Weeks before a denomination-wide resolution takes effect allowing same-sex marriages in any U.S. Episcopal church, a New York bishop has banned such ceremonies in his Albany Diocese. On Saturday, Bishop William Love read an eight-page edict prohibiting such marriages in his jurisdiction, warning that the issue might cause the Episcopal Church’s demise.
Love’s statement is a response to Resolution B012, a directive made by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in July. Although it doesn’t add same-sex marriage to church theology, the resolution lets priests perform such ceremonies even if the local bishop disagrees. A priest or bishop from another area can officiate so a couple can marry in their home church. The resolution goes into effect December 2, the first Sunday of the new church year.
Episcopal Diocese of Albany Caught in an Ongoing Debate
Calling same-sex marriages “sinful and forbidden,” Love notes that homosexuals and their supporters are “deceived into believing a lie that has been planted in the Church by the ‘great deceiver’—Satan.” The devil, he adds, is “having a heyday bringing division into the Church.”
Changing cultural norms and political rulings don’t change Scripture, Love says. “The fact that some in today’s sexually confused society (to include five of the nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices in 2015) may have broadened their understanding of marriage to be more inclusive, allowing for same-sex marriages, doesn’t mean that God, ‘the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth’…has changed his mind.”
Resolution B012, Love states, “brings God’s judgment and condemnation against the Episcopal Church.” Pointing to statistics that indicate the denomination is “spiraling downward,” he writes, “I can’t help but believe that God has removed his blessing from the Church. Unless something changes, the Episcopal Church is going to die.”
As Love read his statement at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Albany, some church members protested outside, ceremonially burning the letter. Richard Fay, who says he was drawn to the denomination’s contemporary stand on social issues, now is reconsidering his involvement. “It’s an issue of equality,” he says of same-sex marriage. “The main core of Christianity should be love: Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
A Compromise for Clergy Conscience
In 2015, the resolution passed on a trial basis, with the support of 93 of the denomination’s 101 dioceses. Resolution B012’s enactment in December is intended to circumvent the local authority of eight Episcopal dioceses, including Albany, that have previously refused to allow same-sex marriages. Bishops from five of the eight protesting dioceses eventually accepted the “pastoral solution,” a compromise allowing individual clergy to follow their conscience and step aside for other officiants.
George Sumner, bishop of the Dallas Diocese, is one of the leaders who has since agreed to let a fellow bishop perform same-sex marriages within his jurisdiction. “I think we’ve come out of this [convention] with something that lets everyone stay true to their conscience,” he said in July. “That’s not bad in America in 2018.”
Albany’s Love voted against the resolution at the July convention, and two months later more than 130 clergy members from the diocese met to discuss next steps. Love says the stance against same-sex marriage is based on love, not on “mean-spiritedness, hatred, bigotry, judgmentalism or homophobia.” He realizes the debate “can rip us apart if we are not careful” and urges Episcopalians to “focus on what unites us—our Lord Jesus Christ.”