Bishop found guilty of breaking church law for banning same-sex marriages

William Love – Bishop (regional leader) of Albany, New York, in the US-based Episcopal Church – has been found guilty of breaking his ordination vows and canon (church) law for banning same-sex marriage in his diocese in 2018.

Love is the only bishop in the Episcopal Church – an official branch of the international Anglican Communion, based mostly in the US – to defy a church law that said same-sex marriage should be available in the denomination in all places where it is legal. (Some parts of the Episcopal church are in countries where same-sex marriage is not legal.)

Possible penalties include deposition – in effect, sacking Bishop Love.

An Episcopal church disciplinary panel found Love guilty in an unanimous verdict.

“A separate hearing will be scheduled within the month to discuss the terms of discipline to be carried out,” Love said in a statement.

“Until then, we don’t know what actions will be taken. Whatever the final outcome, it will severely impact not only me and the ministry entrusted to me as Bishop of Albany, but it will also seriously impact the life and ministry of the Diocese.

“I continue to pray that somehow God will use all of this for his purposes.”

Possible penalties include deposition – in effect, sacking Bishop Love.

In his response to the verdict, Love has also asked for prayer. “I want to thank all of you who have been holding me, my family, and the Diocese of Albany up in your thoughts and prayers these past many months. I would ask that you please continue to do so. We appreciate and need those prayers.”

This is the latest of a long chain of events following the Episcopal Church’s appointment of a gay man, Gener Robinson, as a bishop in New Hampshire in 2003, and its official adoption of same-sex marriage rites in 2012. The General Convention Resolution B012 caused many conservative Episcopalians to break  away to form the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) which upholds traditional marriage.

ACNA is much smaller but growing. The Episcopal Church is steadily declining in numbers. This means the gap between the two is shrinking, David Goodhew and Jeremy Bonner wrote in Living Church magazine: “On any given week in 2013, one could expect to find one member of ACNA at worship, compared to 11 members of TEC, but in 2017 one member of ACNA would be balanced by eight members in TEC.”

Love’s case revolves around the new rule passed at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in 2018 which said same-sex marriage must be available.

The disciplinary panel ruled that Love could be found guilty because this new rule constituted a revision to the Church’s Book of Common Prayer. This is controversial because the same General Convention voted not to proceed with prayer book revision. The panel disagreed with that and said the “plain language of the resolution” makes it a proposed revision to the Book of Common Prayer, even if it lacks “the magic words” explicitly identifying it as such, according to the Episcopal News Service.

The new rule, the disciplinary panel said, is canonical and therefore mandatory. By ignoring this mandate, Love violated church canons and his ordination vows. The panel also refuted Love’s argument that B012 is inconsistent with the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), which still defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman in its catechism and marriage rubrics (rules).

The preface of the marriage rite in the Book of Common Prayer, the panel said, only applies to that particular rite and not the additional rites authorised by General Convention. The rubrics to the catechism describe it as “an outline for instruction” that is “not meant to be a complete statement of belief and practice.” (Editors note: The Episcopal Church uses the term Book of Common Prayer to refer to its 1979 revision. Most Australian Anglicans would use BCP to refer to the 1662 version, which has conservative marriage services within it.)

Love said that to allow same-sex marriages in his diocese would violate his duty to Jesus’ teaching.

There are other conservative Bishops in TEC. They have taken the option provided in the new rule that allows for the asking of other bishops to look after local churches which want to hold same-sex marriages.

But in a letter to his diocese (region) explaining his refusal to follow the new rule in 2018, Love said that to allow same-sex marriages in his diocese would violate his duty to Jesus’ teaching.

“[The new rule’s] stated intent of making liturgies for same-sex marriages available for use in every diocese and parish of the Episcopal Church (where civil law authorises same-sex marriage) is in direct conflict and contradiction to God’s intent for the sacrament of marriage as revealed through Holy Scripture,” wrote Bishop Love in the letter.

“When asked about marriage and divorce, Jesus stated, ‘But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ What therefore God has joined together let not man separate” (Mark 10:6-9 ESV).

“As the ‘Son of God,’ God incarnate, God – ‘the Word became flesh’ (John 1:14, NIV), it would stand to reason that Jesus would know God’s purpose or intent for marriage.

“Jesus could have allowed for, or made provision for, a wider interpretation of marriage (to include that between two men or two women), but he didn’t.”

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