Generous Pastoral Response
The following is a message from the Rt. Rev. Kee Sloan, bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Alabama:
There are two equal and opposite errors I would like to avoid here, either of which could bite us if I’m not careful, both of which have to do with the work of the Bishops’ Commission on Generous Pastoral Response. This is a group your bishops have gathered to help us consider how we as a diocese can allow for and bless lifelong committed relationships between all people, while at the same time allowing those who find blessing same sex unions immoral or unethical the freedom to not participate. One error would be to keep the work of the Commission so quiet that it seems secretive and sneaky, as if things are happening in an underhanded or devious way. The other would be to talk about it too much, so that the people who are not in favor of this development feel their anxieties rise, as if it’s being jammed down their throats. This is an important moment in the life of our church, so I want to be as transparent as I can be, and give you all a progress report.
The members of the Bishops’ Commission on Generous Pastoral Response are: Zac Abramson, Trinity Florence; Robin Anderson, Advent Cathedral, Birmingham; Peggy Canterbury, Canterbury Chapel Tuscaloosa; Jonathan Chesney, Holy Trinity Auburn; Ron delBene, Epiphany Leeds; Michael Goldsmith, Resurrection Rainbow City; Kelley Hudlow, the Abbey Birmingham; Thomas Joyner, Birmingham Campus Ministries; Andrea Peacock, St. James’ Alexander City; Bertram Perry, St. Andrew’s Birmingham; Paul Pradat, St. Thomas Huntsville; Lee Shafer, Grace Anniston; and Robert Wisnewski, St. John’s Montgomery.
I want to thank these folks for all of their good work so far; I’m sure any of them would be glad to talk to you – I’ve warned them that I’m going to put their names in print. They all know that this is a difficult and sensitive issue for many of us, for a variety of reasons; they know that some of us are impatient that we make more progress more quickly, and that others of us wish this could just go away. Indeed, the people on the Commission represent the spectrum of opinion about this, and agree that the unity of the Church in the face of issues that can be divisive is a primary value.
The 2012 General Convention approved the blessings of unions between people of the same sex – not marriage, but the blessing of lifelong committed relationships – as authorized by diocesan bishops. So ultimately it’s each bishop’s decision. I believe this is the right thing for us to do, and I believe it’s very important that we do it properly, in such a way that we bring as many of us along as we can. I think it’s very important to be inclusive: including those who are more conservative than I am and those who are more liberal. The purpose of the Bishops’ Commission on Generous Pastoral Response is to help us design a policy for authorizing parishes to bless same-sex unions, paying careful attention to the health of the diocese and the unity of the church.
The Commission has had three meetings so far, and has worked well and faithfully to develop that policy. The next step will be for us to present the policy to the people of the diocese in a series of hearings at convocation meetings in December and January. I hope you will come and that you’ll tell us what you think. I hope you’ll come because you love our Lord and His Church, and I hope that we will resist the temptation to draw party lines that divide us, and that we’ll listen to each other in love and respect, as the children of God should. As I said in my convention address, “We’re not interested in gathering people from way over there to toss words at people who are way over there. We’ve tried that for years – it doesn’t work, it’s not the Church. We want to gather people who understand that the unity of the Church is an obligation of ours, and who want to find a way forward.”
The Bishops’ Commission on Generous Pastoral Response is well on our way to fashioning a policy for us to use as a diocese to allow some to bless the unions between people of the same sex, while at the same time respecting the convictions of those who do not wish to do this. We’ll all have a chance to discuss the policy before it is put to use. This is an issue that has been the eye of a storm throughout the Church, and has the potential to be divisive and ugly. It also has the potential for us to come together and show the rest of the Church how Christians should behave, that in the Diocese of Alabama we love our Lord Jesus more than we need to win a fight, and that we value the unity of the Church more than our need to be correct.
I believe this is a good way forward for us, and I ask for your help and support.