A New York Episcopal bishop has issued a directive banning same-sex marriages in his diocese ― blatantly defying steps his denomination has taken in recent years to be more welcoming of LGBTQ Christians.
“The Episcopal Church and Western Society have been hijacked by the ‘Gay Rights Agenda’ which is very well organized, very strategic, very well financed, and very powerful,” he wrote. “Satan is having a heyday bringing division into the Church over these issues.”
Love’s directive essentially tells priests in his diocese to ignore a denominationwide resolution passed this summer that allows lesbian and gay Episcopalians to get married in their home churches ― even if their local bishops disagree with such unions.
The bishop claims his decision to dig in his heels in the face of that resolution comes from a spirit of love.
“I call upon my fellow bishops and the leadership of this Church to rethink the path we are currently on regarding same-sex marriages,” he wrote. “It is not out of mean-spiritedness, hatred, bigotry, judgmentalism, or homophobia that I say this — but rather out of love.”
Love’s move pits the interests and autonomy of a local bishop against resolutions adopted by the denomination. It is bound to trigger another yet showdown between members who cling to conservative views about marriage and the church’s progressive Christian majority.
Bishop Michael Curry, the Episcopal Church’s top leader, said in a statement on Monday that the denomination is committed to the full inclusion of LGBTQ Christians while “respecting the conscience” of those who are opposed to marriage equality.
“Along with other leaders in The Episcopal Church, I am assessing the implications of the statement and will make determinations about appropriate actions soon,” Curry said.
The Rev. Jennifer Adams is a co-convener of the Chicago Consultation, a group that works toward the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the Episcopal Church and the global network it belongs to, the Anglican Communion. She told HuffPost that LGBTQ Christians often turn to Episcopal churches to “seek shelter” from anti-LGBTQ rhetoric they may encounter in other places. The “dangerous” language Love uses in his directive stokes the fear and hatred many LGBTQ Christians try to escape, she said.
“It grieves me, and I know it grieves many other Episcopalians that one of our bishops has chosen to speak in these terms,” she wrote in an email.
Although the Episcopal Church has made significant strides toward welcoming LGBTQ Christians in recent years, Love’s directive illustrates that deep divisions still exist in the denomination. In 2015 the Episcopal Church authorized its priests to perform same-sex weddings. That resolution gave individual clergy the ability to refuse to conduct such services and gave bishops the right to prohibit same-sex marriages from taking place in their dioceses.
Eight of the United States’ 101 Episcopal dioceses still don’t allow same-sex weddings, according to the Religion News Service. Love’s Albany diocese already has canonical laws in place that prohibit priests from officiating at or allowing same-sex marriages to take place on church property.
But at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention this year, leaders passed a resolution meant to give Episcopalians in these remaining eight dioceses the ability to be married in their home churches. Resolution B012, which was passed on July 13, states that bishops who are opposed to marriage equality should invite a bishop from another diocese to provide “pastoral support” ― so that weddings can still take place at a same-sex couple’s home church.
The resolution is expected to go into effect on Dec. 2.
Love, who has been Albany’s bishop for 12 years, said the resolution is an attempt to silence traditionalists in the Episcopal Church. He said he doesn’t see any issue with same-sex partners living together ― but believes they should remain celibate and unmarried.
“I believe B012 is misguided, heavily flawed and will ultimately do far more damage than good,” Love said. “As a result, I cannot in good conscience as a bishop in God’s holy Church agree to what is being asked for in B012.”
Adams said she believes this summer’s resolution created an opportunity for Love to maintain his personal beliefs while allowing LGBTQ people and inclusive parishes in his diocese to be served by another bishop.
“A gracious, and I believe faithful response would have been for Bishop Love to simply allow for that to happen,” Adams said.
As a whole, most Episcopalians are supportive of LGBTQ rights. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study, 83 percent of those surveyed said homosexuality should be accepted by society, and 74 percent said they were supportive of same-sex marriage.
The Rev. Jon White, the managing editor of the independent blog Episcopal Cafe, told HuffPost in an email that he believes Love could face disciplinary action for failing to follow a churchwide resolution.
He said most of the reactions to the letter he has seen from Episcopalians are not supportive of the bishop.
“The church’s membership is overwhelmingly progressive,” he said, pointing to the wide margins by which the church has passed resolutions in favor of marriage equality.
In the long run, White said, he suspects Love’s directive will have little impact outside Albany.
“Eventually even there, marriage equality will be offered in Episcopal churches,” he said. “I believe full inclusion of our LGBT+ sisters and brothers within the life of the church and marriage equality are invitations of the Holy Spirit into deeper understanding of God’s love and as such, will not easily be brushed aside.”
Adams said she and other members of the Chicago Consultation remain “hopeful and determined” that gay and lesbian Episcopalians in Albany will be fully embraced by the church. She called on Curry, who shot to worldwide fame after delivering an impassioned sermon about love at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, to stand with LGBTQ Episcopalians.
“Our Presiding Bishop talks a lot about love, the love of Christ, love of neighbor, love of self, and love of God,” Adams wrote. “My hope is that our Episcopal leaders help us stay this course, reaching out with clarity and compassion in response to a directive that, ironically, is not about love at all.”