Monday, January 08, 2007

Diocese of Texas to Vote on Definition of Holy Matrimony

The following Canonical Amendment has been proposed for the Diocese of Texas of the Episcopal Church, to be voted on at their diocesan convention, Feb. 9-10, 2007 in Austin, Texas (text courtesy of the diocesan website).


Canon 43

Section 43.1 Obligation. All members of the clergy, having subscribed to the Declaration required by Article VIII of the Constitution of the Episcopal Church, shall be under the obligation to model in their own lives the received teaching of the Church that all of its members are to abstain from sexual relations outside Holy Matrimony.

Section 43.2 Definitions. As used in this Diocese, Holy Matrimony shall mean the physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman, entered into within the community of faith, by mutual consent of the heart, mind, and will, and with intent that it be lifelong; and the moral qualifications of a person, as that term is used in the Canons of the Episcopal Church, shall include conformity to the obligation set forth in Section 43.1 hereof.

SUBMITTED BY: The Rev. Jim Stockton, Church of the Resurrection, Austin.

RATIONALE (Rev. Stockton): Because a sacrament is such for the whole Church, and not for merely a portion thereof, authority to define a canonical understanding of a sacrament cannot and does not reside with merely a portion thereof, but with the whole Church. Authoritative definitions of the sacraments of the Episcopal Church are established by the Book of Common of Prayer and the Constitution and Canons of this Church. Canon 43 presupposes that a diocese has the constitutional and canonical authority to define for itself a sacrament of the Church. In so doing, it contradicts the fact that the sacraments are entrusted by God to the entirety of the Church, not to a portion thereof, and as such, it contradicts the catholicity and polity of this Church. Thus, it is bad law and Council should repeal it.

With regard to the covenant of marriage and the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, important facts bear on this proposal. The authority of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas derives from the authority of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. The Canons of the Church recognize that the state, not the Church, provides the civil and secular definition of marriage, and that the Canons of the Church define the sacrament of Holy Matrimony (Title 1, canon 18). For these reasons, the deletion of diocesan Canon 43 in no way alters those definitions of the civil covenant of marriage and the sacrament of Holy Matrimony that are truly authoritative for the Church and this diocese. While Canon 43 can thus rightly be regarded as moot, nevertheless, it provides the appearance and offers the effect of superseding the very authority from which its own authority derives. In this, it is troublesome precedent and invitation to future attempts to create particularized definitions of those most central mysteries that God has entrusted to the custody of the whole Church, i.e. the sacraments.

With regard to the controversies currently at work in the Church, it is important to note that because the state defines marriage and the Church does not, the Constitution and Canons of the Church do not provide for the marriage of persons of the same sex. In addition, both the Prayer Book and the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church establish the definition of Holy Matrimony as the union of man and woman. Thus, even in a state that may permit the marriage of persons of the same sex, the Episcopal Church does not recognize by practice or canon such marriages as Holy Matrimony. Only the constitutional and canonical legislative process of the whole Church in General Convention has authority to attempt to change this. Even in such an instance, the Church may only grant permission; it may not demand. In the case of the Diocese of Texas, the bishop has already indicated that he would not grant such permission, and that he does not grant permission for non-canonical blessings of same-sex unions. Furthermore, any clergy person engaging in sexual union outside the bonds of Holy Matrimony remains subject to the process of discipline under the Constitution and Canons of the Church (Title 4, Canon 1).

Thus, diocesan Canon 43 establishes no parameters for the Diocese of Texas that do not already exist. It does, however, provide support to the notion that an entity that is derivative of the whole Church may claim an autonomy and authority that it does not have. This has negative and destructive implications for parishes and missions in their relationships with the diocese, as well as for the diocese in its relationship with the larger Church. The question arises, ‘If the diocese may define a sacrament of the Church for itself, why may a congregation or priest not do likewise for themselves?’ Canon 43 gives the appearance of the same arrogance that some have criticized in the Episcopal Church in its relationship with other Churches of the Anglican Communion. It is a contradiction of the efforts of our own diocesan bishop and of others to sustain the unity of the Church and of the Communion. It thus diminishes the credibility of our diocesan claim that we are One Church and works against the on-going campaign in this diocese to realize that goal. It likewise diminishes the integrity of our share in the Church’s witness before the world to the broad grace and love of God. Diocesan Canon 43 is bad for all. Council should repeal it.

Since (a) this isn’t my problem anymore, and (b) I am trying to avoid taking cheap shots at my former denomination, I pass this along without comment. I will only state that the Standing Committee, which can recommend approval or rejection of a proposal, declined to put forward a recommendation regarding this item. There is extensive discussion of a legal nature, but (I quote) “The Committee Presents This Proposal Without Recommendation.”