March 6, 2007

Ever Blessing, Ever Blessed

In my “Immodest Proposal” I sketched out the following concerning the blessing of same-sex couples:

4.0. The church teaches that the nuptial ministers are the couple themselves, whose vows are blessed, not constituted, by the church. One of the earliest western marriage liturgies, in the sixth century Gallic tradition, consisted of a blessing of the couple in their home. I therefore suggest that:
4.1. Until a wider consensus is achieved on the rightness of blessing same-sex relationships in an ecclesiastical setting, The Episcopal Church not proceed with the development of a liturgical rite, or its authorization.
4.2. Recognizing that priests are ordained to pronounce God’s blessing, and that no further authorization is needed for a priest to bless than there is to preach; and that the liturgy “The Celebration of a Home” in The Book of Occasional Services is authorized for use in this church, without further permission from the Bishop being necessary; and that this liturgy provides for the blessing of the residents of the household; that it be recognized that the use of such liturgy is within the ambit of pastoral care.
4.3. The the church include in its studies and discussion the issue of the role of the church in those civil jurisdictions in which same-sex relationships are licensed, and the larger issue of the interaction between civil and ecclesiastical law in this area.
I would like now to expand on this sketch somewhat. In another post, I noted the apparent confusion over exactly what is being asked of the Episcopal Church. The latest Communiqué from the Primates, in its recommendations, appears to ask for an end to any episcopal authorization (either individually or through General Convention) of any rites for blessing same-sex relationships. However, both our Primate and the Archbishop of Canterbury appear to think that this refers to “authorization of public rites”; and there is some continued discussion concerning the weight of and meaning of authorization. Archbishop Venables thinks otherwise, and no doubt other Primates may weigh in on the hermeneutics of primatial documents, with all of the usual pitfalls of “original intent” weighed against the “literal reading.”

My approach, rather than reacting to the ambiguous (or clear) requests of the Primates, is to adopt a stronger proactive position in response: to say, we in TEC have made certain decisions, and we choose to stand by them. We will neither back down from them, nor will we, in the interest of continued dialogue, and as an indication of our willingness to remain in that dialogue, advance further than we have at this time.

I think it important to acknowledge where that is. No rites for same-sex blessing have been authorized by the General Convention, which has merely acknowledged the existence of such rites — some of them apparently given explicit authorization by individual bishops for use in their own dioceses in keeping with their Constitutional authority, others perhaps “allowed” without explicit authorization; some perhaps taking place without the knowledge of the bishop, and in some places perhaps even contrary to the express wishes of the bishop. Only in the latter case would I dare to suggest a violation of our polity.

How does my recommendation to use the liturgy “A Celebration for a Home” fit into this picture? As the outline form indicated, the answer involves the nature of a “home,” the meaning of public and private in our tradition, the power to authorize and to celebrate liturgies, and the nature of pastoral care.

A house is not a home

Whatever else one may say about marriage, there is more to it than mere cohabitation. Indeed, cohabitation without benefit of marriage is regarded by some as as serious a violation of traditional sexual morality as same-sex couples living together with some form of blessing.

This is in itself paradoxical, and points to a source of tension in the traditional view, according towhich a mixed-sex couple can transform a sinful relationship (cohabitation) into a virtuous one by exchanging vows always to remain in that relationship. A same-sex couple cannot do so under the traditional understanding; rather, to swear to remain faithful in the relationship might be seen as making it all the worse — a willing persistence in sin. Same-sex relationships, according to the tradition, are inherently unblessable, and incapable of “redemption” by any other means than termination.

Even among those who embrace the tradition, however, some (such as the Rev. Fleming Rutledge) have been willing to acknowledge that the matter need not be quite so cut and dried: that there is some moral value, however imperfect and short of the ideal, in encouraging stable relationships for same-sex couples, as a “remedy to fornication” and an alternative to promiscuity for those not gifted with the charism of celibacy.

However that may be, in the long run, it is not mere cohabitation — sharing a domicile — that forms the moral basis of marriage. Just as there is more to marriage than sex, there is more to a home than a house. People remain bound by their marriage vows even when separated for an extended period — and it is the vows that have formed the core of the church’s understanding of marriage (variously balanced by notions of contract and consummation) since the Middle Ages.

Yet at the same time, the concept of the home forms an central part of the marriage tradition in most human cultures, including those that gave us the present Christian understanding of marriage. As I noted in my outline, one of the oldest surviving marriage liturgies consists of the blessing of the couple in their home, rather than in the church. And aside from the practical matter of couples moving in together, we still see survivals of symbolic acts such as bearing the bride over the threshold forming a part of the cultural reality of what it means to create a new home. Moreover, our English word husband lays a certain responsibility on the groom as well — for he is a man who has a household. And it is helpful perhaps to note that the Latin American word for “married” is casado. It is in unauthorized, but very human, form of language, ritual and intention that we see the transformation of a mere house into a home. It could be argued that the home is a more fitting place for this celebration and transformation than the church. After all, Jesus assures us that in the life of the resurrection there is no marriage; so perhaps allowing its symbolic value to flourish in the home might make it possible to emphasize the eucharist as the proper “churchly” symbol of the kingdom of heaven, which is after all a marriage feast rather than a marriage itself.

