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Friday, November 16, 2012

When one Rite makes a wrong

the Rt. Rev'd Scott Anson Benhase, Diocese of GA  

The Bishop of Georgia (NOT Atlanta) has issued a pastoral letter concerning his decision about a "local adaptation" of the provisional Rites of Blessing which was approved by General Convention this past July.

He writes, in part:
The Rite approved by General Convention in July of this year failed, in my judgment, to plainly distinguish between Holy Matrimony and a Blessing. The enabling resolution for the Rite that was passed, however, provided Diocesan Bishops with the ability to "adapt" the Rite for use in their respective dioceses. I had hoped the language would have authorized something more expansive than "adaption," but that did not happen. So, we must work within the structures of what the Church has decided. None of this is perfect. We all look "through a glass darkly," as St Paul reminds us. I am unconcerned by what is politically, socially, or culturally expedient, or what will be the majority opinion. I am concerned with doing what is right in the eyes of God.
I am always alarmed when people - especially bishops - talk about "what is politically, socially, or culturally expedient, or what will be the majority opinion " vs "doing what is right in the eyes of God," - as if the church isn't in the culture and the culture isn't "in bed" with the church in terms of "traditional marriage".

I was, at least, glad that at least "something" would be offered to LGBT people in the Diocese of GA.

Until I read the "rite".

You can find it here in Appendix 1. The criteria can be found in Appendix 2.

Wow ! Talk about "holier than thou"!

Bishop Gene Robinson left a comment over at Episcopal Cafe that sums up some of my feelings:
If I were a committed gay couple and looked at this, my reaction would be: "Is that it? Is that all? A 2-minute sidebar diversion, buried in a eucharist?! The blessing of a new altar frontal takes longer!". And can you imagine what committed straight couples would say if this were all THEY were offered in blessing their relationships??!!

I suppose the Bishop of Georgia has the right to do what he has done, in "adapting" the authorized rite -- although even in Parliamentary Procedure, when a resolution is so profoundly altered that the original is no longer remotely present, it is not an "amended" resolution, but a "substitute!"

IMHO, Bishop Benhase offers a "substitute," and a deplorable, weak and unacceptable one at that!
When will the institutional church and some of its purple princes learn that you can dress prejudice up in fancy vestments, use theological language and blow holy smoke from a turible all around it but that won't change a thing? It still looks and smells like prejudice.

Then again, I'm thinking at least some of the folks in GA are quite familiar with "separate but equal".

Separate water fountains and sitting in the back of the bus (but at least ON the bus) were eventually ruled for what they are: "prejudice". As I recall, the church assisted in the process of helping the government to see through the charade and to look at the injustice.

Isn't it interesting that now that the shoe is on the other foot in another issue, the church is the one saying, "Segregation yesterday. Segregation today. Segregation forevah."

LGBT people may have a seat on the liturgical bus in the Diocese of GA, but it's not even the back of the bus. We've been thrown under the bus. Because, apparently, this is, as Bishop Benhase says, "doing what is right in the eyes of God".

Look, I appreciate the difficult situation the bishop is in. He writes:
For some my decision will go too far. For others my decision will not go far enough. I understand. Nevertheless, as your Bishop I must lead us through this in the best way I can given the constraints present and the diversity of positions we respectively hold in the Diocese of Georgia.
For me, it's not about not having gone "far enough". It's sprinkling stale, dry crumbs when Jesus promises us the Bread of Life.

Bishop Benhaus has the right to "adapt" the Church's provisional rite in his diocese, but if the old proverb "two wrongs don't make a right," -  a wrongful action is not a morally appropriate way to correct or cancel a previous wrongful action - is right, then I need to say that this one Rite makes a huge, hurtful, demeaning, insulting Wrong.

I don't expect any of what I've said in this blog post - or anywhere else in the blogosphere - will change the bishop's mind, but I do hope it brings some comfort and hope to LGBT Episcopalians in the Diocese of GA.

Allow me to offer some words of truth and assurance: You're not crazy - or selfish or 'immature' or not a good Christian - for thinking this is insulting.  

I don't have anything more than that assurance to offer you at this time, except the fervent prayer that you will continue to be a witness to the love of God as you see it reflected in each other's eyes. 

And, that your bishop's heart will grow in love so that he may lead the people of the Diocese of GA more nearly into the Light of Christ, that, eventually - one of these days, soon, please - you all may do "what is right in the eyes of God".


