Thursday, June 25, 2015

Episcopal Bigotry: Prayer Book's Marriage Rite Compared to Confederate Flag

Even before the 78th General Convention officially started, things got interesting.  According to a Living Church article entitled "Prayer Book Discrimination?", an open hearing of the Special Legislative Session on Marriage included some forceful comments in favor of clearing the way for gender-neutral language in authorized marriage rites.  

One speaker took aim at the Prayer Book's marriage rite as follows: 

“How long are we going to allow documents like the Book of Common Prayer to contain language that is explicitly discriminatory?” asked the Rev. Will Mebane, interim dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Buffalo and a member of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. “Demands for the Confederate flag, a symbol of hate, to come down have been heard. … It is time to remove our symbol that contains language of discrimination.”

So just as the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate, the rite for "The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage" in The Book of Common Prayer is a symbol of discrimination.  Just as we need to take down the Confederate flag because it perpetuates bigotry, we need to do away with the Prayer Book's current marriage rite because it, too, perpetuates bigotry.  

Fr. Matt Marino hits the nail on the head about this over at The Gospel Side:

The dean from Buffalo actually equated the language of the prayer book marriage rite (lifted directly from another "hate document," the bible) used in a church in which 3/4 of our diocese' have same-sex commitment ceremonies to the racially motivated murder of nine faithful Christians assembled in their church to study the scriptures?  That is patently irresponsible, thoroughly insensitive, and wholly unexplainable to my African American friends.

I would add that if Fr. Mebane is correct, then every time a clergy person has used or will use this marriage rite to preside at a wedding, he/she has been or will be actively discriminating against persons created in the image of God.  This violates the Baptismal Covenant promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to respect the dignity of every human being.  Such clergy persons commit sin for which they should repent.  And as proof of amendment of life, they should forswear ever again using this marriage rite.  

Not only that, but if Fr. Mebane is right, clergy who use the Prayer Book's marriage rite are not only sinning.  They are also running afoul of the the Episcopal Church's non-discrimination canon:

"No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by Canons" (Canon I 17:5). 

Using the Prayer Book's marriage rite is therefore grounds for disciplinary action.


And if Fr. Mebane is right, then we have a conundrum to address regarding the theological warrant for marriage included in the Prayer Book's marriage rite.  That warrant reads as follows: 

"The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee" (BCP, p. 423).  

If Fr. Mebane is correct that the marriage rite is a symbol of bigotry, then we are faced with two unpalatable options.  

The first is that the opening exhortation is a lie.  God did not establish the bond and covenant of marriage between one man and one woman in creation, and Jesus did not adorn this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  So in addition to committing the sin of discrimination, clergy using this marriage rite have also been blaspheming by publicly proclaiming a lie about God and Jesus.  

The second option is that the opening exhortation truthfully represents what God did in creation and what Jesus did at the wedding in Cana.  In which case God inscribed bigotry into the very order of creation, and Jesus endorsed that bigotry at the wedding in Cana.  But if Jesus endorsed bigotry, then he was a bigot.  And if Jesus was a bigot, then Jesus was a sinner.  And if Jesus was a sinner, then he could not possibly be the Savior.

What Fr. Mebane said can easily be dismissed as ridiculous.  But that doesn't necessarily mean such ideas won't be taken seriously and acted upon by deputies and bishops at General Convention.  

Lord, have mercy.

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