The Episocpal Church’s gay rights pilgrimage

View Photo Gallery: From same sex marriages to prohibitions on homosexual behavior, Christian churches range in their outreach to gay members. … Continued

View Photo Gallery: From same sex marriages to prohibitions on homosexual behavior, Christian churches range in their outreach to gay members.

Today the U.S. Supreme Court received friend-of-the-court briefs arguing in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples in two historic cases challenging California’s Proposition 8 and the federal “Defense of Marriage Act” or DOMA. As the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of California I signed on to briefs for religious organizations and leaders opposing both Proposition 8 and DOMA. At my invitation more than two dozen Episcopal bishops across the country did so as well. I’d like to tell you why.

First, The Episcopal Church has always seen itself as existing in our culture, not outside or above or in opposition to our culture. For over a century, Episcopalians look to the model of Christ transforming culture, rather than, say, Christ against culture. Even the idea of Christ transforming culture has evolved, so today many Episcopalians look for the divine at work far beyond the reaches of our church buildings, and beyond those who identify as Episcopalians or even as Christians.

On marriage equality, our church has traveled on pilgrimage with our culture. Sometimes we have led in advocacy for marriage equality, and sometimes we have learned from the culture and from leaders outside the church. We have developed rites for blessing and marriage for all, and we have extended the support of the church to LGBT people in the form of premarital counseling and the integration of same-sex couples into loving communities of faith. The historic social prominence of The Episcopal Church lays some extra responsibility on us to use our influence for good. Thus we have advocated with courts and lawmakers at every level of government to promote marriage equality.

What about the charge that we have thrown away tradition? Over and over I’ve heard people jokingly (mostly) call our church, “Catholic light,” and claim (this, almost always derogatorily) that The Episcopal Church has no clear moral standards. It is easy for such a church, the argument goes, to irresponsibly accept culturally-led innovations like marriage equality.

The second thing about Episcopalians and marriage equality, then, that is important to say at this moment is that we are a church that believes Christ continues to be with the world, moving with us, helping us find meaning in moments of joy and also loss and pain. The Christ whom we recognize is the one who speaks in John’s Gospel, saying, “There are many things I would teach you but you cannot bear them now … the Sprit will lead you into all truth.” For Episcopalians, tradition is a moving force that is not only dynamic but that changes quality over time, and we might liken the change to be one of more light being cast into the world.

We overturned nearly two millennia of set tradition when we began ordaining women 34 years ago. We repudiated the traditional tolerance of slavery and racial prejudice in the mid-20th century. We traded our cultural privilege and hegemony as a largely Anglo denomination for the wealthy and have deliberately become more and more consciously a church for all. In all these things we have prayed and thought and been in earnest conversation in and out of the church, and believed that in the end we have discerned better the mind of Christ than we had in the past.

It can definitely be unsettling to find that some structures and beliefs are not fixed and unchanging. Add to that the fact that the Episcopal Church has no doctrine of infallibility, of anybody, and one can understand those who prefer more predictability. For me, I hope to stay open to divine surprise.

Marc Handley Andrus is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California.

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  • tbridges49

    very well said Bishop

  • EastCoastCommentator

    “our church has traveled on pilgrimage with our culture.”

    It appears that culture is dictating what the church should find acceptable.

    God does not change. Why should the church follow culture and not God?

    ” says the Lord of hosts. “For I, the Lord, do not change;”

  • Apoorsinner

    What a bunch of hogwash. This essay pretty much sums up why I left the Episcopal Church: it’s overidentification with the current culture, at the expense of the Gospel.

    As G.K Chesterton said, “Dead things go with the stream, but it takes something living to go against the stream.”

  • pvw

    Is it a matter of changing with the culture or being aware of newer challenges to faith and possibilities that arise through culture?

  • william27

    Thanks, Bishop. However, lots of churches have overturned “nearly two millennia” of set tradition when they began ordaining women. Off hand, I believe the Methodists had women bishops before you. Your church wasn’t the first.

  • quiensabe

    Please, Mark Handley, show us where Jesus sent you out to foster marriage equality.

    There seems to be a part that says go into all the world and baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

  • mitchw7959

    Yessirree! hanging out with prosititutes, lepers, and tax collectors is so *not* like Jesus. We wouldn’t want to do anything so icky as to be welcoming and inclusive of those who have been despised and discriminated against by the Pharisees and high priests.

    I am most especially grateful to Bishop Mariann of the Diocese of Washington and to Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton of Maryland for their steadfast support and witness on behalf of the LGBT community and glad that the Holy Spirit is quite alive and well in our midst.

  • An-Toan

    The brief’s message is logically sound, beautifully worded, and endearing . . . thank you.

  • An-Toan

    The brief is graceful in how it speaks truth to power.

  • Catken1

    “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    Would you like someone else to demand your civil marriage be vetoed, and your children’s lives made less secure, because their religion disapproved of your choice of spouse?

  • juliaandrews

    If the culture dictated what the church finds acceptable, the church would preach greed, mental and physical sloth, vanity, and apathy. Thank God it does not!

  • Tee7

    This article does not reflect all of Episcopalians views only a small group of liberal progressives that have hi-jacked the denomination. The church is to engage culture to transform culture. How can you transform culture when you accept what the culture loves. Christ church is to be seperated from the world not like it. How can the world tell you are a Christian and different from them if you like love the world the world will love you as its own. You have nothing to offer the world that the world can’t already get in the world. Whats the motivation for coming to Christ again? Culture does not transform the church, the church transforms the culture.

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