In a move hailed by many as evidence of a new way of doing business, General Convention engineered a compromise giving hope to gay and lesbian members while affirming traditional church teaching on the sanctity of marriage.
By an overwhelming majority, the church acknowledged that there are gay and other non-traditional couples in their pews who are living in “life-long committed relationships” characterized by fidelity and monogamy, and that these couples deserve pastoral supprt.
Addressing the house after the final vote, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said he appreciated the “gracefulness and graciousness” of the debate, which demonstrated the successful community-building of the bishops’ interim meetings.
The debate, he said, had shown there is “a very deep bond of communion, not just endurance, but communion that knits us together.” He prompted a loud round of applause from the bishops when he concluded, “That bond of communion has in no way been broken. In fact I think it has been deepened.”
The resolution acknowledged “the church’s teaching on the sanctity of marriage,” while reaffirming “the imperative to promote conversation between persons of differing experiences and perspectives.”
It also set out the values governing all relationships – among them fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, honest communication – while denouncing promiscuity, exploitation, and abusiveness.
Finally, it acknowledged that some members “in good conscience” will act in contradiction to the traditional teaching of the church on sexuality.
The resolution did not call for the preparation of rites for the blessing of couples, whether homosexual or heterosexual, who are living in committed relationships outside of marriage. That proposal, which in 1997 failed by a single vote in both orders in the House of Deputies, passed among clergy, but failed among laity at this convention.
An attempt by the bishops to call for the preparation of rites was defeated 85-63, with four abstentions.
However, the bishops did call for a study of the theology concerning human sexuality, asking the presiding bishop to appoint a special theology committee to continue the study and conversation on issues of human sexuality.
The committee is to include lay people, deacons, priests and bishops.
Although the language in the resolution assiduously avoided any mention of homosexuality, it was clear everyone understood the sub-text of the original proposal calling for rites to be prepared for the next convention to refer to the blessing of same-sex unions.
Rev. Barnum McCarty said the church is not yet and may never be at the point of approving an official blessing of same-sex relationships.
Such rites are already being performed at the discretion of bishops and dioceses, he said. Those rites will continue, he said. But directing the Commission on Liturgy and Music to develop an official rite for the whole church “would be an unnecessary if not an untimely action to those who are not ready for this.”
In a short press conference following the vote, representatives of the House of Deputies downplayed the role that the threat of schism played in the debate.
The schism card has been played before in earlier debates in the church over the ordination of women, acceptance of black bishops and clergy, and the Civil War and slavery, noted Very Rev. Gayle Harris of Rochester. David Skidmore is director of communications for the Diocese of Chicago.