By Daniel Martins

The Task Force on the Study of Marriage was created by General Convention in 2012, and extended for another triennium in 2015. The legislative fruit of its most recent labor has now been made public. It consists of three resolutions that will be fed into the General Convention sausage machine in the first week of July as the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops convene in Austin.

All three resolutions are substantive, but the one that stands out is A085. It proposes what has been called a “surgical” amendment of the Book of Common Prayer — that is, regardless of how convention responds to the question of comprehensive Prayer Book revision, if A085 passes in something like its current form, it will constitute a first reading of a short list of amendments to the prayer book. If General Convention approves a second reading in 2021, the changes will be fixed.

The strategic goal of the task force is to ensure that same-sex marriage is available to anyone who wants it, in any domestic diocese of the church, with or without the permission of a bishop. There are, of course, already authorized rites that can be used for such occasions. These were adopted in 2015, but the enabling resolution specified that their use is subject to the consent of the ordinary. It appears that there are at most a couple of handfuls of dioceses whose bishops not only decline to permit same-sex marriage within their dioceses but also forbid clergy from outside the diocese from coming in to preside at such rites, and most of these also prohibit their clergy from traveling outside the diocese to do so. (Full disclosure: I am among this number.)


Another element in the 2015 resolution is that bishops who withhold permission for use of the new liturgies should “make provision” for those who wish to avail themselves of them to find a way to do so. However, it never defines what “provision” looks like, and this has led to consternation among the advocates of same-sex marriage. When asked how I “make provision” in the Diocese of Springfield, my response has been that I would assist those wishing to arrange for a ceremony in making contact with a priest in a neighboring diocese, who could come into the geographic territory of the diocese and preside at some venue not owned by or associated with any of our churches. Some have told me that this satisfies the “make provision” language, others that it does not. (For the record, no one has made any such request in my diocese.) In any case, the task force’s goal is to effectively remove any authority I have in this area.

How does A085 set out to accomplish its objective? Its linchpin is to insert the two extant gender-neutral marriage liturgies into the prayer book without changing the form of the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage (p. 423). This is amendment by addition, not subtraction or revision. The marriages of heterosexual couples could still be solemnized using the familiar rite. That is quite strategically savvy on the part of advocates for change. People are a lot less likely to complain about change when they don’t actually have to experience it. (The hoped-for addition also includes two new Proper Prefaces for the celebration of a nuptial Eucharist that speak of “two persons” rather than “husband and wife.”)

The devil, as always, is in the details. In addition to implanting the two new marriage services into the prayer book, A085 proposes amending An Outline of the Faith, commonly referred to as the Catechism, by removing references to “a man and a woman” and substituting language about “two persons.” This is in keeping with the canonical gender-neutering of marriage that was accomplished in 2015. So, while those who continue to hold to the traditional definition of marriage would still be able to point to the language of the opening paragraphs of the liturgy on p. 423 and say, “See, this is what the Episcopal Church teaches about marriage,” the language of the catechism, which is an official doctrinal formulary, would undercut that claim.

A number of important considerations are at stake here. It is difficult to rank them, but one is certainly the authority of bishops as chief pastors, chief teachers, and chief liturgical officers of their dioceses. As co-heirs of the Catholic tradition of leadership by bishops, we would be acting inconsistently with our ecclesial identity if we straitjacketed bishops from doing the job they are ordained to do. We are, after all, the Episcopal Church — the church of bishops. The Book of Common Prayer carries constitutional weight. Even bishops are subject to its texts and rubrics, and any priest is presumed free to use any liturgical material it contains.

A related concern is the undermining of our long tradition of behaving as a federation of dioceses rather than a monolithic entity. General Convention is a gathering of dioceses, and we have not only allowed but expected dioceses to develop distinctive cultures and characters. The bishops who decline to permit same-sex marriage do not exist in a vacuum. They were elected by dioceses, with their theological predilections quite transparent at the time of election. This may not always have been true, but we have reached a point now that these dioceses, were they to suddenly lose their bishop, would be likely to elect a successor in a similar theological mode.

One cannot plausibly ignore, of course, the implications that the passage of something like A085 would have on the Episcopal Church’s relations with the rest of the Anglican Communion. Provinces representing a great majority of Anglicans worldwide already consider themselves out of communion with us, and if they talk to us at all, will do so only with a diocese led by a Communion Partner bishop. Will our actions in Austin sound a death knell for even these fragile threads of connection?

To its credit, the task force made an effort to consult with our Anglican Communion sister churches. The responses are published in the task force’s Blue Book report. It is well worth noting that not only is no other province inclined to follow our lead on this, but we have been virtually universally discouraged from going down this path. And it’s not just the Global South’s “usual suspects” who are joining this chorus. Churches in generally progressive “developed world” countries, like England, Ireland, and Australia, are voicing their skepticism as well. From the position of the rest of Anglicanism, the Episcopal Church is about to go really rogue.

