A Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of the Diocese of Georgia Concerning Blessing Same Sex Couples

Dear Friends in Christ,

Since the decision by our Church to offer a provisional rite for a Blessing of Same Sex couples this last July at our General Convention, I have been praying to God and listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I have also been listening to the voices of clergy and lay leaders around the Diocese of Georgia. The Holy Spirit also speaks through each of them. All this has been a healthy, holy experience for me. You have assured me of your prayers and you have convinced me that whatever divides us pales in comparison to that which unites us: our calling together as disciples of Jesus to proclaim and live out his Gospel of love, mercy, and redemption.

I want to first remind us all of some recent history. Earlier this year, anticipating General Convention, I wrote the Diocese explaining the challenges before us, as I understood them. I stated clearly that during the search process for the 10th Bishop of Georgia, I articulated my support for the Church establishing a Blessing Rite for same sex couples. That support remains and has not wavered. I stated after my consecration, however, that no Blessing Rite would be used in the Diocese of Georgia until the Church took formal action to authorize such a rite. My interpretation of past General Convention actions, prior to 2012, led me to conclude that such specific authorization had never truly occurred.
I also pointed out that my understanding of Holy Matrimony is that it can only be between a man and woman, regardless of what secular governments understand it to be. Secular understandings of marriage should not shape how the Church understands Holy Matrimony. Of course, we know that the culture does shape our thoughts, at least to some extent. It is nearly impossible to hermetically seal the Church off from cultural influences. Nevertheless, I must make decisions as free of cultural influences as possible and rather focus all discernment through the lens of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, and his grace bestowed in the New Covenant. Thus, in my judgment, any Blessing Rite that is authorized in the Diocese of Georgia had to be plainly distinguished from Holy Matrimony in order to receive my approval.

The Rite approved by General Convention in July of this year failed, in my judgment, to plainly distinguish between Holy Matrimony and a Blessing. The enabling resolution for the Rite that was passed, however, provided Diocesan Bishops with the ability to “adapt” the Rite for use in their respective dioceses. I had hoped the language would have authorized something more expansive than “adaption,” but that did not happen. So, we must work within the structures of what the Church has decided. None of this is perfect. We all look “through a glass darkly,” as St Paul reminds us. I am unconcerned by what is politically, socially, or culturally expedient, or what will be the majority opinion. I am concerned with doing what is right in the eyes of God.

I have discerned that we in the Diocese of Georgia will offer a Rite of Blessing for our homosexual sisters and brothers using the adapted rite found in Appendix 1. This will be the only Rite authorized in the Diocese of Georgia. In Appendix 2, you will find criteria for how the Rite may be offered in the Diocese of Georgia. These criteria are not suggestions. They are expected provisions and guidelines required of clergy and lay leaders who discern within their congregation that they should offer the Rite.

It should go without saying, but I will say it here because uniformed people often create needless alarm. No congregation or priest is required to offer such a rite. The criteria in Appendix 2 requires formal discernment between the parochial priest in charge and the vestry before it may be offered in the congregation and that discernment must be first initiated by the parochial priest. That means I will not allow non-parochial priests (or any deacon) to preside at such a Blessing Rite disconnected from a pastoral cure in a congregation. They may, however, assist the Rector, Vicar, or Priest-in-Charge of the Congregation at the Rite.

Doubtless some may conclude from the requirements in Appendix 2 that I am requiring an unfairly high threshold of mutual consent that is not required of other rites of the Church. I certainly understand how some may reach such a conclusion and I am not unsympathetic to the claim. For some my decision will go too far. For others my decision will not go far enough. I understand. Nevertheless, as your Bishop I must lead us through this in the best way I can given the constraints present and the diversity of positions we respectively hold in the Diocese of Georgia.

