A.S. Haley: How to Make a Church Even Less Relevant
February 9, 2015
General Convention 2009 began to undermine the authority of the BCP when it authorized its Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to develop “theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships” (Res. 2009C056; emphasis added)—all the while pretending that no changes were being made to traditional marriage as celebrated in the BCP. In response to its work, General Convention 2012 commended . . . for study and use in congregations and dioceses” certain rites for the “Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant in a same-sex relationship” (Res. 2012A049; emphasis added).
Do you see the subtle word games going on to this point? God forfend that General Convention should be doing anything to alter marriage as such; all it is purporting to do is to develop some experimental liturgical rites to celebrate “same-sex relationships”.
But now look at what has happened. The General Convention’s Task Force on the Study of Marriage has proposed to revise Canon I.18 (“On Marriage”). I’m not going to reproduce all of the proposed changes here; you can see them for yourself, at pp. 4-6 of the document at the link just given. Just notice, if you will, that as the title goes, so goes the Canon—the title is changed from “Of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony” to “Of the Celebration and Blessing of Marriage.” The words “Holy Matrimony” are removed from Sections 1, 2 and 3, so that the Canon (if amended) will speak only to “marriage” as such; and no longer to what is defined by the Book of Common Prayer as “the union of a man and a woman.”
And what is the significance of that change? Seemingly it is rather subtle on the surface, but beneath the surface it runs very deep, into the heart of the Church.
To see just how, consider who reads the canons: practically no one, until a matter of clergy discipline surfaces. Lay people, and even many clergy, are ignorant of the Canons. (For example, no less than the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Maryland recently called for Suffragan Bishop Heather Cook to submit her resignation—but she couldn’t ask to resign, even if she wanted to. She is the subject of a Title IV disciplinary proceeding, and Canon III.12.8 (b) prohibits the Presiding Bishop from considering or acting upon any such request to resign until “the disciplinary matter shall have been resolved ...”.)
People who sit in the pews, however, are familiar with the Book of Common Prayer, and use it at least every Sunday. The proposed change in Canon I.18 would remove, as far as marriage is concerned, the last remaining link between the BCP that every Episcopalian knows and uses and the governing documents of the Church. The rites which General Convention 2012 purported to “commend” (not, please note, “authorize”—only the BCP and the Ecclesiastical Authority may authorize rites in a diocese) to the Church are not part of the BCP, and cannot become so until the procedures have been duly followed to amend the BCP... the rest
The undermining of traditional marriage will, if this proposed change passes, be just about complete. The pewsters will think that nothing has changed, because their BCPs haven’t changed. But for those who want to transform ECUSA into a secular adjunct of today’s society, nothing more will remain to be done. They won’t have to amend the BCP, because they have their special rites which individual bishops are already allowing to be celebrated.