Finally, there’s the question of whether the Episcopal Church wants to be the “big tent” it purports to be, or whether it is set on continuing to devolve into a truly boutique denomination, with a very refined and “pure” clientele. To put it more sharply, do we want to keep the relatively few theological conservatives that we have left, or do we want to drive them off? This will be my sixth General Convention — three as a deputy (from two different dioceses), and now my third as a bishop. My first was 2003, which was, of course, a momentous year. My side lost the major battle that year, as it has ever since. Many (most?) of those whom I considered my closest co-laborers in the gospel have gone other directions, mostly various shades of Anglican-ish or Anglican-like. Love them as I do, I have neither an intention nor a desire to follow them.

I hope and expect to live the rest of my days and be buried by an Episcopal Church from which I too often feel profoundly alienated. Is it too much to hope for that I, and others who march to the proverbial different drummer, could be afforded some space in this church in which we might not only be tolerated, or treated affectionately as mascots, but be allowed to flourish?

We have been defeated. We understand that. The Episcopal Church celebrates same-sex marriage. That will not change in any future that is plausibly foreseeable. We are as desirous of moving on from a consumption with sex and gender as anyone else, and we don’t wish to be thought of as threatening by anyone.

What will enable us to not only stay, but take heart that we might thrive as a loyal opposition in the Episcopal Church? Among other things, perhaps, it will require the ability to look at the prayer book, including the Catechism, and find there a faith that we recognize as that of the Catholic Church of the creeds. The passage of A085 in its proposed form would remove that ability.

About The Author

Bishop Daniel Martins is retired Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in the Episcopal Church, which encompasses central and southern Illinois. He is also secretary of the Living Church Foundation’s board of directors. Among the members of the House of Bishops, he hangs out with the group known as the Communion Partners. He has previously served parishes in the dioceses of Louisiana, Northern Indiana, and San Joaquin.

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12 Responses

  1. Dennis Roberts

    Ok, Bishop Martins, I live in one of those diocese where marriage equality is forbidden by one of your friends. Parishes here are forbidden to do what General Convention has decided is normal and appropriate for Episcopalians.

    Is it not too much to also ask that I could be afforded some space in this church? What about those parishes in your diocese who desire to join the rest of the Episcopal Church? Do they not deserve the same space that you ask for? But no, you have refused the approved offices of this church for many good Episcopalians who, like you, would like to live out their days in this church.

    Bishops aren’t princes in their independent fiefdoms. If you decide to exclude people whom the rest of the church welcomes then the rest of the church should and must step in.

    You have actively threatened the position of many clergy who have a different belief here than you do. And now you cry that you are being oppressed. Classic, I suppose. Don’t wish to be thought of as threatening? Then don’t threaten. Make it possible for those parishes in your diocese who desire to do so to celebrate marriages of all good Episcopalians.

    You have actively forced parishes and priests to act against their conscience and have been the cause of many good Episcopalians leaving. And now you cry that you might be forced to act against your conscience and some people who agree with you might leave.

    What is good for the goose is good for the gander. What comes around goes around. We can only ask to be treated as we have treated others. Think on these things.

    Make room for others if you wish to have room made for you.

    But you have shown yourself incapable of doing this and now want special treatment.

    Well, God willing, these changes will pass at GC in Austin.

    • Bishop Daniel Martins

      I take it you don’t find my way of “making provision”–working to find a priest from a neighboring diocese who would come in and preside on neutral ground–adequate, right? What’s in play here is not just my conscience, but the integrity of my ministry as Chief Teacher in the diocese, which is part of what I was ordained to do. I am bound to *teach* that marriage cannot be redefined, that it is a bond and covenant between a woman and a man, because God instituted it so in creation, and Jesus reaffirmed it in his own teaching. In the scope not only of history, but the status quo in the Anglican Communion, this is an utterly unremarkable position. If I were to allow one of my own clergy to preside at the solemnization of a same-sex relationship, or allow a priest from outside to do so in one of the churches under my oversight, I would be a hypocrite, and I would be transgressing against my ordination vow to guard the faith and unity of the church. If my authority to act in this way is proscribed, then my role as Chief Liturgical Officer/Pastor/reacher will be fatally compromised, and the Episcopal Church will have embraced a completely novel ecclesiology that is not part of our heritage.

  2. Gerald Mendoza

    If a bishop opposes SSM on (biblical and recieved tradition ) moral hrounds or, natural law for that matter,and yet “makes provisions” in a neighboring diocese isn’t that material cooperation with that which he find morally objectionable in the first place?

  3. Fr. David Terwilliger

    Thank you, Bishop Martins, for this important article.

