With the Supreme Court’s ruling today legalizing same-gender marriage across the United States, some of us will be rejoicing, some of us will be grieving, and many of us will be wondering what comes next. Myself, I believe it is good and just that both the legal rights and obligations of marriage extend to all Americans, irrespective of gender. It’s another point along our long arc toward justice, the journey our nation has been traveling – sometimes with clumsy stumbles, sometimes with mighty strides – since European colonists first set foot on these shores.
About what comes next for the Episcopal Church and for St. Andrew’s, here’s the short answer: We don’t know any more today than we knew on Sunday, when I preached on this topic (see text in the last blog post). Our Church, gathered in its 78th General Convention, is considering several germane resolutions: changes in church law governing the Sacrament of Marriage, authorization of the rite for blessing same-gender relationships that’s been in trial use for three years, and creation of a trial marriage rite for same-gender couples. That trial rite was imagined for use in jurisdictions where same-gender marriage was legal. As of today, that reach is potentially nationwide.
I say “potentially” very intentionally. Even if (most likely, when) General Convention authorizes a trial marriage rite, the use of that rite will be determined by the bishop of each diocese. That is true for all supplemental liturgical materials (i.e., those outside the Book of Common Prayer): Each bishop sets the rules for how those rites will be used in his or her diocese. Of course, Bishop Marty will not yet be able to say how such a rite might be authorized for use here, particularly since General Convention hasn’t acted on one yet.
But I think it’s safe to say that the landscape of marriage will continue to change in the Episcopal Church and in the Diocese of West Missouri. That would be nothing new. The past several thousand years have seen a long arc of change in how the people of God have regarded marriage. It was once a transaction between father and husband, in which the woman was basically sold. Jesus and the apostle Paul sought to make it more mutual, with Jesus condemning divorce largely to protect women and Paul arguing for mutual submission following the model of Christ’s love (“Wives, be subject to your husbands … husbands, love your wives….” [Colossians 3:18-19]). Today, women no longer must vow obedience to their husbands, and the Episcopal Church mediates God’s blessing to divorced people through remarriage and full participation in church life. As is true for every couple, so it has been for the institution itself: Marriage is a journey.
About this historical moment in that journey, some of us will rejoice while others will mourn. If you’re rejoicing, I’d urge you to honor the grief of other brothers and sisters under this big tent. If you’re mourning, I’d urge you not to give in to despair or judgment but continue faithfully to explore this question in a spirit of discernment. Myself, I am proud of my Church for wrestling with this question of great promise and deep pain, faithfully standing in the gap and struggling to get this right in God’s eyes. It is not easy work, and I hope you’ll keep the bishops and deputies of General Convention in your prayers.
And let me ask this, too. As I said on Sunday, our best response to same-gender marriage, and every other issue that threatens to divide us, is to take a deep breath. Trust that Jesus Christ, the sovereign Lord of the universe, will guide us on this issue as he does in all our common life. Remember what he said to the disciples as their small boat was being slapped by wind and wave: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:41). Help us, Lord Christ, to trust in your power to still the storm. And make us your prophets of holy calm.