I acknowledge that neither the Episcopal Church nor the Anglican Communion — nor the vast bulk of the world’s civil society — is at the point of accepting a liturgy — or a civil ceremony — for “same-sex marriage.” So I suggest that even though modern communication has speeded the rate at which such things might develop, we could well follow the cautious course of the early church in its slow (six to ten century-long!) accommodation of mixed-sex marriage as its own, and follow the early stages of that course in acknowledging that same-sex couples have the right to live not only in a house, but in a home — and more than that, to recognize that they do so, and that the signs of grace and charity this manner of life reveal show it not only to be capable of receiving, but of being a blessing.

Public and private

Some of the debate concerning such blessings has revolved around the words public and private. It is important to acknowledge several things. First, private does notmean“clandestine.” Second, public does not necessarily mean “celebrated at the 11 am liturgy on Sunday morning.” To a certain extent, all marriages not held as part of a regular church worship service — and I imagine that includes the overwhelming majority except in places that serve as wedding chapels — are by definition “private” — that is how they are listed in the Register of Parish Services. Lest I rely solely on such a tome as a source for argument, let me turn to one recently given prominence in the Draft Covenant for the Anglican Communion: the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

In that book, two forms for Baptism are provided, with an acknowledged preference for “Publick Baptism of Infants” to be performed before the congregation, but with the recognition that for pastoral reasons, including emergencies, “Private Baptism of Children in Houses” is available. The point is that “private” does not indicate “clandestine” — indeed, the liturgy provides an extended addendum for the public proclamation of the private act.

Which raises an interesting point concerning publicity in general, and the church’s role in it. One of the primary reasons for moving marriage from home to church through the Middle Ages was publicity, a desire to stamp out “hidden” marriages, and ensure that folk knew who was married and who wasn’t. This had little or nothing to do with any theology of marriage other than the avoidance of bigamy. Rather, the church came, through that era, to play an increasing role as the public recorder of events. In a time without mass communication, and even limited literacy, it was important that all such matters be “published” in some open and recognizable form. Hence the evolution of such appurtenances as the reading of banns — all designed not to make the marriage, but to make the marriage known.

There is, however, another important function to the public celebration of essentially private (or personal) acts — that is, liturgies which involve a ministration not to the whole congregation, but only to certain members of it. This function is true of baptism as well as of marriage: and it is the exemplary role played by the newly baptized or the newly married — whose vows serve to enkindle a recollection of the vows the other members of the congregation have made; that all the baptized take renewed strength from witnessing baptism, and all married couples renew their awareness of the vows they have themselves made when they witness a marriage.

There are congregations ready, willing and able to embrace the public celebration of same-sex relationships. Many others would be willing to celebrate with a couple “after the fact.” Some few may find themselves unwilling to acknowledge the blessing of couples in their midst, or in their presence. Rather than forcing the matter further than it has gone at present, I counsel a willing engagement with the status quo, rather than a step back to the status quo ante that the Primates seem to envision. Let the process of reception have an opportunity to work, as it must, through the patient engagement of local communities with what is, after all, the most personal, private, and local of all liturgical rites, involving at a minimum only the two who give themselves to each other.

By what authority do you do such things

It is within the competence of Bishops of this church to authorize special forms of liturgical worship not found in the Book of Common Prayer. They cannot demand the use of such liturgies, as I read this Constitutional permission. However, the liturgy for “The Celebration of a Home” has already been approved for use in this church by the General Convention. I do not think a Bishop can forbid the use of the liturgies contained in the Book of Occasional Services; there is certainly no need further to approve them. While the rite in question contains only a minimal blessing of the couple, it is at a climactic point in the liturgy. There is nothing to prevent a couple exchanging vows at some point in the ceremonial blessing of the home — as the vows are made to each other and to God — and it is the vows that make the marriage. No earthly authority is needed to swear to another person that you will love them, support them, rejoice with them and suffer with them for as long as you live. Love, as Saint Paul said, fufills the law; and I can think of no other liturgy that so fulfills the commandment, “Do unto others as you would be done by” than such an exchange of vows — perfectly balanced, and perfectly complementary regardless of the gender of the couple.

But dare a priest bless such an engagement to remain lovingly faithful and faithfully loving? Priests are ordained to bless, to pronounce God’s blessing; it is part of the charism; it is part of what we do, like preaching and teaching. There is no requirement that we report to our bishops every blessing of a home that we perform, any more than we send our bishops copies of our sermons for approval. Certainly priests have the right to withhold a blessing — the canons explicitly give priests the right to decline to marry any couple; so no one is forced to injure their conscience in this matter; rather those who wish to bless may bless, and those who choose not to can refrain.

Now, as I alluded to above, I am not so foolish as to think that we have reached the point at which same-sex relationships are on a parity with marriage in this church or this nation. I believe the wind has shifted over the last decades, and the day will dawn when both church and state will come to this recognition — that it is the human qualities of fidelity and love, rather than the merely animal reality of sex, that constitutes the proper locus of the marriage vow. In the meantime, the Episcopal Church has come thus far, and I see no reason to step back or to stand down. What we have done is really rather modest and should not seem so threatening. Some in this church, or some in the rest of the communion may not be able to abide the pastoral provision we have made for some of our members. It is they who will have to decide if they can abide in the same church, or the same communion, with those who can and do.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

28 comments:

*Christopher said...

I find this a useful proposal on several counts.

