Stances of Faiths on LGBT Issues: Episcopal Church
Among its statements of belief, the Episcopal Church includes, “In Jesus, we find that the nature of God is love, and through baptism, we share in his victory over sin and death.” They further emphasize, “We strive to love our neighbors as ourselves and respect the dignity of every person.”
With 2 million members, the Episcopal Church in the United States is just one branch of a worldwide Anglican Communion of 85 million. In the United States, the church operates under the direction of two legislative bodies: the House of Deputies, with lay and clergy representatives from across the country, and the House of Bishops, which includes all bishops of the church. Together they make doctrinal, administrative and budgetary decisions at a General Convention that convenes every three years. An Executive Council of clergy and lay leaders manages the business of the church in the intervening period, and are elected at each National Convention, with a Presiding Bishop elected every nine years. Changes to the church constitution and to canon law are enacted only through a majority vote in both houses. The Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church set forth the rules and procedures that govern its congregations.
The Episcopal Church consists of nine provinces, each containing multiple dioceses. Each diocese some encompassing an entire state and others outside the United States (Puerto Rico and Honduras for example) -- has an administrative center and a diocesan bishop elected by the clergy and laity of that diocese’s parish churches. Funding comes from the voluntary contributions of congregants, with approximately 20% forwarded to national missions and administrative needs.
In 1976, both the House of Deputies and House of Bishops voted for a fully inclusive Episcopal Church, stating, “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the church.”
Canon law includes “gender identity or expression” in its list of persons who are assured full access to the ministry of the church. The law further specifies that administrative forms must include options for both preferred and legal names, and for gender identity and pronoun preference. In an intentional move toward diversity, it adds,
“As transgender people and their families increasingly come out within or find their way to congregations, their specific naming in our Canons . . . will encourage congregations to deepen their understanding and widen their welcome.”
On Marriage Equality
In 2015, the Episcopal Church codified theological support for same-sex marriage with two resolutions. The first (A054) formally approved gender-neutral and same-sex marriage ceremonies, while the second (A036) changed the current marriage “canons” to allow clergy to officiate same-sex marriages using either a marriage rite from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer or a “trial” liturgy. Clergy will however have the option to opt out of performing the ceremonies.
In 1994 “sexual orientation” was added to the non-discrimination canons for ordination in the Episcopal Church. In 2009 the Episcopal Church passed a resolution stating that,
“God’s call is open to all,” and eradicating discriminatory barriers to the election of bishops. However, the church had already consecrated its first openly gay bishop in 2003.
Women have been ordained priests and elected bishops in the Episcopal Church since 1974.
The Episcopal Church passed a resolution in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in 2009. In addition, canon law specifies that everyone have access to the governance of the church and lists “sexual orientation, gender identity and expression” as specifically protected from discrimination.
There is no question that the Episcopal Church in the United States has been in the forefront of creating inclusive congregations across the country. In addition to responding meaningfully to a call for changes in canon law, church leaders have been vocal in their support of legalizing same-sex civil marriage. However, while the church offers a rite of blessing for same-sex unions, it does not yet explicitly sanction equality for same-sex couples desiring the rite of Holy Matrimony. The conversation, already scheduled for the General Convention in June 2015 (in Salt Lake City), will be a critical one for LGBT Episcopalians and their allies.
Resources for LGBT Episcopalians
Integrity USA, a national organization working for the full inclusion of LGBT Episcopalians and their allies.
The Episcopal Church
815 Second Avenue
New York, New York