Matthew said...

This is the worst of all possible outcomes. Remaining silent or simply saying that blessings are not yet authorized in this diocese would have been better because that approach would not have been an occassion for hubris, put-downs, and public self-centeredness. Its also theologically stupid and illogical. There are those who feel that same sex sex acts are sinful. Not my opinion but you can at least see how they might draw that conclusion from a reading of certain scriptural passages. But once you have gotten to the point of saying they are not sinful, then there really is no point of discrimination or their shouldn't be because the acts and relationships are no less sinful than straight relationships. Unless he is saying that the relationships are kinda not really sinful but not really ideal either. Which is the Joel Osteen, "have it both ways because I really need to be seen as a political 'moderate' lingo." Which is triangulation and not Jesus and makes no theological sense. And it begs the fundamental question which Bp. Benhase should be asked, "So, what do you think of gay relationships? Are they holy? Christlike? Godly? How would you characterize committed loving gay relationships? Is he saying that such relationships are not very good but not totally sinful either? He should be asked and he should be forced to answer. Too much is at stake to be theologically coy.


But wait ... there's more! I hadn't "clicked through" enough to read this part ... but "IT" did over on Friends of Jake. Check it out:

And if that's not bad enough, they must also sign the following: (PDF)

"We, ________________________________________________________,
desiring to receive the blessing of God in the Church and having committed ourselves to
a life-long relationship characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection, respect,
and holy love, acknowledge and understand that this Rite bestows upon our relationship
God’s grace-filled blessing. It does not bestow upon our relationship any legal status in
civic life or from any civil authority. The Canons of the Church state: “Holy Matrimony
is a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman, entered into within the
community of faith, by mutual consent of heart, mind, and will, and with intent that it
be lifelong” Canon 1.18.1(2)(b). We understand that this Rite is not Holy Matrimony."

Because -- adds IT -- we wouldn't want you homos CONFUSED that you are actually MARRIED or anything like that. Just admit that you are second class scum of the Church and be thankful we are letting you get noticed.

Seriously. No wonder Jesus wept!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - Here's the thing that fries my onions: We are NOT blessing "relationships". We are NOT blessing "lifestyles". We are NOT blessing "sexual acts". We ARE blessing covenants. Isn't that what the church is supposed to do?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Susan - I DID read that. It's just awful. I'm betting solid money that there's a church - oh, somewhere near Savannah - that is holding a really, really big bag of money over his head.

Pat Klemme said...

I am not privileged to be a Georgian Episcopalian, but I share the pain of my LGBT sisters and brothers in Georgia who must feel stung to the depths of their soul. Even from a diocesan distance I feel personally belittled and spiritual beaten. Matthew writes that this is worse than "remaining silent or simply sayinng that blessings are not yet authorized."

As far as I know silence remains the policy of Bp. Kirk Smith in the Diocese of Arizona (but NOT Navajoland). It seems to be up to each rector or vicar and their congregations how welcome I may or may not be. Don't know for sure. I gave up quite a while ago and made my peace without the Episcopal Church. This is a solution that works for me, because I have healthy alternatives.

Here it is, the second decade of the 21st century, when government and business are way ahead of religions in promoting healthy diversity. It's not just the Episcopal Church as a whole nor Congregationalists/United Church of Christ as a whole. TEC and UCC are at the forefront of change. It is the whole spectrum of Christendom. It is the weight of hierarchial Roman Catholicism, historic Protestant puritanism, and random evangelical mega-churches that drag us back unless we have a bishop who stands up for LGBT inclusion. To his credit, Bp. Smith licenses clergy to serve parishes in Arizona without regard to sexual orientation. We have had some stellar GL members of the clergy. Now if we can just get him to authorize blessings for same sex couples. :) Guess he will be along when he is ready. Meanwhile this story makes me feel grateful for his remaining silent on the subject. (But not too grateful.)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

All I can say, Pat, is justice delayed is justice denied.

June Butler said...

Excellent post, Elizabeth. How is "we will tolerate you...barely," in any way pastoral? Yes, the bishop is in a difficult situation, but I repeat Paige Baker's question at The Lead:

"Is a grudging and miserly 'blessing' really a blessing at all?"

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I suspect my answer is the same as yours and Paige's - an unequivocal and resounding - NO!

Matthew said...

