Episcopal church leaders voted to expand the denomination’s gender-neutral marriage rites at their triennial convention in Austin, Texas, that concluded over the weekend.
The trial liturgies for same-gender marriages were initially implemented in the 2015 convention, but they were kept out of dioceses that morally objected. However, a resolution has now been passed that allows everyone to have access to these liturgies – regardless of the diocese they live in.
Currently, eight of the United States' 101 Episcopal dioceses do not authorize the liturgies: Albany, N.Y.; Central Florida; Dallas; Florida; North Dakota; Springfield, Ill.; Tennessee and; the Virgin Islands.
Jeff Walton – who serves as the Anglican program director for the Institute on Religion & Democracy – explained that if a church wants to perform a same-gender wedding in a region that doesn't allow it, then the church will be allowed to go into the spiritual authority of an adjacent diocese that authorizes the liturgies.
"You can bet that the LGBT caucus groups are going to try to come up with couples in each of these dioceses to have a same-sex “marriage” done in those places,” Walton asserted. “So, that's something that I think liberals can say they claim the victory on – even though some conservatives were willing to go along with it, because they felt it acted to protect the conscience rights of the diocese and bishops."
The expert on religion then followed up with a prediction of his own.
"I think this is going to perpetuate the Episcopal Church's decline that has already been underway for close to 20 years now, and we'll probably see some people walking away from the Episcopal Church as a result of this."
Some positives …
Although liberals were able to expand gender-neutral marriage rites at the Episcopal’s convention, conservatives were able to claim some victories.
A number of proposals at the assembly were offered to make revisions to the Book of Common Prayer, and liberals came close to including gender-neutral language for God in the prayer book, which is a staple text of the Episcopal Church.
However, Walton contended that ultimately, the resolution did not go through while summing up what took place at the convention over the weekend.
"The big thing is conservatives didn't want to see the prayer book revised at this time, and that was killed off – and that was a victory,” Walton stressed. “Conservatives didn't want to see Israel divestment go forward, and that was killed off, so that was a victory.”
The hot-button issue of same-sex marriage also came into play.
“Conservatives did not want to see [some] expansion [of] same-sex marriage rites, but on an incremental level, that is going to move forward – so that is a defeat,” the authority on religions explained.
Walton also told OneNewsNow that he believes the Episcopal Church will continue to decline in membership because of its actions on marriage, but it could have been much worse.
"I don't think it's as bad as it would have been if there was prayer book revision, especially if they did prayer book revisions that involved putting the same-sex marriage rites in the prayer book,” he continued. “That would have put it in every pew, and people would have been very touchy about having the prayer book changed – and that would have caused a larger group of people to leave."
Walton noted that a variety of people voiced reservations about revising the Book of Common Prayer, seeing it as impractical because of financial costs – in addition to their skepticism as to whether the revised book would be a quality product.