.......But there is a more ominous aspect to these resolves. They clearly purport to “authorize” something General Convention has no jurisdiction to authorize, thus usurping the authority of the very bishops they purport to authorize. And they invite (using the permissive “may”) bishops to use or adapt this rite in “civil jurisdictions where same-sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships are legal.” This calls on bishops to ignore both the rubrics for marriage (including civil marriage) defining it as between a man and a woman and the marriage canon, which as the resolution itself acknowledges “applies by extension.” The House of Bishops was expressly advised that the intention of this resolution was to encourage clergy to perform same sex marriages.
One diocesan bishop has already reversed his position and will now allow clergy to perform same sex marriages, concluding “we are left with a situation in which the mind of this recent Convention appears to be to allow such services. However, The Constitution and The Book of Common Prayer still say something else.” For him “the mind of this General Convention” trumped both of these foundational instruments.
The incoherence of this position is demonstrated by the liturgical materials that were approved, which simultaneously opine that the rite can be used in connection with civil marriages and that “A bishop, priest, or deacon who violates the rubrics or the Canon risks disciplinary action under Title IV.”...
Every bishop, priest and deacon undertakes at ordination “to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church.” The recent action by General Convention purporting to authorize bishops to authorize a rite for blessing same sex couples raises in an acute way the question of what exactly is the worship of The Episcopal Church to which all clergy promise to conform. We look carefully at this question below. Our conclusions can be summarized as follows:
• The authority to define the worship of the Church is spelled out with precision in Article X of the Constitution.
• Subject to the exceptions in Article X, the worship of the Church is that found in the Book of Common Prayer, which is to be used “in all the Dioceses.”
• General Convention has authority only to amend the Book of Common Prayer or to propose revisions to the BCP and authorize them “for trial use throughout the Church” “at any time” “as an alternative” to the standard Book of Common Prayer.
• Diocesan bishops, not General Convention, have authority to permit supplemental forms of worship under defined conditions.
• The proposed rite was not conceived as a revision to the Book of Common Prayer and therefore General Convention had no authority to authorize its use by any majority or supermajority vote.
• The action of General Convention was theologically incoherent in that it assumed that God’s blessing can be invoked provisionally and in some dioceses but not others.
• The resolution passed is unconstitutional because it exceeds the authority of General Convention and invites clergy to violate BCP rubrics.
• Bishops cannot constitutionally permit use of this rite in connection with civil marriages.
We conclude: taken as a whole, Resolution A049 is not just a legal nullity and theologically incoherent, although it is that. It is also profoundly unconstitutional in that it purports to do something General Convention is not authorized to do and encourages clergy to violate the canons, the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer and their vow to conform to the worship of the Church.
But this is only one instance of the proliferation of unconstitutionally authorized liturgical materials for a church in liturgical, theological and canonical chaos. General Convention itself has called attention to this problem and concluded “it is time…to honor the spirit of the prayer book rubrics.” We agree.
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© 2013 Kendall S. Harmon. All rights reserved.
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