Sometimes the middle ground is the wrong place to stand. As an Episcopalian, that statement, while true, works against my very bones. We like to consider ourselves a people of the via media. When the Church of England split with Rome, we sought to be a middle way between Catholicism and Protestantism. We tend to find a spiritual gift in balancing supposed opposites, but sometimes the middle way is not the way of Jesus. In the case of marriage equality, seeking some middle way at this General Convention would be a mistake.
In today’s Supreme Court ruling we are seeing a testament to movement. As I wrote in an earlier post, the millenial generation has already moved, already embraced marriage equality. But the movement is not simply about public opinion. As a Church we must ask ourselves, do we not see the movement of the Holy Spirit? In the posts from same-sex couples and their heterosexual allies online, in the celebration outside the court, in the joy in the halls of the Salt Palace, do we not discern God’s own Spirit moving us as a people?
Today the Justices handed down a ruling from a divided court to a still divided nation. Some had hoped the Court would rule more narrowly. In the decision, Justice Kennedy writes about this sense of legal “process” for marriage equality:
There may be an initial inclination to await further legislation, litigation, and debate, but…While the Constitution contemplates that democracy is the appropriate process for change, individuals who are harmed need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right.
Justice Kennedy’s words are profound, and should be heard by those Bishops and Deputies charged with deciding The Episcopal Church’s canons. Sometimes when we hold the middle ground, we cause harm. Dr. Martin Luther King said it another way: “Justice delayed is justice denied.” The Supreme Court justices have set a bar. Will The Episcopal Church reach for full marriage equality? Or will we settle for some middle ground?
As the legislation about liturgical marriage equality wends its way through committees toward the Houses of Bishops and Deputies, as a church we have to think about what our actions will say to the wider world. Jesus’ command in Matthew is clear: “Go forth into all the world and preach the Gospel.” We are a people of proclamation. Whether we embrace that identity or not, our legislation will be understood as proclamation. What will we proclaim? Will our General Convention proclaim that we see God moving in the marriages of same-sex couples?
I first served as a priest at St. John’s Church, Lafayette Square. I started there as a seminarian just a few months after the District of Columbia approved marriage equality. St. John’s started offering marriages for same-sex couples the day they were legal. Some were surprised because the rector, the Rev. Dr. Luis Leon hadn’t allowed blessings of “civil-unions” at the church. In explaining his position, Luis said to me, “I don’t know what a ‘civil union’ is theologically. I know what marriage is, and I see signs that God has already called same-sex couples into marriage.” My rector didn’t stand in the middle ground. He worked for full equality.
Many bishops have already stated their opposition to changing the canons on marriage for the sake of procedure. I honestly don’t know where we will end up at the end of this process. My hope is that we do not end up divided between the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. I was gladdened by the post Bishop Shannon Johnston of Virginia wrote after he received strong pushback for his opposition to a canonical change: “I remain absolutely committed to full marriage equality in the ministry, life, and witness of our Church.” What encourages me more than his statement of openness is his surprise at the reaction to his initial denunciation of the canonical change. I do not think many in The House of Bishops understood the strong desire we have, as a church, for a move to marriage equality. I hope the bishops have simply been bogged down in process, and are waking up to the call of their Church: We are hungry to proclaim some good news on marriage equality.
If we are able to act for marriage equality this Convention, if we are able to make a substantial change to our Canons, if we are able to move toward allowing Prayer Book weddings for same-sex couples, we should proclaim that move boldly. We should proclaim this change isn’t simply about public opinion, marriage equality is about Good News. We will celebrate same-sex marriages in The Episcopal Church because we celebrate where God is leading us as a people. We can’t stand in a middle ground on this one, because God calls us somewhere higher.