  4. John A Miller

    I believe the solution to the issue, Draconian in the eyes of some, i suppose, is to take the Church out of the business of marriage entirely. Require all Episcopalians who wish to marry to do so in a civil ceremony recognizing the legal compact between two persons of whatever gender. Then allow them to seek the blessing of their parish church which would be up to the Rector thereof, under the pastoral guidance / direction of the Bishop. I recall a local rector here in Philadelphia who, when asked if he could bless a same-sex union on the twentieth anniversary, in a private, not public, venue, responded, “I am a priest; I can bless anything I want.” The church as marriage factory is just a holdover from the established Church of England, and the practice does not obtain in most of the civilized world. Marriage as a contract is a civil affair; blessing a union, like blessing anything else, is the prerogative of the Church.

    • Zachary Guiliano

      Marriage is one of the sacraments. The Church cannot, because of pastoral difficulties in one age, give up on that with its hands thrown up in surrender.

    • Bishop Daniel Martins

      i am actually not particularly opposed to this idea. We would retain the sacramental aspect but let loose of the civil contract aspect.

    • Michael Boyle

      I don’t see how this solves the basic disagreement. Presumably, in the 93 Episcopal dioceses that currently allow for the use of the trial liturgies, everything would go on as before, minus the formal element of the priest signing the marriage license. And in Bishop Martens’s diocese, he would presumably refuse to allow his priests to bless the marriages of same-sex couples, at least in a public way, leading to all of the same disputes we see now regarding the proper scope of his authority. Plus, I presume that the advocates for the appropriateness of same-sex marriage would still push to remove the language from the Catechism in the Prayer Book that states that a marriage is necessarily between a man and a woman (as they don’t believe that).

      Unless the proposal is for the Episcopal Church to become wholly indifferent to marriage and say nothing about it anywhere, drawing this distinction just displaces the dispute into a different forum. It might have been a way forward 20 years ago as a solution to the political question of same-sex marriage (getting rid of all legal marriages in favor of mandatory civil unions, and letting churches bless what they want to bless), but I don’t see how it does anything regarding the intra-church dispute.

  5. Maurice Geldert

    As a priest of the Church, I was empowered to refuse to marry any couple, period. I still have that authority regarding hetero-sexual couples, but not same sex couples. Should I refuse to marry a same-sex couple, now must ‘refer’ them to a more-accepting place regardless of the reasons I chose not to marry them. My obligation to discern commitment, Christian understanding of marriage, etc. is no longer in play. What does seem in play is the attitude of Mr.Roberts and others of “What is good for the goose is good for the gander”; a sentiment not wholly,(or holy), in step with the Gospel.

  6. Lynn Czarniecki

    This makes me profoundly sad. The article before this one talks about Bishop Curry’s sermon about love. Then comes this, the opposite of that. There was a time when the church quoted the bible to justify slavery and the oppression of women. So, Jesus attended a wedding. He also talked over and over about love, compassion and not letting archaic rules dominate religion. I love my LGBTQ friends and I see how they love their partners and I want only for them to be able to celebrate that love as I did with my husband. I cannot see why anyone would want to deny them something so beautiful, and in so doing deny their identity as children of God.

    • John Bunyan

      (1) Jesus remained an observant Jew, keeping “archaic rules” but placing an emphasis, of course, on love or care for God and neighbour. He was not a liberal protestant, and it is worth reading some of the major studies of the Jewish Jesus by e.g. Geza Vermes and other New Testament scholars that show that.
      (2) Jesus spoke only of a man and a woman being joined together by God in marriage, indeed with strong words about divorce (with variations in St Mark and St Matthew – and in the manuscripts). In general, the latter are not followed in most Anglican and Episcopal churches, and others of course do not see what Jesus says about marriage as preventing same-sex marriage or the blessing of same sex unions. Whether they are right or wrong (and my own Church of Australia officially thinks they are wrong), I cannot see how one can appeal to Jesus in support of same sex marriage when he said nothing about it.
      (3) There will continue to be links and bonds of various kinds, some weak, some strong, between Anglican churches, and between Anglicans, whether inside or outside the informal Anglican (Episcopal) Communion, and we can only do what we can in whatever way we can to strengthen those and to seek, as Ephesians says, to strengthen the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace

  7. Clark Lemons

    Bishop Martin, it is right that you express your opposition to changing marriages between gay people in the church if you wish to. Your side has been “defeated,” as you say, and the church may continue, as you say, “to devolve into a truly boutique denomination, with a very refined and ‘pure’ clientele.” I can tell, from the tenor of your remarks, that you will not leave The Episcopal Church for a break-away or start your own on the issue. You will move on as we all will.

    You will be happier in the long run, I think, in a church that continues considering its history thoughtfully and evolves–in the Anglican way–and as it focuses more and more on the biblical witness and on the good news and comfort Jesus brings to everyone, including gay people, through its sacraments.


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