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July 18, 2012

Column 1612

Episcopal Church Votes Overwhelmingly for Gay Marriage

By Mike McManus

The Episcopal Church voted overwhelmingly to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions last week. More than three-fourths of the House of Deputies supported changing the definition of marriage, and by 111-41, the House of Bishops concurred.

“It is for all practical purposes same-sex marriage,” protested one critic.  “It includes all of the essential elements found in a marriage rite: vows, an exchange of rings, a pronouncement, and a blessing.”

But it is called, rather demurely, “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant.”

However, the South Carolina delegation courageously walked out in protest, saying “We cannot continue with business as usual. We all agree that we cannot and will not remain on the floor of the House and act as if all is normal.”   Anticipating the vote, South Carolina even prepared a statement a month earlier:

“We hereby repudiate and reject any action of The Episcopal Church which purports to bless what the Lord clearly does not bless. Specifically, we declare any rite which purports to bless same-gender unions to be beyond the authority and jurisdiction of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church and without force or effect.”

Following the vote, Canon Kendall Harmon, South Carolina’s resident theologian, stated, “This General Convention action is unbiblical, unchristian, unAnglican and unseemly. By making this decision, The Episcopal Church moves further away from Jesus Christ and His teaching. 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.” 

Why was this courageous?  Others protested the overwhelming votes in favor of same-sex unions, including a dozen bishops and 50 members of the House of Delegates. However, none walked out except South Carolinians.

The dissenting bishops said, “Our commitment to the biblical witness includes its teaching on sexuality.  We believe that the Scriptures clearly teach that God’s vision for sexual intimacy is that it be exercised only within the context of marriage between a man and a woman.” 

On the other hand, they felt bound “to resist the temptation to leave.”

Why?  Hundreds of former Episcopal churches left the denomination to form the Anglican Church of North America, which now has 100,000 members.  Virtually the entire Dioceses of Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Quincy, IL and San Joaquin in the Central Valley of California walked out after Episcopalians in 2003 approved the election of Gene Robinson as bishop though he was openly gay, living with a boyfriend.

To Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina, The Episcopal Church took a more important step last week.  “It has gone from wrong practice to a change that embodies wrong teaching. The General Convention departed from the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ that every bishop, priest and deacon promised to uphold.”

Yet he has not yet left the denomination, as did the bishops of the dioceses noted above.  Does he plan to do so?

“I had not left heretofore, and had assented to a position that was in substantial error.” But he now sees the need for “moral courage to stand up and push back against the breakdown of all significant sexual and gender norms, guided by a concern for the unleashing of sexual anarchy in people’s lives and that of their children.

“My conscience demanded me to separate myself from the body that enacted same gender unions and the normalization of transgender sexuality.”

He will meet with his 75 parishes next week to consider the possibility of the diocese leaving the Episcopalians and joining the Anglicans. There are a half dozen parishes who oppose leaving.

However, most are ready to depart.  “The Episcopal Church is in a free fall,” says Dr. Peter Moore, a priest at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, an historic Charleston congregation founded in colonial times.  Moore was also the founder of Trinity Theological Seminary, which is so orthodox that 80% of its students are Anglicans.

I asked for evidence of the “free fall.” He replied, “Average Sunday attendance is under 700,000 when it used to be twice that.  People are jumping ship.  It is just not worth it to be involved in all this controversy.  We are looking at the fruit of liberal Protestantism, which is more trendy than thou.  People know it is not Christianity.”

  “Secondly, the money is drying up.”  For example, the church decided to sell its fancy New York headquarters, with a top floor penthouse for the church’s Presiding Bishop.

Harmon says, “We have parishioners and churches who are forced to choose between their faith and the church.” 

I predict they will choose their faith.

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