I agree Elizabeth but I still think he should be asked and forced to answer the questions that are part of this comment thread and that you have mentioned. As in: what does benhase think is happening when the covenant is blessed? Does he think the church is blessing a covenant or not? If it is not holy matrimony, what is the distinction? How would he characterize the difference between holy matrimony and what the church blesses in these same sex covenants? What are the indicia of holy matrimony versus these covenants? What is the substantive difference? Is it sacramental? How are gay relationships different so that they are not eligible for the term holy matrimony? He should be asked these questions and forced to answer. As I said before, too much is at stake to be theologically coy.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - I can't believe I'm saying this but try going over to Viagraland (SFiF) and read the comments about the bishop even allowing these few crumbs. I'm not justifying his position but I got a better understanding of why he moved in this direction. Here's the thing: Capitulation to bullies never settles the problem. The bishop will learn this. Eventually.

Matthew said...

Elizabeth, I almost never go over to Stand Firm. Their toxicity is so amazing that it's hard to read. However, even on the other "side" they are asking the same questions that i am asking - and they want those same questions answered. So why is transparency so bad for either side, it shouldn't be. Granted, their questions are slanted to their worldview but the questions are similar.
The very first commenter named Ralph asked some of the same questions I asked but in a different way: see comment #1 on this thread

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - Yes, I saw Ralph's question. He wrote to me, privately, a number of years ago and I could tell by his questions that he already had an answer in mind and I wasn't going to answer it correctly. When I brushed him off, he was so insulted he has never missed a chance to pull my name through the thick, angry mud over there ever since.

And yes, he was asking a similar question. But, don't hold your breath waiting for the bishop to answer either question. His mind is made up. That's as transparent as a yard of Irish lace.

SCG said...


Thanks for this post and your concern for those in the Diocese of Georgia. Looking at them from south of the border (Diocese of FL), I find his decisions odd, but at least the LGBT are acknowleged as existing. That's a step ahead of our diocese where we are expected to give our money and make beautiful music, but we are, as +Barbara Harris put it, "the half-assed baptized." The decision by our bishop to "Just Say No" was made before the General Convention, and that was that.
I hope for GA this will be the beginning of further dialogue. The drumbeat of equality is going to keep getting louder in the culture even in the south, and no matter what anyone in the church may want to believe, that drumbeat is going to echo in the rafters of the cathedrals from Savannah to Jacksonville. That's happened before in the life of the Episcopal Church. Glad to know that you will keep banging the drum with us.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I'm so tired of "at least" thinking. How long will we be given crumbs when Jesus promises bread? I am not half-assed baptized and neither are you. Neither are the LGBT Episcopalians in GA.

Sorry. You caught me in a bad mood.

MarkBrunson said...

I've taken so long to comment on this for the simple reason that I do not like our bishop. He strikes me as cold, imperious, self-important and picayune. So . . . I hope I'm not bending too far in trying to see both sides. The fact is that ssm is illegal in Georgia. Our glorious fellow citizens saw to that with an (unnecessary) amendment to the state constitution years ago. The state constitution already defined marriage as between male and female, so the amendment was a vicious, nasty, cruel twisting-of-the-knife in an already-backwards state. That's the reality of the people our church must live among. We're surrounded by this, and kept too poor to move far enough to get away from them.

Honestly, Elizabeth, you guys have no idea - it's like living in East Germany and talking to someone who knows only West Germany. I want to kill (not metaphorically) these people most of the time - so Bp. Benhase is probably doing his best.

MarkBrunson said...

I guess, my point is, here - we're not just half-ass baptized, we're barely human still. Atlanta likes us, as pets, tourist attractions, for the hair-dressing and floral-arranging industries, as sassy receptionists and p.a.'s to show how progressive they are. We are tolerated so long as we are Log Cabin or silent. Even our churches keep us as mere pets.

This is behind the Crinoline Curtain, baby.

Christina said...

How would someone begin to write a rite for 'gay union'? it has no scriptural evidence of being sanctified. Essentially the rite you're complaining about says about as much as can be said, that we hope God blesses you. I would add, let God lead us all to repentance at all times. It's through repentance that we are saved. Lord have Mercy.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, Christina. In fact, The Episcopal Church has done a great job of finding scriptural basis for this blessing rite. It's amazing what's right in front of your eyes when you open them!

I hope you find the repentance you seek.