I would note some things that need to be made explicit and who would help a couple do this. I'm a practical sort and having had to do this with C, know something of how same-sex couples often have to do a lot of legwork on their own for things different-sex couples take for granted:

1) shaping of vows (we should not leave this to the lowest common denominator or to cultural piffle--several models are available from the traditional vows in the BCP to a more monastic emphasis but in either case should stress the discipleship/community aspect);

2) counseling of the couple in preparation (does a priest do this or a therapist or a spiritual director, and this may depend on the diocese and parish);

3) relationship to such a rite of blessing of a home and joining within Baptism and Eucharist as discipleship;

4) that there are many places where even this will not happen and no priest would perform such a rite for the couple (options need to be made available for them even if a cleric refuses to be present);

We need to acknowledge that such a blessing often serves in the life of same-sex couples purposes they do not serve for different-sex couples with regard to "legitimization" where legal options are not open to us and often families and friends may have waited for quite some time for some formalization; often, they come long after the fact of having made promises with our bodies (and I'm conservative enough to take seriously that our bodies can make promises). Such a rite bears burdens that aren't necessarily born in Matrimony as such, so some guidelines practically and practicably speaking need to be laid out.

Share Cropper said...

Tobias, my partner and I were blessed and exchanged vows at a Blessing of the Home. We feel just as married as we would have if the service had been the traditional marriage service in the church.

I don't think the Episcopal Church is ready to approve rites for blessing of same sex couples yet, but I could see them authorizing the development of such rites for consideration in the future Book of Common Prayer or Book of Alternative Services.

However, the Primates seem to be pushing our back to the wall on these issues, and we are back pedaling through procedure and polity. The Communique and its related materials including Lambeth 1.10 Resolution will bring division within our own church - not just between liberals and conservatives, but within the via media majority.

I suspect that we will be discussing these issues when I am dead and you are old. And, more of the outsiders and disenfranchised will be asking for full acceptance as members of the Family of God.

John B. Chilton said...

I don't mean to be contentious, but it feels like you are looking for a loophole (which is quite the oppostite of your expressed intent) -- as one reaches the end it feels like you backslid on the quite honorable goal: "My approach, rather than reacting to the ambiguous (or clear) requests of the Primates, is to adopt a stronger proactive position in response: to say, we in TEC have made certain decisions, and we choose to stand by them. We will neither back down from them, nor will we, in the interest of continued dialogue, and as an indication of our willingness to remain in that dialogue, advance further than we have at this time."

Another point - If use of the blessing of a home applies to same sex couples, what stops its application to larger groupings of adults including polyandgry or polygyny? I'm not just trying to be clever (although that's partly it), but also trying to get at the nub of why some see same sex relationships as as positively as opposite sex marriages, others see them as morally neutral, and others seem them as major sins.

Widening Gyre said...

Tobias,

Your wonderful posts on this subject may be in vain. With each day, another bishop of our church issues his or her declaration that he or she will not back down and cannot in good conscience agree to the recommendations and requests asked by the Primates.

I'm starting to feel like Luke, Han and Chewie in the trash compactor but without the comlink to C3P0 and R2D2. Is a deus ex machina ending possible?

Tobias said...

Dear Commenters,
Sorry not to have responded sooner. I was away leading a retreat for the next batch of Diocese of NY ordinands. It was a joy to get out of the city for a few days, and to be able to see the stars at night!

Now, to comments. Thank you *christopher -- you are quite right that this is only a rather quick sketch and would need a lot of work in implementation; but perhaps not more than a thorough and conscientious priest would do with any couple, especially given the practical changes that two-income households have produced. There is obviously in most civil jurisdictions no legal support at this time; and it is important to make use of what little exists, and which can be assembled, to provide the stability that mixed-sex couples take entirely for granted.

Share cropper, you bring tears to my eyes as I realize how far we are being pushed upon (I think the proper word is "oppressed") by the irregular and illegal demands of the Primates. And I mourn that these issues will not likely be settled in our lifetimes: though I hope that no more than fifty years from now -- maybe sooner -- people will look back on out time as they do on the march across the Selma bridge, and shake their heads in wonder that people could have been so treated.

John, as I thought I made clear this has nothing to do with any loophole. This is actually what I think should happen. I am a radical on the marriage issue and would be happy if the church never performed another marriage of any kind in its sanctuary -- and I would certainly gladly see us surrender the civil authority with which the church has been -- in spite of all concepts of disestablishment -- vested with. I am not advocating for change in those dioceses where bishops have already authorized same-sex blessings in an ecclesiastical setting -- though I would ask all to consider what I regard as weaknesses in our present marriage rite, and the possibility of shifting all such rites to the household. Your question about polygamy strikes me as strange. You are not the first to raise it, as if there were some natural "slippery slope" from same-sex marriage to polygamy. And I will answer you as I've answered such questions in the past: what don't you understand about the number 2. Two people can form a perfectly mutual relationship. Three or more can't. This is no reflection on the polygamy approved of (and even mandated) in Scripture -- though we witness there the tensions inherent in this unbalanced arrangment. (It is an irony that three provides balance for a stool, but imbalance for human relationships). But there is no reason to suggest that same-sex couples are in any way "closer" to polygamy than mixed-sex couples are. More than two, and you're not talking couples any more. Clear?

