By Zachary Guiliano
“Episcopalians are seeking a way of living together imperfectly as Christians in the one Body, while respecting differences of teaching and practice. The Communion Partners believe the path upon which we are embarking is both charitable and prudent. Viewed in this way, B012 and the work of the Task Force on Communion across Difference may facilitate both seeking the truth of the Word of God and speaking it to one another in love, and [it may] help to heal divisions in the Body of Christ.” — Communion Partners FAQ on the 79th General Convention
Since General Convention in July, Anglicans and Episcopalians the world over have given a great deal of attention to the provision for same-sex marriages within the domestic dioceses of the Episcopal Church. Episcopal News Service has run multiple stories on the issue, and the U.K. aggregator Thinking Anglicans continues to note articles and host discussion on the topic. The latter has noted this morning an FAQ released by Communion Partners, posting it with a link to previous ENS stories.
There are at least three reasons for this attention.
(1) Human sexuality has been a flashpoint in the Anglican Communion for more than 20 years, and at the heart of divisive actions in numerous provinces.
(2) The resolutions touching on the issue at the 2018 Convention (B012 especially) were drafted with vague language about some key areas, and have already been interpreted in diverse ways.
(3) The Episcopal Church is still very much “in the middle” of working out some kind of lasting settlement for maintaining long-term unity amid doctrinal diversity. In doing so, it has looked to various precedents around the Communion, such as arrangements in the Church of England for creating space for those who do not accept the ministry of women as priests and bishops.
The issue of unity amid division or diversity is very much a live one, as recent developments in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia (ACANZP) have shown: invited by the primates of the province, Archbishop Glenn Davies of Sydney proposed that the province there divide neatly along conservative-progressive lines, and that such a model of distinctive coexistence be replicated as a model across the whole Anglican Communion.
In other words, the problems faced in TEC are not unique, but continue to bedevil numerous provinces. They are not going away, and are only likely to increase in scope as time goes on. The Communion will have to find some way forward that addresses human sexuality (and increasingly divergent doctrine and discipline related to it).
Within such a context, the Communion Partners FAQ surfaces six key principles or issues that must be part of any future discussion or settlement, both within TEC and in the Communion at large. (A number of its other topics are crucially important to TEC’s context, but are not entirely analogous to situations in other churches of the Communion.)
1. Bishops as “chief pastors, teachers, and liturgical officers of their dioceses”
2. Geographical vs. collegial provision of episcopal oversight
3. Legal and canonical distinctions
4. The doctrinal import of normative liturgical texts (vs. “commended,” “supplementary,” “trial use,” or “experimental” texts)
5. Provisional arrangements vs. lasting solutions
6. The relationship between parishes, dioceses, provinces, and the Anglican Communion
Each of these topics could and should be unpacked at greater length another time. For now, however, I’d like simply to quote some the most salient questions and answers from the Communion Partners document. By considering the local situation in TEC, we may consider ways forward for the whole Anglican Communion.
Q: Are all bishops now required to permit same-sex marriages in the congregations under their oversight and care as chief pastors, teachers, and liturgical officers of their dioceses?
A: No. Bishops may continue to lead their dioceses in accordance with the traditional teaching on marriage as found in Scripture and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, which is also the consensus position of the Lambeth Conference (Resolution 1.10, 1998), frequently reiterated by all the Anglican Instruments of Communion. Congregations that seek to perform same-sex marriages in such dioceses do so under the pastoral care of another bishop. The “Austin Statement” of the Communion Partner bishops recorded just this intention for their dioceses.
Q: Are congregations that proceed with the marriage of same-sex persons no longer part of dioceses led by Communion Partner bishops?
A: These congregations remain within their dioceses both legally and canonically. As in analogous situations elsewhere in the Communion (cf. “The Society” in the Church of England, comprised of congregations who for theological reasons cannot receive the pastoral ministry and spiritual oversight of their canonical bishop), they should continue to share in the councils of their diocese, support it financially, and understand their property to be held in trust.
In terms of important aspects of spiritual oversight and teaching, however, these congregations will be placed in the pastoral care of another bishop. It is this pastoral oversight of another bishop that allows them to perform same-sex marriages. Our expectation is that all congregations within all dioceses will continue to be connected, to the highest degree possible, enabling common life and shared work in witness to Christ.
Q: How settled is the current arrangement?
A: This situation is new and needs to be worked out carefully and wisely, with a view to the greatest possible unity and adaptation to variations in situation. Creativity will be needed as we move forward. This continuing work will be undertaken in part through the Task Force on Communion across Difference, but also in varying ways according to the context of each diocese, and in conversation with colleagues in the Communion, with the Instruments, and with the Archbishop of Canterbury as the center of unity. …
Q: What does B012 require, and what does it allow, when a bishop’s theological position does not embrace marriage for same-sex couples?
A: Several things.
The resolution requires that “the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority … shall invite, as necessary, another bishop of this Church to provide pastoral support to the couple, the Member of the Clergy involved and the congregation or worshipping community in order to fulfill the intention of this resolution that all couples have convenient and reasonable local congregational access to these rites.”
Two things are required here. First, the bishop, “as necessary,” shall invite “another bishop of this Church” to provide pastoral care to the couple, priest, and congregation, in order that second, all couples (same-sex and opposite-sex) will have reasonable local access to the marriage rites.
The resolution does not specify when such invitation to give pastoral care shall be deemed “necessary” nor by whom. It also does not specify the duration or extent of this pastoral care.
As such, the resolution allows bishops to implement what is required in varying ways. A bishop could, in theory, judge that his or her theological position on marriage simply precludes direct involvement in the marriage of same-sex couples, which can be solved by inviting another bishop to give judgment on the permissibility of a same-sex marriage where one or both of the parties are divorced, as required by canon (this scenario is specified in clause 11 of Resolution B012). Alternatively, a bishop could judge that his or her theological position on marriage requires him or her to invite “another bishop of this church” to provide pastoral care in a thoroughgoing and sustained way to a community that practices same-sex marriage, since that community differs significantly from the position of its bishop as chief pastor, teacher, and liturgical officer with respect to a sacramental rite of the Church. The wording of Resolution B012 is roomy enough to encompass both interpretations, so as to allow space for a variety of responses by bishops with differing theological views. This will result in different judgments as to what arrangement for supplemental episcopal pastoral care is “necessary.”
Moreover, while the resolution requires “convenient and reasonable local congregational access” to the Trial Use rites, it does not require all congregations to provide them. That remains subject to the “authority of the rector or priest-in-charge” under Canon III.9.6(a), as specified in clause 7. B012 therefore allows a rector to refer a couple seeking to marry using these Trial Use rites for pastoral care and the celebration of their marriage to another local congregation and priest. …
Q: Does B012 give us everything we need to walk together in the Episcopal Church?
A: No. It marks an important step in a continuing journey of truth and reconciliation. We need to work toward a “lasting path forward for mutual flourishing” of all Episcopalians, which will require at least a shared understanding of how this will be implemented. Accordingly, General Convention passed Resolution A227: Communion across Difference, which calls for a task force that will bring together on equal footing a diverse group of conservatives and progressives on marriage, in consultation with the Anglican Communion and our ecumenical partners.
Like the call of all Anglicans to walk together along a common road in one communion, however duly differentiated, Episcopalians are seeking a way of living together imperfectly as Christians in the one Body, while respecting differences of teaching and practice. The Communion Partners believe the path upon which we are embarking is both charitable and prudent. Viewed in this way, B012 and the work of the Task Force on Communion across Difference may facilitate both seeking the truth of the Word of God and speaking it to one another in love, and help to heal divisions in the Body of Christ.