As reported yesterday, the Episcopal Church General Convention passed A049, which allows for optional and provisional use of a rite to bless same-gender relationships. Both laity and clergy, except conservative laity and clergy, also passed D019 and D002, which affirm the full inclusion of transgender persons in the life of the church, which includes ordination.
In response, South Carolina’s Conservative deputies walked out on the General Convention and declared they will take decisive action.
The blessing resolution, [Rev. John B.] Burwell said, “basically flaunts the canons of the church” because Canon I.2 (b) defines marriage as a “physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman.”
“It is not the place of General Convention to be doing that. To top it off, it isn’t biblical. It isn’t biblical,” Burwell said. “Sorry but I can’t get around that, I simply can’t get around it.”
“Why didn’t we throw out the canon?” Burwell asked. “Let’s be honest about this. If that is the direction that we’d like to head into, then let’s not break laws.”
However, Burwell told Episcopal News Service (ENS) that the deputies were leaving the General Convention, but not the Episcopal Church.
In addition, according to Burwell, the resolutions make fundamental changes in worship, doctrine, and discipline, which deputies swore to uphold, not change. He longs for the days when people were judged by whom they are, not what they are by the labels others give them. He insisted, “It’s unnecessary and it’s unbiblical and it’s un-Anglican” to make the statements made in the two resolutions.”
He accused the ones of passing the resolutions of doing damage and refused to agree with them, along with other deputies from South Carolina. The group also accused the majority who passed the resolutions of being “demoralized”.
“Because of this we simply can’t, as the diocesan deputation, act like nothing has happened,” he added. “This may not be the end of the world, but this is significant and we can’t act like business as usual.”
After leaving the convention, South Carolina deputies posted a short statement on the South Carolina Diocese’s website concerning their departure. The statement reiterates that they left due to the actions of the General Convention and they could not continue business as usual. They then requested prayer for those returning home early and for the two who stayed to see what else happened at the General Convention.
Episcopalians meeting at their triennial General Convention in Indianapolis overwhelmingly approved the new rite. Lay members and priests voted 171-41 in favor of the same-sex blessings. Bishops voted 111-41, with three abstentions.
At this point, the South Carolinadeputies are threatening to take drastic actions, as well as issued a declaration. The declaration states that the concern is not same-sex blessings, but rather the General Convention redefining the Christian faith. They also declared that they denounce, repudiate, and reject the actions of the Episcopal Church, while also stating they have compassion “for those who struggle with and act upon same-gender attraction.” Yet they urge equal treatment for all men and women in church as the Lord calls everyone equally to repent of their sins, so we might receive forgiveness and transformation through the Holy Spirit.
The Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion and Anglicans warned against Episcopalians of adopting pro-gay policies, with Anglicans in Africa and other parts of the world declaring homosexuality sinful.
On 10 July, the Rev. Kendall Harmon, the Diocese of South Carolina's canon theologian, called the approval of same-sex blessings "unbiblical" and "unseemly."
"By making this decision, the Episcopal Church moves further away from Jesus Christ and his teaching," said Harmon. "It thereby makes it necessary for the diocese of South Carolina to take further decisive and dramatic action to distance itself from this false step."
Harmon did not say that his diocese would necessarily secede, as four other diocese did, but he does believe his diocese is moving away from the national church and that there is a greater distance after the convention.
Finally, on Thursday, July 12, the South Carolina diocese posted they will differentiate themselves from the actions of the 77th General Convention.
Bishop Lawrence stated that the departure of the deputies should not be understood as a departure from the Episcopal Church. “Frankly, a deputation to General Convention has no authority to make such a decision.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, retiring at the end of this year, does not plan to make a statement at this time, according to the Anglican Journal.
Presiding Bishop Schori, of the Episcopal Church, voted for the resolution, but a spokeswoman for her, said she was not available for comment.
Others, such as Susan Russell, senior associate of All Saints Church in Pasadena California and a gay rights activist, praised the passing of the resolutions, as a “step towards full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments,” but added that the work was incomplete.
Bishop Paul Marshall of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, authorized same-sex blessings of couples when the Episcopal Church lifted the ban in 2009. After he returned home, he posted a statement on his diocese’s website.
Bishop Marshal said:
What has happened now is that General Convention has issued its own rite that will be published shortly, and as of its effective date, that is the service that will be used by those parishes in our diocese who wish to bless unions. One one hand there is for us, then, very little new in action of General Convention today in the sense of what may happen. There is something very new in the Church publicly adopting a single rite for use wherever blessings are celebrated–in a church as liturgically centered as ours it, this makes blessing more official, more ritually "real," theologically substantive.
For those of us who feel and think as I do in this matter, this is a time of affirmation. Very many people today feel that their prayers have been at long last answered. Very many people today perceive themselves to be recognized as fully part of a Christian community that honors who they are and celebrates the commitments they make. Many of us share their joy and thanksgiving and see the welcoming ministry of the church broadening. The Episcopal Church welcomes all–no exceptions.