WG, we may soon be saying "mind the gap" which appears to be growing. And you certainly gave me a smile with the reference to the cast of Star Wars! I still remain obstinately hopeful, however, though many around me are growing twitchy and angry. I suppose I also take some consolation in knowing that the early church went through some very wild controversies -- and at least since about 1750 we've stopped killing each other about differences in Christian Doctrine. That's a step in the right direction, isn't it? Let us hope for patience still, a listening ear and a willing heart.

obadiahslope said...

Tobias,
I am not sure you have answered John's question. For if you are blessing a home, there is no restriction on the number of people invovoled. Or, not having acess to your liturgies, am i mistaken and the idea of a "couple" included in the rite. From John's comment - and he appears to me to be a thoughful poster - I suspect not.

Tobias said...

Obadiahslope,
Perhaps John's bringing in polygamy is what tipped me in that direction. Certainly the blessing of the people who live in a home includes the entire household -- parents and children. The rite contains specific blessings "For a Child's Room" for example.
So, yes, there is no restriction on the number of people blessed, as the number of persons in the household could be many (it might be a commune, a religious community, a college dorm in an Episcopal school) -- but I am certainly not advising or suggesting that it be used as the locus for blessing plural marriages. That is all I'm trying to clear up in his question, and what I perceived him to be asking. "What stops its application to larger groupings ... including polyandry or polygyny?" was his question, and my answer is not that it is impossible, but that I believe polygamous relationships to be incapable of the mutuality that is at the heart of marriage / union.

I do hope to address his larger question concerning why some see same-sex relationships as moral or immoral in another post, building on what I said in my Immodest Proposal at 1.2: "1.2. Develop a positive theology of human sexual relationships built on the unitive function of human sexuality (which is universal and lifelong and eternal) rather than the traditional approach based on procreation (which is neither universal nor lifelong nor eternal). There is ample Scriptural, traditional, and theological material to support such a theology." I hope that may answer his question a bit more fully.

obadiahslope said...

If you get round to it, I think it might be helpful to address how it might be possible to have people of different views on this issue within the one church or communion? ISTM that the justice arguments for inclusion make it difficult to provide room for those who are dissidents. There are of course similar problems in the parallel conservative universe.
If TEC wishes the communion to provide it some room to disagree, then modelling how similar room might be available in TEC would be a good start. I am not even sure you think this is a good idea, so pleas to not think I am presuming what your attitude might be.

fatherjones.com said...

Tobias,

Brother and friend. I think this piece is good on so many levels, and I also think your last few postings have been excellent and needed as well. I think you are a bridge-builder at heart -- and to me -- this is an incarnational charism. You need to take this stuff wider.

Greg Jones

Grandmère Mimi said...

The rector who preceded our present rector was in favor of blessing gay and lesbian unions. I don't know how he slipped under the bishop's radar, but he knew that such blessings were not authorized in the diocese.

I suggested to him that although it could not be done in a public ceremony in the church, perhaps it could be done in the home. I said, "You don't need permission from the bishop to give a blessing." He said, "Oh, no. I could be removed from my position for doing that."

That's what he thought, and perhaps he was right. Unless it would have been clandestine, which is not a suitable solution, he would have been in trouble.

My bishop is a Windsor bishop. Yesterday I sent him a letter asking several questions about what the Windsor bishops are up to, since they do not issue communiqués after their meetings. We'll see what I hear back or if I hear back.

JCF said...

And if we went this route, obadiah, and some Episcopal priest (misguidedly) blessed a polyamorous grouping, would that invalidate the whole process? If someone (perhaps yourself?) could leap out and cry "GOTCHA!"
:-/

[As if there were never a GROSSLY inappropriate opposite-sex *marriage* celebrated, from time to time, in the churches of the Anglican Communion! :-0]

*****

I'm rather surprised that no one has mentioned the same-sex couple MOST famous for blessing their partnership in *precisely* the way you prescribe, Tobias: +Gene Robinson and Mark Andrew.

*****

Personally, I have mixed feelings about it.

Call it the "triumph of hope over experience". However, having had one ("lovely", as everyone there said) heterosexual marriage IN church (which didn't last---because he left me!), I still hold out HOPE that---having come to a different understanding of my orientation---I might have a same-sex marriage IN church, as well! ;-p [God willing, natch.]

Tobias said...

Again, thanks for the comments, and apologies both to John Chilton for my impatient response earlier, and also for this omnibus response. Having been away for two days this week leading the retreat means a pile of cathc-up work in the parish!

Obadiaslope, you touch on what has been to me the most troubling aspect of this difference of opinion. As I believe I tried to addres briefly in an earlier post, I am not quite able to see this as the "justice" or "human dignity" issue that some portray it as; that is, I can see the point (though I disagree wih it) that those who see same-sex sexuality as a serious sin cannot see this as a justice issue, and framing it that way basically ends the discussion. That's why I'm convinced we are talking at cross-purposes unless we can deal with the underlying question of whether same-sex sexuality is necessarily sinful. It only becomes a "justice" issue once that question is settled, it seems to me, because the qualms really are about behavior not orientation -- it being granted that some on the conservative side may not be happy with same-sex orientation, but I think the mainstream have said that celibate gay and lesbian persons pose no specific challenge, unless, as in the case of Jeffrey John, they teach the contrary -- and teaching "error" is as bad as committing it, they would say.

