Thursday, January 06, 2011


Lesbian Episcopal Clergy Married by Massachusetts Bishop 

“The majority of the Episcopal Church is increasingly practicing a separate faith.”
-Jeff Walton, Spokesman for IRD’s Anglican Action Program

Washington, DC—The marriage of two lesbians, both high-profile Episcopal priests in Massachusetts, has spotlighted anew the long-running controversy over same-sex unions in both the U.S.-based Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion with which it is affiliated.

The Rev. Mally Lloyd, a ranking official of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, married the Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, dean and president of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, on New Year’s Day in Boston, according to the Patriot-Ledger. Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, the state’s highest ranking Episcopal prelate, presided. Ragsdale has been a controversial figure in the 2.1 million-member denomination for both her outspoken affirmation of same-sex “marriage” and homosexual clergy, as well as her unqualified defense of abortion as a “blessing.”

Bishop Shaw has also openly supported gay marriage for years. Shaw gave his parish priests permission to perform same-sex marriages soon after the 2009 Episcopal General Convention voted to allow “generous pastoral response” in such situations.
Jeff Walton, spokesman for IRD’s Anglican Action Program, commented:
“Much like the consecration of openly partnered homosexual Bishops Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool, the Episcopal Church’s embrace of same-sex unions continues to drive a wedge between liberal Anglicans in the U.S. and traditionalists in the Global South.

“Ultimately, this is a dispute about scriptural authority, with liberals following what they attest to be widening human experience about sexuality, while traditionalists appeal to historic teachings of the Church and a plain reading of Scripture.

“The majority of the Episcopal Church is increasingly practicing a separate faith from what most Anglicans practice worldwide.”

Alan Wisdom, IRD Vice President for Research and Programs, commented:
“The Scriptures consistently teach that marriage is instituted by God as a gift to all humankind, and that we are to honor that gift.

“Shall we assert the right to redefine marriage to suit our own contemporary notions of justice? Shall we treat marriage as if it were no different from other sexual relationships? Or shall we reaffirm the vision of an exclusive, lifelong, one-flesh union of the two complementary sexes created by God? Only the latter option is faithful to the Scriptures and the worldwide Christian tradition.”
Alan Wisdom’s paper “Is Marriage Worth Defending?” is viewable on the IRD website.
The Institute on Religion & Democracy works to reaffirm the church's biblical and historical teachings, strengthen and reform its role in public life, protect religious freedom, and renew democracy at home and abroad.

Commenting on this Press Release, and "Is Marriage Worth Defending," the Rector of the Church I attend in Mill Valley, California (Church of Our Saviour) responded by email in this way:

Dear Peter,

Regarding the IRD piece, I think most or all of these points from the perspective of scripture, tradition, and reason are much more comprehensively handled in Tobias Haller’s scholarly Reasonable and Holy. ( )

I agree with some 90% of what the IRD author articulates as goods of marriage. The deeper question is what is essential to marriage. He appears to argue that procreation, amongst a few other goods, is essential. I find this assertion fallacious, as we know numerous heterosexual couples who are biologically childless, and I think we would be loathe to claim that their marriages are any less valid than, say, my own. Moreover, the assertion that marriage can only be between a man and woman is largely just that : an assertion without any deeper appeal to reason, along the lines of “we’ve never done it this way before.”

I also quibble with the author over the assertion that the Bible offers a consistent view of marriage. Given the tacit acceptance of polygamy amongst some of the patriarchs, concubinage amongst the heroic kings of Israel, the primacy of celibacy in the New Testament, and Jesus’ largely negative view of the institution of marriage as it was manifest in his time (our appeal to the wedding in Capernaum in our wedding liturgy is amongst the flimsiest of scriptural arguments in the BCP – the focus is never on the bride on the groom, but rather on what Jesus is up to in the kitchen!), I find the assertion, along with the remark that marriage should be the “norm” dubious. Moreover, the understanding of marriage and sexuality – even in Jesus’ time – is very far removed from our own. Much of the biblical world regarded sexuality as the domain of the man (the woman was regarded as passive, and idealized as obedient) and marriage largely about the transmission of patriarchal property and legitimacy and the protection of male honor. This is a very far cry – probably farther than we can imagine – from the legal equality and protections that are mutually held and enjoyed by married couples today, or the legally recognized agency of women in sexual relationships (prohibiting rape in marriage is a strikingly recent addition to the law in many states), or the recognition that same-sex orientation is found naturally occurring in the human family and wider creation.

For these reasons, I think it best to say the biblical record seems to hold this overarching theme: that fidelity, mutuality, and charity define a healthy relationship of any kind. Given the ways marital fidelity and infidelity are used as images by the prophets and in the apocalyptic literature, faithful marriage exhibiting these virtues is held as an example of the fidelity that God hopes for His people.

As Tobias Haller has argued more eloquently than I in Reasonable and Holy, I do not believe that same-sex marriages pose the threat that the IRD and others appear to argue they do. Quite the contrary. The question has helped raise up the goods of marriage which I believe are essential, and have been too often lost in a hyper-sexualized, unchaste, and shallow depiction of married life in much popular media. For starters, the goods of marriage include:

• Mutuality (which assumes, as I understand it, monogamy)

• Fidelity and stability

• The creation of a locus of hospitality that brings good to the wider community (the establishment of the household) – and this can include hosting a family, including children – biological or adopted.

The sexual relationship is meant to help support, reflect, and cultivate these goods in the relationship. It is not an end (a good) unto itself. In this sense, marriage helps us discipline our sexuality. The witness of same-sex couples in my own lifetime has been to precisely this. In many cases, I have learned more about how to be faithful to my marriage vows and wife from them than from many heterosexual married couples I know. Put another way, and contrary to the assumptions of the IRD article, to argue the good of heterosexual marriage does not necessarily negate the possibility of these same goods in homosexual marriage.

I am concerned that much of the argument coming from the far right tends to raise marriage to the level of an idol. It is clearly not the ideal state for all people. In this regard, however, I remain quite conservative (and I believe orthodox) in that permanent fidelity or continent celibacy are the ideal choices held for us vis à vis sexuality both in the overall biblical record and in Catholic teaching. Christian marriages are healthy and fruitful only in as much as they cultivate the charity of each member of the family and charity in the wider community. For me, marriage is certainly not the end-all and be-all of Christian life. But I see no salient reason yet to withhold it from those same-sex couples who feel called to it. This is something the wider Episcopal Church is studying presently.

Unlike the IRD, I think we’re actually turning a corner with younger generations. I see younger people entering marriage with far greater care and attention to the vows and content of marriage than did many of their parents in the “me” generation. In The Episcopal Church, we have gotten much more serious about premarital preparation. Even for couples who are already cohabiting, this has turned out to be incredibly important work to forge a lasting and faithful marriage.

Another irony of our times: it is my understanding that the highest divorce rate is not found in the more liberal parts of the country, but in the Bible belt and the deep South. My analysis of this is actually marriages are set up to fail by overly high expectations often clothed as Christian ideals and exacerbated by the economic pressures and inequities and the sexual romanticism of our age.

I don’t have to tell you (or anyone) that marriage is hard work. So is living in community. Both require considerable discipline. But then, a life of charity always does, whether we’re coupled or single, right?

The Reverend Richard Helmer +
Rector, Church of Our Saviour
Mill Valley, CA

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