1. Last August, two leaders of the Church's Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM), who were involved in developing materials for same-sex blessings, presented their case in Canterbury, England for a meeting of the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation. Their presentation was not well received.
2. The SCLM went on to approve a report to and proposed resolution for General Convention 2012 on same-sex blessings. The resolution proposes a trial rite for use over the three following years, and calls for a further report to be made to General Convention 2015.
3. That paragon of episcopal virtue, the Rt. Rev. Charles E. Bennison, Jr. of Pennsylvania, immediately jumped on the bandwagon and told his clergy that approval of a rite for blessing same-sex unions at the upcoming General Convention is a certainty, and any priest in his diocese who thereafter fails to perform them on demand could face disciplinary proceedings.
Isn't that remarkable? To go from polite rejection to mandatory usage within the space of six months? As they say, it could happen only in the Episcopal Church (USA) - where the Canons mean nothing and the Constitution is play.
Far be it from this Curmudgeon to throw cold water onto Bishop Bennison's ambitions for power and glory, but with his letter to his clergy I'm afraid he has provided another exemplar for my Collection of Canonical Absurdities. When he threatens his clergy with discipline if they do not perform same-sex blessings on demand, he presumably is relying upon this Canon (I.17.5), which deals with the rights of laity:
No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by Canons.His reasoning must, therefore, run something like this: "Once General Convention approves a rite for same-sex blessings, it then becomes part of the 'life, worship and governance of this Church,' and so cannot be denied to anyone on account of their sexual orientation."
Except that it proves too much. The rite for same-sex blessings, if approved, would have to be denied to me on account of my already being married to someone of the opposite sex, for example. Indeed, to have any rite geared solely to LGBTs in this Church smacks of the very kind of discrimination which makes LGBTs demand the Church approve them in the first place.
This is the irresolvable paradox at the heart of every demand by LGBTs to be given equal treatment in the life of the Church -- on account solely of their orientation, which they do not share with others of the same age and gender, and not on account of any of the characteristics which they do share with other Church members. "Marriage" may, for civil purposes, be defined any way the civil authorities want to try it, but marriage as a sacrament has been universally and at all times, throughout the whole church catholic, no matter what the time or denomination, regarded as a sacred rite between a man and a woman. Our Book of Common Prayer so defines it, and so do the Canons (Canon I.18) -- to say nothing of Scripture itself (e.g., Gen. 2:24).
To regard marriage as such is not to discriminate against anyone on account of their sexual orientation. Gay men may marry gay women; that they choose not to, and prefer some other kind of union, is not marriage's fault.
Defining a sacrament by the person(s) for whom it is intended happens all of the time in the Church. Indeed, if we allow that there are seven sacraments recognized in Church liturgy (baptism, confirmation, holy eucharist, marriage, extreme unction, confession, and ordination), we see that most of them are capable of being received by a limited class of persons -- confirmation is excluded to all who have not been baptized, for example, and confession is only for the genuinely penitent who have sinned.
Can the Church really be said to "discriminate" in all such cases? If not, then why is the sacrament of marriage, as it has been universally recognized throughout the whole of church history, all of a sudden to be viewed as "discrimination based on sexual orientation"?
The very fact that the marriage rite has to be changed to accommodate same-sex unions, as well as the very fact that a rite for same-sex blessings has to be concocted from scratch, should tell people a little about what is going on here. Those changes will, by definition, discriminate against heterosexual couples. So for the sake of eliminating one perceived form of "discrimination", we introduce another.
People like Bishop Bennison think that the Church is on a one-way track that will eventually result in the solemnization of same-sex unions, and want to jump on the bandwagon before it has even left the barn. But in taking up the subject of same-sex blessings as a stepping-stone to the redefinition of marriage, the wagon is being placed in front of the horse (to continue with my metaphor).
The process itself reveals what is backwards about it. As I noted, the SCLM (and General Convention) view their task as one of developing a rite for such a blessing. Well, we already have such a rite -- it begins on page 433 of the Book of Common Prayer ("The Blessing of a Civil Marriage"). The trouble for LGBTs is that it uses outmoded terms such as "husband" and "wife", and "him" and "her."
Obviously, since "civil marriage" is not a term defined by the Church, any proposed changes to that rite on account of changes in the civil-law definition of "marriage" should begin there: what does the Church accept as a "civil marriage" which is worthy of God's blessing? In taking up that issue, the Church would at least be approaching the subject in a manner which is logical. But no: the SCLM is dealing with the matter of developing a new rite first, and will propose a study of just what the church regards as "marriage" after it has first adopted the rite.
It's as though a legislature were to pass a law regulating the care and feeding of unicorns, and then designated a committee to study just what unicorns are, in order to make the law more effective. The proper order in which to do it would have been to take up the study of unicorns first, before passing any laws on the subject.
There is, however, an even greater Constitutional problem that will face General Convention should it try to authorize a trial rite for the blessing of same-sex unions. That is a subject, however, which requires a post of its own, so please watch this space.