At the same time, I think it incumbent upon the "conservative" side to acknowledge that there is room for local variation, and an open process of reception. There is a lot of fear and resistance to that. Language of "unilateral" actions, as if +VGR were a missle being launched into the heart of Nigeria! If he is told he is not welcome in Nigeria, or at Lambeth, he won't go. No one need authorize him to perform ecclesiastical acts outside the diocese that elected him. But I digress.

Fr Greg, thanks for the comments. And you too dear Grandmère. I know it would be hard, but as I read it, the Bishop has no authority to forbid the use of the rite in the BOS, though he might say, "No priest can bless a same-sex relationship." The point is we don't bless relationships, we bless people -- and the blessing is in the book, and the book is authorized. It would be a risk to test this and take it to trial; but I think an ecclesiastical court would have to find in the priest's favor.

And JCF, thanks for your input. The experience you describe is far from unique. It is one I share. But I would ask you what I ask all couples who come to me for marriage, even the ones who are active in the parish (having a "pretty" church I get a lot of calls from people who "want to get married in your church..."). I always ask, "Why do you want to get married in church." Because it's become the "norm" of course, people at first think I'm crazy. But then they have to look at the issue and ask, Why the church? As it happens, I've performed several marriages at the banquet hall rather than in the church as a result -- and people seem just as happy to do so. I've never done one in a "home" per se; but it does seem to me to be more "integrated" into the matrix of what marriage is about to place it in the context in which most of the marriage will be lived out. I welcome your further thoughts....

Grandmère Mimi said...

In my earlier comment, I said this:

Yesterday I sent him a letter asking several questions about what the Windsor bishops are up to, since they do not issue communiqués after their meetings.

Correction: after the Camp Allen meeting of the Windsor bishops in September, the participants issued this letter to the House of Bishops.

No summary was issued after the second meeting in January, as far as I know.

Widening Gyre said...

Tobias,

Glad to provide the smiles to a discussion that (absent JCF's involvement) is usually smile-less (that is, quite serious). Also glad to find my comments accepted as I have been bloggera non grata over at another site who shall remain nameless less I invoke more wrath therefrom.

Re: your proposal. One the one hand, I can understand the resistence of some commenters here who want to stick to their guns and move forward. I worry that they might be getting too far in front of the rest of the church that tentatively supports their call for full inclusion. To push forward and be exposed, however, will lead to further disappointment, I fear, especially for my gay and lesbian siblings in Christ. Seems like a catch-22 for them.

On the other hand, the use of the existing BOS takes the practical (as opposed to ideological) approach and creates opportunities that otherwise might not exist if the Primates' requests are not heeded.

To refer to another 20th century classic, "Boys, we're in a tough spot!"

Chris Jones said...

Fr Haller,

Forgive me for straying a little off-topic, but I was struck by this phrase from one of your comments:

... I realize how far we are being pushed upon (I think the proper word is "oppressed") by the irregular and illegal demands of the Primates.

The Primates, of course, have no jurisdiction over the Episcopal Church, and thus are in no position to make "demands". If the Communiqué contains "demands" they are not so much illegal as they are meaningless in the context of the Episcopal Church's polity. They have meaning and legal force only if the Episcopal Church chooses to accept them and submit itself to them.

The context within which the "demands" of the Communiqué are meaningful is the fact that the Episcopal Church has been excommunicated by some of the provinces of the Anglican Communion, and is at risk of being excommunicated by the greater number of them (including Canterbury). The Primates' "demands" are the conditions which must be fulfilled to restore the communion which has been broken. The only thing which gives those demands any force whatever is the need or desire of the Episcopal Church to return to, and remain in, sacramental communion with those provinces. If that need or desire is weak or non-existent (or in any event not strong enough to impel assent to the conditions), then the demands are without force.

It's hard to see "demands" which have no power of their own and no means of enforcement as being "oppression".

Although I belong neither to the conservative nor the progressive camp (being, lo these several decades, no longer an Episcopalian), I fail to see what is lost (from the progressive point of view) if the Episcopal Church were no longer in communion with the other Anglican provinces. As a practical matter the Episcopal Church loses nothing by not being in communion with more conservative bodies such as the Roman Catholic Church or the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. How is it any different -- and, more to the point, how is it "oppressive" -- to be out of communion with conservative bodies such as the Church of Nigeria? I should think that a progressive would regard being excommunicated by Nigeria as a badge of honor, rather than an instance of oppression.

*Christopher said...

Tobias,

Back to practical matters again. Sorry. One reason we wanted to use a church space is simply space and cost. We've little money and a parish donated the space to us, and given all of our guests were truly those who have supported us in our commitment, our party was small, about 60 people, but we couldn't have fit them in our home, which at the time was a 350 sq. ft. remodelled garage. Many might say we're blessed to have so many who love us.

The other reason, was we wanted to bless God with our lives in a rite that could adequately express that thanksgiving. I think you are correct that the present marriage rites are impoverished immensely. Admittedly the rite we used was more modelled on monastic rites than marriage rites, but nonetheless doing this was important. I'm assuming the Home Blessing could have music, etc.?

Music of course is another reason. C is Lutheran. Music plays a huge role in that tradition's piety. And we both love the organ immensely.

That is to say, none of this need take place in a church space, but such a space is set up in some ways for such purposes.

I might add that cultural matters must be considered on two fronts: 1) we're used to having such things in church spaces and so that's what most expect, and 2) you will need to articulate very carefully why you'd celebrate a different-sex marriage in a church setting and a blessing of a same-sex home at their house considering the "closet" and being clear you are not trying to ritualize the closet all over again, or put them out of sight, because it carries some taint of exactly that even if that is not your intent.

