a doctrinal statement.” Ordinands in our church vow to conform to the “doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church,” and doctrine is defined in our canons as:

“the basic and essential teachings of the Church… to be found in the Canon of Holy Scripture as understood in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds and in the sacramental rites, the Ordinal and Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer” (IV.2).

What the Task Force is proposing then is not just an addition of liturgical options. Rather, the Task Force proposes to change the doctrine of The Episcopal Church.

Other Anglican provinces and full-communion ecumenical partners, as the responses received by this Task Force make clear, have managed to avoid such an all-or-nothing option. The Scottish Episcopal Church, as they tell us, includes its 1929 Prayer Book as only one among several texts authorized by canon that together “set the baseline of doctrine.” We could take such a route, making our 1979 book our historic text alongside of which other authorized texts have their place (as indeed we already do, to some extent, with 1928 and EOW texts, but without sound constitutional and canonical basis). Such a route would arguably take the air out of the zero-sum game of prayer book revision that has in the past proven divisive, allow breathing room for experimentation, and address the concern that anything not in the BCP is of “second-class” status. Many and perhaps most Anglican provinces have already taken this route, including those of England, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Finally, I see no reason why General Convention mightn’t seek out creative solutions that are responsive both to LGBTQ+ inclusion as this church has discerned it andto our resolve to “walk together” as closely as possible with our fellow Anglicans around the world.

Bishop Whalon, in the Oxford Guide, goes on to note that “in light of rapid changes in the Communion … the work of establishing basic theological principles that apply throughout the Anglican world can no longer be evaded.” “Perhaps the way forward,” he suggests, following the lead of Lambeth 1988, “would be a commission … widely representative of the whole Communion,” which could “issue guidelines for creating and revising Prayer Books,” to which “all the provinces could agree to submit their proposed revisions for judgment.” Such a proposal is I think sound. We have received what we call The Book of Common Prayer, rather than created it anew; and we claim in our Catechism to be not just a national denomination but part of the one Church of the creeds: one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

As the Church of England reminds us in their response, “changing doctrine is, we believe, a matter that must be undertaken in a highly consultative and ecumenical manner across the major Christian churches of the world as well as among Anglicans globally.” They note also that our actions in this arena are likely to have consequences for our relationship with the historic see of Canterbury, full communion with which our Constitution understands as constitutive of our Anglican identity. The Anglican Church of Australia adds in their response that “there is little question that changing the doctrine of marriage is a matter of grave consequence, indeed a church dividing matter.” For this reason, they suggest that this issue is “wrongly handled at a doctrinal level if it involves a redefinition of the doctrine of marriage but rightly handled with pastoral and liturgical resources.” I suggest that there may be ways to be responsive to these concerns from most global Anglicans, while also being responsive to the discernment of most Episcopalians at the last General Convention that LGBTQ+ inclusion demanded changes in the liturgical options available in this church.

The experience of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) may prove a helpful guide, as their response sketches out. In their 2009 teaching document “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” the ELCA carefully made space for those whose “bound consciences” lead them to affirm same-sex marriage and for those who cannot do so.

The ELCA’s more congregation-centered polity would need some translating into our own episcopal polity and catholic ecclesiology, to be sure. Yet it seems clear to me that something along these lines might preserve a space for everyone in our church, taking the air out of the constant all-or-nothing battles that have proven so divisive, and allow us to re-focus our energies on evangelism and mission, as both our Presiding Bishop and the Archbishop of Canterbury invite us to do. As the Church of England urges us to consider, “the quality of provision made for those who dissent from the majority view can mean the difference between bitter splits and continuing to walk together as one church which is large enough to honor difference.”

CONCLUSION

To conclude, I note that there are a number of items in the academic essays with which I cannot concur. While our conversations were collegial, the larger Task Force did not judge that some of my concerns and suggestions should be incorporated into the final text. While I regret this, it is likely not possible to formulate a consensus text if one member is of widely divergent views. I also note that I do not concur with the Task Force’s proposed resolutions on developing resources for non-marital sexual relationships, and authorizing rites to bless non-marital lifelong relationships.

We have, so it seems to me, a way forward at hand that would allow every Episcopalian in the pews to go on worshiping and praying together, even with our painful divisions and distinctions, until such time as our Lord chastens us all. It would be easier, more tidy, to impose a uniform code upon all dissenters. And it might be easier to finish the secession once and for all, so that we all can live in a church in which everyone agrees with us.

But the Gospel of John testifies that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Being a church full of both grace and truth is a difficult and rare thing. If we are to remain Christ’s Church, there is no easy way forward—but there may be a “more excellent” way, full of both grace and truth. So I hope.

The Rev. Canon Jordan Hylden is canon theologian of the Diocese of Dallas. Portions of the third section and conclusion of this essay previously appeared in The Living Church, co-authored with The Rev. Keith Voets of the Diocese of Long Island.