CNY Ally Testifies in Support of Same-Sex Marriage

From the October 2012 PNL #818

T J Geiger

It was a hot summer, but inside the Indiana Convention Center where the General Convention of the Episcopal Church met, we had some coolheaded dialogue about issues divisive in both religious and civil society. In particular, this body voted to authorize a liturgy (church ritual) for the blessing of same-sex couples.

General Convention is the decision-making authority for the Episcopal Church. Composed of the House of Bishops (the elected leaders of dioceses) and the House of Deputies (eight people elected at each diocesan convention), this body takes positions on theological and political issues.

I went as a non-voting visitor with the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Young Adult Initiative, people 18-30 recruited to give testimony and track resolutions related to peace and justice.

For the last few years, the Episcopal Church had been developing a liturgy for use with gay and lesbian couples that wish to have their lifelong covenants blessed by the Church. Though it is not the sacrament of marriage, the debated blessing is clearly informed by the marriage ceremony and recognizes the holiness of a same-sex relationship.

I put my name on a list to testify at the committee hearing on the resolution to authorize this liturgy in a packed ballroom, standing room only for people wanting to be part of this debate.

There was a speaker from central Florida, a priest, who expressed worry that passing this resolution would lead to Christian deaths in Muslim-majority countries. Astounded by the appeal to Islamophobia in her homophobic comments, I opened my remarks by responding to her:

“When beliefs create a culture of death, a culture that makes suicide seem like an option preferable to life, beliefs need to change. In response to the fear of Christian deaths in other countries if this resolution were passed, I remind us that people here are already dying. LGBT youth, LGBT couples are dying and being killed because of the beliefs operative in the US about LGBT folks... The resurrection message of Jesus, that we have the power to redeem life in the midst of death, provides me with hope and holds out the promise of a world transformed and healed by a justice that includes abundant life, not bare life, for all.”

LGBT Christians, clergy and lay, stood to share their stories of love and the struggle of not having full civil rights or church rites. These individuals, whose gifts to the church have been incalculable, made arguments in favor of the resolution not through simple citations of Scripture, but through the authentic witness of lives lived in faith with integrity.

Another speaker, the only person of color to testify to this resolution, came from Tanzania. In the US context, he said, this move makes perfect sense—don’t be stopped by people elsewhere in the Anglican Communion. His words were powerful because one argument against this blessing was that it would further strain relationships with other churches with which we share a tradition.

Others objected that this liturgical witness was moving too quickly. However, in 1976 (the year we recognized the right of women to ordination) the Episcopal Church adopted a statement proclaiming that lesbian and gay children of God “have a full and equal claim... upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern of the Church.” Since that day we have been wrestling, wrangling, wringing our hands, and wondering together about what it means to be truly welcoming, a place where we live up to the greeting our signs proclaim: “The Episcopal Church welcomes you.”

The resolution passed the House of Bishops: 111 yes, 41 no, and three abstentions. One-by-one the bishops’ names were called and they responded with their vote. Bishop “Skip” Adams of Central New York voted yes. The next day, it passed in the House of Deputies: 78% in the lay order and 76% in the clergy order. The entire CNY delegation voted yes.

The Episcopal Church is now the largest denomination in the US to offer a blessing to same-sex couples. It stands as a living testament to the fact that neither Jesus nor the Bible, neither the label “Christian” nor the houses of worship are mere commodities in the reactionary politics of fear and bigotry. This decision will hopefully empower people to challenge the supposedly religious nature of homophobic arguments. Fred Phelps and Pat Robertson can’t claim ownership of Christianity or a monopoly on God. Some Christians seek a society where love is affirmed and where faith fuels a commitment to social justice. A more just world is possible, and we all (secular and religious) must work together if we hope to achieve it.

T J is a doctoral candidate in the Writing Program at Syracuse University and a member of Grace Episcopal Church in Syracuse.