Also, more needs to be said with regard to Fr. Gawain's post some while back that none of the same-sex couples have sought such a blessing or rite, and we need to ask why? C and I wouldn't seek such from a priest or pastor simply because the ordained have often been more hindrance than help to our relationship, and C is ordained. Trust issues apply.

Tobias said...

Chris Jones,
Thanks for the comment. It is quite true that the "demands" of the Primates have no legal weight. That is perhaps why I find them so oppressive -- they assume a coercive power they have no right to employ.

The problems began with Lambeth pretending to be a "teaching" body -- and continue with the veiled threats of disassocation (or further disassociation. I understand your imagery -- that is, if TEC doesn't care then these things shouldn't matter; and I suppose to some extent our "oppression" stems from our desire to remain in communion, and we're being told by our companions, Do as we say or we will stop being in communion. Is that oppression? Well, what if a wife were to say to her husband, unless you cut off all of your old buddies from college, I am going to leave you. I think that the use of withdrawal of "affection" or "communion" is a form of coercion. And one who is being coerced has every right to feel oppressed.

And remember, this isn't just about the same-sex issues. The border crossings have morphed from a clear violation of church polity (including Lambeth resolutions) and become a "we'll pull the knive out when you comply" -- this is an outrageous inversion of good order, and is also being applied coercively.

*christopher,
Thanks for the further comments. These are the practical matters that, God willing, we will have greater leisure to explore as we work to renew the whole marriage institution. My hope has always been that same-sex marriages (which I've been bold enough to say are potentially in some instances morally superior to mixed-sex marriages) can lead to a complete reevaluation of marriage. Your own liturgy was beautifually crafted and had many of the elements that provided for a richness that the BCP marriage rite sorely lacks.

Chris Jones said...

Father,

Do as we say or we will stop being in communion.

I have to say that I find this to be a mis-characterization of what the Primates are saying. It is not "do as we say or else"; it is "if you no longer believe as we do, then 'communion in the faith' no longer exists, and 'communion in the sacraments' would be a lie."

That is not oppression; it is simply facing the facts.

I guess that's just the Missouri-Synod Lutheran in me talking.

Tobias said...

Chris,
I would accept that if it were clear that the Primates (as a whole) saw this as a matter of the faith. The fact is, they don't. It's about process. The language of the Windsor report, and the Communiques, talk in terms of moratoria, and emerging consensus -- that is, the door is open. Obviously some don't see it that way (I think the Global South leadership does see this as a "faith" issue). But, to return to my marriage analogy, this sounds to me like "If you and I no longer see eye to eye on this, I'll leave you or file for divorce." That does sound sort of "MSL" to me -- there can be no communion in the absence of agreement on a certain "confession." But the catholic in me wants to say -- we can remain in communion even when we disagree on matters as serious as the nature of the Holy Communion itself! Why should disagreements about a rite or ceremony we don't officially even define as a "a sacrament" prove so divisive when we are able to coexist in spite of serious disagreements on the meaning of a rite we do regard as a sacrament, and an important one at that?

This is why there is more to this than meets the eye.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Haller,

That does sound sort of "MSL" to me -- there can be no communion in the absence of agreement on a certain "confession."

The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod did not invent the notion that communion in the sacraments is dependent on, and expressive of, full agreement in the faith. Such was the practice and the doctrinal understanding of the Church from earliest times. Closed communion for the Missouri Synod is not a matter of loyalty to a "confession" as such, but of loyalty to the Catholic faith, with the Lutheran Confessions being a necessary witness to that faith with respect to the doctrines which were at risk in their time.

But the catholic in me wants to say -- we can remain in communion even when we disagree on matters as serious as the nature of the Holy Communion itself!

There is nothing in the least "Catholic" about "agreeing to disagree" about the nature and purpose of the sacrament of the altar. The Eucharist is the Gospel. I have to say that even though I was raised in the Episcopal Church, and in my theological outlook remain pretty much a Ramsey-Dix-Mascall style Anglo-Catholic, I find the Anglican tolerance of both Catholic and (frankly) anti-Catholic understandings of the Eucharist to be incoherent.

Tobias said...

And that is at least part of the reason, Chris, that I am an Anglican and you (I presume) aren't.

I would gently suggest that the idea of doctrinal uniformity is given a good bit of elasticity in practice, in Anglicanism and in the "catholic" tradition. Certain doctrines are affirmed, but the details left to the individual. In addition to the varying theologies of the Eucharist that are allowed to coexist, such important doctrines as the Atonement have never been precisely limited as to the mechanism -- except in certain branches of Protestantism. So it isn't only about matters of adiaphora that a range of possible understandins is permitted.

bruno said...

