Authorizing Marriage? Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions

By Mark D. Jordan; Meghan T. Sweeney et al. | Go to book overview

HOOKER AND THE NEW PURITANS

Kathryn Tanner

Because I believe that all the good theological and biblical arguments are on the progressive side, I admit to some discouragement at the seemingly intractable character of the debate over the morality or immorality of gay sex in the Christian churches, particularly in the Episcopal Church USA, of which I am a member. When it comes to gay sex, rational argument and the tools of persuasion have in my experience made little headway against ingrained commonplaces and what one might call the simple “ugh” factors of fear and disgust. I am increasingly convinced, however, that the issue of same-sex unions for the Anglican Communion can profitably be considered under the rubric of polity—that is, as an issue of church governance and proper liturgical forms.

As the flap over the consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire underscores, the major worries of those unconvinced either that sexually active gay people should be church leaders, or that their relationships should have church sanction, are polity worries. The church has never done this before, and therefore should not do so now. For the case of same-sex unions, doing otherwise means changing the church's longstanding practice of marrying only men and women by extending marriage to gay people on the same conditions as straight couples, or it means legislating from whole cloth, without prior precedent, a new rite for blessing committed gay couples. Liturgy is at the heart of Anglican identity; the Episcopal Church USA doing one thing while the rest of the Communion does another therefore strikes at the heart of what holds Anglicans together. How can African or Asian primates look on when the Episcopal Church goes so woefully astray on liturgical fundamentals in conformity to Western mores? Altering the canons of church life is not appropriate when it contradicts the mandates of scripture; and that, opponents suggest, is what is happening now in the Episcopal Church. Both the ordination of sexually active gay people and rites giving church support to gay relationships ignore a contradiction with scripture that underlies them; scripture prohibits gay sex, and church canons cannot overrule scriptural law. Even when all the usual processes of decision making were strictly enforced—for example, a duly elected bishop was confirmed by both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops at General Convention— those opposed to church decisions favoring gays have the right to contest

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