Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I Do! Um, Wait: Is That Allowed Here?

I do love the Episcopal Church, but--man--we can get our knickers twisted into knots better than any other Christian denomination in this country!

That was my conclusion after reading the report in the New York Times about the beginning of marriage equality in New York state this Sunday.  Six dioceses.  Six bishops.  And at least three different approaches to answering the "pastoral genorosity for LGBT couples" afforded to them from the 2009 General Convention.  

Under the rules of the Church, what constitutes a marriage and who gets to preside and what they get to do are governed not only by Church law but the law of the state.  In those jurisdictions such as New York, where LGBT couples will be granted the civil right to marry, the General Convention has given leeway for the bishop to instruct priests on how to handle a marriage that is not "one man and one woman."  

And that's when we get all Episcopalian on the matter!

Two bishops say the church, and its priests, are in the free and clear to hold ceremonies.  One says that the priest may bless the couple, but a civil authority must marry them... and this can not occur in the church.  Another says, "Hell No!" to all of it.  And at least two others are staying out of the discussion and maybe hoping that it will all go away after next year's General Convention.

Complicating matters even further is the requirement that non-celibate priests of any orientation better get married, or they better live apart from the love of their life.   For the Bishop of Long Island, that seemed a pretty clear directive to his partnered-priests that once it became legal to tie-the-knot, it was time to grow up and go to the altar just like their straight brothers and sisters.   So, what does it mean if a priest must marry his or her partner, but then there are all these caveats as to whether it can happen inside the church and performed by a fellow priest? 

Bishop of New York, Mark Sisk, has been a proponent of marriage equality.  But now that equality is becoming a reality, he faces the difficulty of discerning what "generous pastoral response" in light of current Church canon law really means.  Of the six, Bishop Sisk is the one trying to find the via media on the issue.  For that, he wins the "Very Episcopalian" prize.  

Lots of LGBT Episcopalians in New York City are sympathetic to Sisk's position.  They know he is trying to move at a pace that is going to hold the tension between the virulent anti-gay Anglicans and the equally strong opinioned Episcopalians from blowing the whole thing up.   But I guess I see all of this as adding more dirt to the mountain that was a mole hill.

Short of all gay LGBT Episcopalians agreeing to commit mass suicide, those who have been attempting to shred the Episcopal Church with their stampede off to affiliate with Uganda and such will never be satisfied.  And I think even if we did all kill ourselves, they'd still find something wrong with the Episcopal Church.   That's why I find all the hand-wringing and painfully cautious steps toward full inclusion to be just that: painful.  I would love to do research to see if the Church spent this much energy parsing out the particulars in the case of an interracial marriage.  Or better yet: an interfaith marriage.  I would hope that there was as much debate in the Episcopal Church over whether a priest may officiate or even be present at the marriage of an Episcopalian to a Jew.  I would expect to have this much wrangling over how to craft appropriate, separate language for such a wedding, one in which the name Jesus Christ would likely need to be left out of the mix.  And don't even think about a Holy Trinity.  And while all that glass stomping is festive, do NOT break the glasses for the martinis!

As always, I close my eyes and pray with a chuckle that we will all eventually reach that place where this whole episode in human history is behind us, and the church catches up with the state.  

Mazel tov, New York!

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