Dear Brother Tobias.
I think the problem with a home blessing or the church stepping out of “marriage” all together is that the focus is on the adult self. I would be the first to argue that church weddings have gotten out of hand and the production has a focus mainly on the “royalty for a day” of the couple declaring their vows. I think we need to shift the focus to community and witness.
My concern is for the people in the pews (and those who won’t enter the pews) especially the children. We as a society, especially the liberal society have no problem with our children seeing the glbt culture as that of pride events, or Will and Grace characters, or even Queer as Folk. We will fight for the freedom of these expressions of the lgbt “life style”. What is the message we send? If we as a church were to hold up and accept only that aspect of our gay and lesbian family, we set an example for our children and send a message to the adults in the pews and the wider culture of a lifestyle that is not equally available to the transformation of the Gospel. We continue to feed the stereotypes that are held and feed so much of the fear and loathing that is directed toward this portion of God’s family. Yet, when we have the chance to show to society the transformational powers of the Spirit, held up in loving, respectful, monogamous, committed relationships, we back down. When we have a chance to show our children that whoever they are, they to can be blessed by such a life of respect for themselves and whomever it is that they love, we back down. When we have the chance to show to the greater community that we are all called, all of us, no matter where we are, and that the Gospel of Jesus the Christ is for each of us, we back down. We need PUBLIC rites of blessing because that is the way we are going to witness to the greater community the transformational power of God’s love. We as Christians are called to be people of community interconnected in care and love for each other and those outside of our circle in equal measure. For over 2000 years the church has publicly witnessed to the damnation of God’s LGBT children, and this message has become ingrained in society to such a degree that even though violence is carried out all over the world to this portion, it is seldom “news worthy”. Beyond the physical violence is the spiritual violence done to the young who pray to be “cured” of their feelings, only to feel that God has abandoned them, or they didn’t pray hard enough, or in the right ways, because they were not cured. Or the ones who accept that they are to “carry this cross” because, for some reason God wills it. Or even worse yet, those who wed as a business deal or as a means toward salvation, leaving one or both partners unfulfilled, inflicting pain on both parties and maybe even children born in this union. All of these people are the children of us LGBT people, because we know them, we are they who suffer these assaults. The church has been “private” for many years, perhaps even her whole history in these matters. Peter and Paul were not private when they saw the Holy Spirit at work, they did the work needed to proclaim the Gospel. Christian missionaries proclaimed the Gospel to the people they were presented with in catholic ways that gave us many new “things” that have become traditions. We are called to proclaim the Gospel in the house we have come into and to the people therein. This church has her GLBT persons as her gentiles, and we are crying for the care and protection of our children. We are calling to the church to proclaim to our children that they to can have all the blessings and gifts of the Spirit. We are calling to the church to witness to our children that they can find love and acceptance outside of the bars and “Queer as Folk” lifestyle. We are begging to have the church witness to the wider world that we are not “unclean” and beyond the grace of God. The church, I fear, is about to say “go get circumcised first”.
You and our Presiding Bishop dare to say fast for awhile. I would like to point out that fasting for a time is all nice and well, but does nothing to feed the children of the starving. If we in the United states fast for a day in solidarity with the starving in Darfur, would we dare ask the refugees in Darfur to fast with us, to deny their children what little they might have? We will eat the next day, the children in Darfur will die as will the neglected in our own country. If we are called to fast, it is only of value if we take an action with it, if we use the fast to actually feed the hungry, if we use the fast to open our eyes to the starving in our own cities. If we fast, can we ask the starving in our own cities to fast also, or is that to big a burden for them to bare? Will our fasting from blessings get the imprisoned gay man out of prison in Nigeria? Will our fasting from blessings and consecrations keep the lesbian from being raped in an Ugandan prison? Or will our taking bold action and publicly witnessing to the equal place of gays and lesbians in God’s kingdom provide more hope and courage? It feels like the bishops and many of the people who are already full participants in the church are more worried about the structures of the union of shepherds rather than the care and feeding of the sheep.
Peace
Bruno

Tobias said...

Dear Bruno,
You make what I think is the best case for "public" liturgy -- and I was alluding to it in the reference to the "exemplary" character of baptism and marriage. There is a certain catch-22 though, in that those parishes that would most likely be supportive of a same-sex blessing as part of the liturgy are the ones least likely to need the example -- it could be a case of literally preaching to the choir. And if you note my article carefully, I'm not suggesting that those parishes that have already reached this level back down -- though I do think it might be good as part of the overall enterprise to reexamine marriage, to look at the issue in a broad context.

My approach differs, I think, a bit from that of our PB, in that she appears to suggest that the "private" way is the only way to go; and I am suggesting that the "private" way is a way to begin, in those places where the public rite has not yet been approved, to start the movement towards greater awareness.

I suppose in the end I'm a Fabian: one step at a time, and "hasten slowly" in making careful arguments, and building coalitions and support. And when it comes to speaking out, to speak boldly and clearly on injustices. I also think it it very important to make a full court press in the civil arena -- where there can be no "religious" excuse for disallowing the legal franchise for same-sex relationships, any more than there is a legal restriction on a childless couple. I will be addressing this a bit more in a later post, but I thank you for your input.

Fr. John said...

Dear Tobias,

As always, I appreciate your thoughtful and gentle manner of engaging us in matters pastoral and theological. I have a couple of comments about the "blessing of a home" proposal.

1. I think that one of the underappreciated aspects of both baptism and the marriage rite (and ordination, for that matter), are the vows that the assembly make to the focal person(s) of the rite. This is, in part, what gives the rites their ecclessial character. Thus, these sacramental acts are constituitive of the life of the church qua church, and are essentially public in nature. They are about vocation, discipleship, and self-giving (individually or as a couple) for the sake of the kingdom.