My fervent hope, as we go forward together, is that we not stoop down to the secular political practice of creating winners and losers. Lord, we have enough of that. My hope and expectation is that we will continue as we have in this Diocese to love and respect one another even when we cannot always agree. I ask each of us to reach out to someone who we know disagrees with us on this, declare to them our unity in Christ, and our promise of love and support in the common bonds of the Gospel of Jesus. This will not negate whatever differences we have, but it will be a clear witness that we do not give only lip service to the unity of our faith, but that we practice amongst ourselves the reconciling love of God in Jesus Christ.

–(The Rt. Rev.) Scott A. Benhase is Bishop of Georgia

(Via email–KSH).

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Anthropology, Episcopal Church (TEC), Ethics / Moral Theology, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), TEC Bishops, Theology

18 comments on “A Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of the Diocese of Georgia Concerning Blessing Same Sex Couples

  1. Cranmerian says:

    Sad, very, very sad. As a former priest in the Diocese of Georgia, I’m very grateful for a faithful parish that carefully discerned that this was the direction that the diocese was heading, and was willing to step out in faith and walk away.

  2. Pb says:

    He seems to be abandoning the communion on this issue. This will not go over well with either TEC or DGA.

  3. Ralph says:

    Anathema!

    The timing is perfect for the fall stewardship campaigns.

    This was once a faithful WIndsor diocese. Indeed, how very sad. Others will also walk away. Open mission territory for ACNA.

    Hell’s broke loose in Georgia.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnepPZChA5U

  4. tired says:

    “…and listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit…” “…I am concerned with doing what is right in the eyes of God.”

    I am convinced that these are mere empty, meaningless words to this man, in service to worldly desires and objectives. Indeed, the use of the words here departs from anything recognizably Christian.

    Apart from his arrogation to the role of (false) shepherd – such ignorance of Christian teaching, and lack of integrity, would otherwise be pitiable. Matthew 8:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2; James 3:1

    Sad indeed.

  5. Ross Gill says:

    [blockquote] . . . I have been praying to God and listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.[/blockquote]

    Pious sounding words but one needs to ask if the Holy Spirit to whom the bishop listens for guidance would inspire people to adopt practices that run contrary to the word He inspired. And one must also ask how one knows if it really is the Holy Spirit one is listening to and not merely the spirit-of-the-age or possibly something even worse.

  6. Cennydd13 says:

    Umm……I think KJS has just acquired another target in her sights.

  7. SC blu cat lady says:

    more like a friendly beachhead to continue the assault on a certain diocese to the north of GA.

  8. Capt. Father Warren says:

    It is interesting to read this about DGA as other bishops are trying to hold TEC and DioSC together. The words are “step away from the cliff” to find “common ground”. Really? What common ground other than eternal damnation can you find with a church that has headed full bore to same-sex blessings? What spirit is talking to the Bp of DGA? It isn’t the Holy Spirit of the Trinitarian God because His witness is contained in the Holy Scriptures, which pretty plainly do not call for same-sex blessings or the support of abortion.

  9. Pb says:

    The only surprise was that DGA elected as bishop a man who promised SSBs when approved but only with the consent of the rector and vestry. The folks who could have prevented this had left. This position will not make anyone happy and is the TEC way of beginning fund raising campaigns.

  10. Karen B. says:

    Are the appendices available somewhere? I’d be interested to see the Rite he is authorizing.

  11. Milton Finch says:

    Karen B,

    That can be found over at Anglican Ink.

  12. dwstroudmd+ says:

    What #12 said! The gayphorics are decidely not happy. Wanna bet the PB sends a pastoral letter to the DioGA?

  13. Ralph says:

    Appendix 3 is interesting. It states,
    “We, ______, desiring to receive the blessing of God in the Church and having committed ourselves to a life-long relationship characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection, respect, and holy love, acknowledge and understand that this Rite bestows upon our relationship God’s grace-filled blessing. It does not bestow upon our relationship any legal status in civic life or from any civil authority. The Canons of the Church state: “Holy Matrimony is a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman, entered into within the community of faith, by mutual consent of heart, mind, and will, and with intent that it be lifelong” Canon 1.18.1(2)(b). We understand that this Rite is not Holy Matrimony.”

