Commission Says Leave Gay Ordinations up to Bishops, Consider Blessing Gay Relationships

Episcopal News Service. February 28, 1991 [91054]

After three years of study and deliberations, the Standing Commission on Human Affairs will present a resolution to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church recommending that the ordination of gay candidates to the priesthood should be left to the discretion of local bishops.

If the resolution were adopted by the convention in Phoenix, "I would hope it would depoliticize those decisions to some degree," said Bishop George Hunt of Rhode Island and chair of the commission, in an interview with the Pittsburgh Press.

The proposed resolution says that "each diocese of this fully competent to determine whom best to the light of the qualifications presented for ordinations in the Book of Common Prayer...and in accordance with national and local canons and long-standing practice, the Ecclesiastical Authority in each diocese determines which clergy may be received or licensed to officiate with the respective diocese."

"What the resolution does is simply affirm the practice of the church throughout its history in the United States, of leaving those decisions to diocesan bishops and their standing committees," Hunt told the Press.

The commission's resolution comes after the House of Bishops voted in September 1990 to disassociate itself from the ordination of an openly gay priest in the Diocese of Newark in 1989. Yet, in spite of the vote, there is still lingering debate in the church about the binding authority of a 1979 General Convention resolution that said ordination of noncelibate homosexuals was "not appropriate."

"My own personal opinion is that passage of the [proposed] resolution would negate the 1979 resolution," Hunt said in a telephone interview. "If General Convention wants to legislate additional standards for ministry, it will have to be done with a canon change."

A proposal to amend the canons that explicitly prohibit the ordination of homosexuals is expected to be presented to the convention.

Blessing of relationships

In a separate section of its report, the commission will recommend that the church consider blessing the relationships of committed gay and lesbian couples.

"A strong majority of this commission believes that it is possible and desirable for Christian communities fully to support marriages of men and women and their families, to bless, safeguard and strengthen them, without withholding support and blessing from persons of the same sex who are in faithful, committed relationships, seeking in them the characteristics of sacrificial love and abiding care for the other," the report said.

Hunt reported that the majority of the commission was in favor of such blessings, yet it would offer a recommendation rather than a resolution, because "the commission recognized that this issue hasn't had thorough treatment by the church." He said that the commission felt that another commission should consider the issue, and keep it in front of the church.

The commission will recommend that the Standing Liturgical Commission "study the theological and liturgical issues involved in affirming and blessing these covenants...and begin the process for developing liturgical forms for them."

"We don't ask the convention to approve or reject our report," Hunt said. "This is where we are at the moment, and we do not know whether the recommendation will be considered or ignored by the convention."

A starting point for continued discussion

Hunt acknowledged that the report of the Standing Commission on Human Affairs would receive a lot of scrutiny in the church, yet he insisted that the opinions of commission members "mirrored the feelings that exist in the church at large."

"I think we heard from virtually every perspective available on the subject," Hunt continued. Although the committee was not unanimous in its conclusions, Hunt said that he believes the commission operated with an attempt to arrive at consensus. "I feel that this commission is the best one I've ever worked on. It has taken an enormous amount of time, but I think we have produced a good, solid piece of work," he said.

"Being divided ourselves on such key issues," the report said, "we recognize that some of our recommendations will strike many people in the church as not going far enough, that they will strike many others as going too far.... We offer them as a starting point for continued discussion at every level of the church."