2. Given what I've said above, the home blessing you've proposed smacks too much of the closet to me. It also reinforces what I believe is the unfortunate understanding of marriage being simply about the couple. It is not, it is about the Christian assembly as well. This is what the conservatives understand (at least, some of them) and they are correct.

3. I detect a certain myth of progress operative in your presentation. I don't believe there is anything inevitable about the full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church or society. We are quite capable of moving backward as well as forward. Grassroots pressure and liturgical practice are what will keep things moving forward, if they are to move forward at all. I am unwilling to concede anything when it comes to the dignity of people's vocations (and I believe marriage is a vocation).

4. Finally, I'm a marriage radical too. In fact, I refuse to sign marriage licenses. Any couple, gay or straight, who wish to offer their love for each other as a sign of hope and form of Christian discipleship will be welcomed and blessed with equal dignity and joy in my parish. I am ordained to pronounce God's blessing, not to act as an officer of the State.

Thanks again, Tobias. It am always edified by what you write.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Haller,

that is at least part of the reason, Chris, that I am an Anglican and you (I presume) aren't.

Indeed.

You presume rightly that I am not an Anglican. I was a cradle Episcopalian (to my early 30s), ten years' Eastern Orthodox, and now Missouri-Synod Lutheran (it's a long story).

Thank you for dealing patiently with one whose views on these matters are clearly very different from yours. I have a better understanding of the progressive point of view (though perhaps no greater agreement). Once again, I beg your forgiveness for taking the thread on a detour.

Tobias said...

Daer John,
Thanks to you as well for the thoughtful response. A few quick observations:

1. The relationship of the assembly (ekklesia) to those engaged directly in "private" rites such as baptism and marriage is an area for further exploration. As I see it, though, there are differences; primarily in that in baptism the church is welcoming people in as part of their own body, incorporating them into the many-membered body that is the church; while in marriage there is a kind of missional sense, a certain setting apart that sanctifies the new relationship that is essentially now between the two who will be supported by the assembly, but in their "two-ness" given a distinctive character. This is clearly something worth exploring at greater depth, as it conditions the nature of the support given to the couple vs the baptizand: the couple is supported in their life together by the community, the baptizand in his/her life with the community.

2. I would say not the closet, but the parlor. ;-) Seriously, my intent is far from wanting this to be a clandestine matter; rather, I am concerned with the ecclesiastical issues of discipline and good order, as well as the unalienable right (as I see it) of two persons to form such a union. I'm trying to find a balance in particular in those situations where the diocese is not ready to offer its full support. This offers a way forward that doesn't require the bishop's approval; as a way of building faith in the community. As I noted above about preaching to the choir, it may be our communities that need to see visible gay and lesbian couples as much as or more than our congregations.

3. You have accurately pegged me as a progressive optimist. As I said above, though, I tend to be a Fabian rather than a revolutionary. I see this as precisely the kind of grassroots application that is "recapitulating" the early history of marriage's centuries' long process of en-church-ment. And think of the church itself, moving from house-church to basilica! It seems this is how things work sometimes.

4. I admire your stand on the civil issue. You go farther on it that I do in practice -- though since most of the weddings I perform are for parishioners and their children, I feel a bit like the English Vicar who is the "parson" of the neighborhood, and so am not uncomfortable exercising the civil function. But I would be just as happy to give it up if the church wanted to head in that direction; and I think it would be healthier in the long run.

Thanks again, and all the best.

John B. Chilton said...

Tobias,

Thank you for your kind response to my queries. As I have pondered them I see things more clearly.

You advocate TEC adopting your view of the Blessing of Home Rite usage for SSB's because it encapsulates in a straightforward way where TEC is - somewhere between where the Anglican Communion is and where Integrity would like us to be (equivalent rites for same sex couples?). That encapsulation reported to the Primates would tell them where we honestly are. And they can decide what they want to do with that report.

I would go further. We should tell the primates: Within TEC there are some dioceses where same sex blessings are authorized. We are not prepared to ask those dioceses to go back. Blessings that would be equivalent to marriage are not authorized at this time. (Can we honestly make that last statement?)

In response to my second query (about group marriages) you answered that they lack the mutuality of couples marriages. They certainly lack duality. What you are saying is that there is something intrinsic (and good) about couples marriages that does not carry over to other mutual associations. The better we articulate what that is the better I think we will understand why it is wrong to deny homosexuals the blessings of same sex blessings.

Tobias said...

Thank you John (Chilton) once again for the thoughtful comments. I think I am actually with you on the "further" in those dioceses where SSB's are already permitted. I'm advocating for a "pause" to allow for more grassroots development before we try to push things through General Convention. I say that even having been one of the co-sponsors of a resolution at the last GC that would have allowed the use of the current BCP marriage liturgy for SSB's with minimal verbal amendment. At this point I want to see more grassroots support before we try to "push" things legislatively, which will inevitably lead to winners and losers.

When it comes to the issue of couples vs groups of persons, I guess what I have trouble understanding is how three people can be in a truly "mutual" relationship. I suppose it might be possible in theory, but I can't see it in practice as other than a source for potential jealousies and rivalries. The binary nature of a couple, faithful to each other, giving themselves to each other, seems more intrinsically stable than a trio or quartent which might acheive some practical stability or equality of mutual love. A balance, though, has two arms; while you might build one with three, getting all three to balance would be, I think, much more complicated. But then, I'm a Libra, so perhaps this is just my predisposition? ;-)