    The activists are going berserk at Episcopal Cafe, since it throws their position under the bus. What I cannot figure out is how anyone with theological education could “understand that this Rite bestows upon our relationship God’s grace-filled blessing.”

    God blesses what He chooses to bless. This “rite” is not a Sacrament, nor is it sacramental in any way. My understanding of Scripture would suggest that a bishop or priest in that diocese could call on God to bless these people from now to the end of their lives, but that the bishop or priest can no more bring that about, than could the priests of Baal bring down fire from heaven.

    Does anyone reading this blog remember him from seminary? Do they teach sacramental theology at VTS?

  14. MichaelA says:

    Thank for that link CJ at #12. Always amusing to watch loonie liberals like V G Robinson and Sukie Russell frothing at the mouth… :o)

    Part of +Benhase’s problem is that ACNA has 35 official parishes in Georgia, plus more church plants in progress. Not all of these are in +Benhase’s diocese, but many are. If he acts in a too openly liberal manner, he could end up driving his more orthodox parishioners away to ACNA or other churches. And the problem with that is that those sort of parishioners tend to be the best ones – attend most often, contribute most in tithes.

    Sure, publishing a waffly letter like this will enrage liberal extremists like Susan Russell – but how much time or money does Susan Russell actually give to Dio. Georgia? (try, “none at all”). So better to try to keep his own conservative parishioners happy.

  15. Ralph says:

    ACNA has had a tiny presence in DioGA because it was a Windsor diocese. More liberal-minded that DioSC, but much more conservative than the Diocese of Atlanta. No SSBs, no openly homosexual clergy.

    The previous bishop was very sympathetic to the homosexual agenda, and allowed Disintegrity to flaunt itself at diocesan conventions and other activities, but he voted against approval of VGR for ordination as a bishop. The current bishop said in the walkabouts that he would authorize SSBs, has continued to be associated with Disintegrity, and voted for the ordination of Mary Glasspool.

    Christ Church Savannah, a colonial parish, tried to separate from the diocese and the national TEC some years ago. After a long, expensive legal (and spiritual) battle, they lost and had to return the property to the diocese. So, there’s now a Christ Church Episcopal and a Christ Church Anglican, each claiming to trace its roots to 1733. CCE has an historic altar up against the rear wall. The TEC Rector has brought in a communion table so that he can face the people; I shudder to think that his vestry might allow him to desecrate that hallowed space by offering SSBs.

    The few folk who have skipped over to ACNA certainly have the right to say, “I told you so.” And, ACNA has the right to come into DioGA as they have in the Diocese of Atlanta.

  16. Sarah says:

    Ralph — why deal with ACNA? I’d approach Bishop Lawrence and ask if he would be willing to do some church planting in Georgia!

  17. MichaelA says:

    If I understand Ralph’s post aright, he was referring to people who are already in ACNA. As he points out, probably what has kept ACNA’s presence there so low (obviously I overestimated the number of ACNA congregations that are in Dio Ga rather than Dio Atlanta) is that most of the TEC congregations in Dio Ga are orthodox, and their bishop has so far avoided turning too obviously to the official TEC line.

    The situation appears similar in a number of dioceses in TEC where orthodox parhishes have been allowed to continue (relatively) unmolested – ACNA has little presence. You would think the lesson from this is so obvious that 815 would be doing their best not to irritate the orthodox in those dioceses!

    As Sarah points out, there is also nothing to stop Dio South Carolina from carrying out church planting in other dioceses. Dio Ga would seem obvious territory, particularly if +Benhase irritates his flock by attempting to impose the TEC GC line on them.

    +Benhase is trying to walk a tight-rope, of trying to keep 815 and his fellow liberals happy, whilst at the same time trying not to drive his orthodox parishioners into leaving him and becoming the nucleus of new church plants by ACNA, Dio SC or continuum groups. Can he do it? Pass the popcorn.