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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Reflection on the Hearing and Debate in HOB on Same-Sex Blessings

by Michael Booker, who is visiting convention this week and attended both sessions, and has been talking with members of both houses of convention.

It’s no secret that one of the most controversial issues of the 77th General Conventions was going to be the issue of same-sex blessings. In the last General Convention, the Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music was given the task of creating a draft liturgy for provisional use. The approval of the draft ceremony was entered into consideration as resolution A049. The resolution is available at www.generalconvention.org/gc/resolutions?by=committee&id=12, and the text of the provisional liturgy is contained in the Blue Book at www.generalconvention.org.

I have to say that I have been impressed in the way that the General Convention has handled this extremely contentious issue. Given the binary nature of the proposal,
one camp, either the traditionalists or the progressives, was not going to have their way on A049. I know that the traditionalists have been feeling disrespected and disregarded in prior discussions of same-sex unions.

Two evenings ago (July 7th) there was a hearing on A049. The hearing was presided over by Bishop Smith, and (at the risk of brown nosing) I don’t know how it could have been better run. The meeting opened with an explanation of process. People who signed up to speak were each given two minutes to speak. This limit was rigorously enforced. The pro and con positions were alternated for one hour. After the first hour, there was an opportunity to speak to the actual proposed ceremony.

The gathering for the hearing was very large--perhaps a thousand people, but I didn’t count. The audience was respectful and the only obvious response in the hour was a round of applause for a particularly moving presentation. The pro presentations were typically oriented towards individual stories of same-sex relationships. The con presentations typically centered on the Bible and the policy’s impact on churches outside of the United States.

After the first hour, there were about fifteen minutes of presentations concerning the specifics of the proposed liturgy. That went quickly, so Bishop Smith allowed individuals to speak who had registered to testify but who couldn’t speak during the first hour. The presentations at that point were not balanced; there were more pro than con speakers. All registered speakers were able to have their say during the scheduled two-hour hearing.

Based on the input from the hearing, there were several changes made to the proposed liturgy (you can see that changes at the first link). Today (July 9th), A049 came before the House of Bishops. The Presiding Bishop asked for Bishops who wished to speak about the resolution to indicate whether they wanted to speak pro or con. The speakers were alternated until the pros exceeded the cons. At that point, the resolution was brought to a roll call vote.

It was not surprising that the resolution passed (the vote being 111 pro, 41 con, and 3 abstentions). What was heartening is that many of those who rose to speak against the resolution expressed appreciation for the transparency of the process and the language in the resolution making exclusions of conscience central to the provisional liturgy. No bishop or priest is required to preside over the service if they have theological or moral reservations about it.

Given the enthusiastic support in some quarters for the resolution, I expected some “high fives” when it passed. Nothing could have been further from the actual behavior of the Bishops. It was proposed that the chaplain of the House of Bishops offer a prayer prior to the vote, and that prayer contained beautiful language about humility, care, and listening to the Spirit of God. The vote was taken and the results announced; there was no celebration and the house moved to further business.

I know that many people will feel betrayed by the results of General Convention, but I think that anyone who was there could not help but be impressed by the process that was used.

--Michael Booker, St. Francis' Eureka

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