By G. Jeffrey MacDonald, TLC Correspondent
As a 12-member task force begins studying whether Christian marriage will incorporate same-sex couples, observers say it’s not certain what the panel’s report will ultimately recommend. The panel’s appointment, announced Feb. 14, honors instructions from the same 2012 General Convention that sanctioned a new rite for blessing same-sex couples. Still, it’s unclear whether the panel will endorse gay marriage or perhaps just create more room in the tradition for those who regard gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender relationships as holy.
“The only bombshell would be if they backed off” the church’s growing support for same-sex relationships, said historian David Holmes, author of A Brief History of the Episcopal Church.
The panel consists of seven men and five women from dioceses in California, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Vermont.
When asked what the panel can accomplish and whether there’s a chance it might not endorse same-sex marriage, the Rt. Rev. W. Andrew Waldo, Bishop of Upper South Carolina, offered only a brief statement.
“Any time there are significant questions in our Church, it is critical that we engage in thoughtful, intentional dialogue,” Bishop Waldo said via email. “It is an important time in the life of the Church for us to address a host of biblical, theological, historical, pastoral liturgical and canonical questions on Christian marriage that face us.”
Bishop Waldo, who favors blessings for same-sex couples, has challenged efforts to revise the Church’s definition of marriage. Such a challenge is not common among other members of the task force.
Holmes observes that task forces’ recommendations can at times be divisive, as in the long process that culminated in a new prayer book in 1979. They can also help sway Episcopalians to accept new ideas, he added, especially if members are seen as more than activists.
“It won’t be surprising if they reach a new understanding of marriage,” Holmes said, adding that he would not predict such an outcome. “Those who would be surprised if they did have probably left the Episcopal Church.”
“The theology of marriage has evolved over time, with biblical examples including polygamy, concubinage, and other forms of relationship no longer sanctioned in the Episcopal Church,” Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in announcing the appointments. “We no longer expect that one partner promise to obey the other, that parents give away their children to be married, or that childbearing is the chief purpose of marriage. This task force is charged not only to take the pulse of our current theological understanding of the meaning of marriage, but to assist the faithful in conversation and discernment about marriage, in particular what the Church might hold up as ‘holy example’ of the love between Christ and his Church.”
“The Episcopal Church’s theology and practice of marriage has changed significantly over the centuries, and we need to understand more clearly what we as a church mean when we use that word,” said the Rev. Gay C. Jennings, president of the House of Deputies. “I am grateful to the 12 leaders who have offered their time and expertise to help the church have a wide-ranging discussion about marriage and respond to the issues raised by the marriage debate in civil society.”
The task force is charged with consulting various stakeholders, including married people, couples living “in other lifelong committed relationships” and single adults. A progress report is due at the 78th General Convention in Salt Lake City in 2015.
The members of the task force are:
- The Rev. Brian C. Taylor, chair, Diocese of the Rio Grande
- Carolyn M. Chilton, Diocese of Virginia
- The Rt. Rev. Thomas C. Ely, Diocese of Vermont
- Joan Geiszler-Ludlum, Diocese of East Carolina
- The Rev. Gail Greenwell, Diocese of Kansas
- The Rev. Tobias S. Haller, Diocese of New York
- The Rev. Canon W. (Will) H. Mebane, Jr., Diocese of Ohio
- The Rev. J. David Knight, Diocese of Mississippi
- The Rev. Cameron E. Partridge, Diocese of Massachusetts
- The Rev. Susan Russell, Diocese of Los Angeles
- The Very Rev. Sylvia A. Sweeney, Diocese of Los Angeles
- The Rt. Rev. W. Andrew Waldo, Diocese of Upper South Carolina
Image courtesy of morgueFile