Gay marriage has been a hot topic the last few years in various political and social circles across the country including the Christian church.
One local pastor, the Rev. Miles Smith of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Lincolnton, spoke with the Times-News earlier this week and weighed in on his denomination’s decision to pass a provisional resolution earlier this month allowing Episcopalian priests to bestow a rite of “blessing” on same-sex couples.
Denominational leaders accepted the resolution at The General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis, Ind., and local dioceses can choose whether to adopt it.
The resolution comes during a time when opinions on both sides of the spectrum have loudly voiced their views to news media outlets, and same-sex issues such as North Carolina’s passing of Amendment One and local pastor Charles Worley’s YouTube rant on rounding up homosexuals for their extinction recently lit up headlines nationwide.
Amendment One amended the state constitution in May to legally prevent gay marriage in North Carolina, where it was already banned by statute. Several other state have moved in the opposite direction in recent years, passing measures to legalize civil unions or marriages between same-sex couples.
Locally, Worley, head of Providence Baptist Church in Maiden, preached a Mother’s Day sermon about placing an electric fence around the gay population, with the intent of letting them die off.
While Smith clarified that the Episcopal Church’s new rite is not a sanction for same-sex marriage in North Carolina, he’s too unfamiliar with the resolution’s language at this point to remark on whether other states that permit gay marriage will interpret the declaration differently.
“The language of ‘marriage’ is not being used in regards to this resolution and rite, only the language of ‘blessing,’ he said.
Smith approved of the Church’s decision and does not consider the resolution “liberal,” the opposite of how he said several news media outlets have chosen to portray the issue.
Instead, the Episcopal Church “is being faithful to Jesus Christ” by recognizing gays as “people of human dignity made in the image of God,” not “strangers” or “just ideas.”
“They are people we know and care about,” Smith said.
As a result, the resolution’s approval scarcely shocked church leaders and members.
“The approval … was no surprise to clergy,” he said. “There was relatively little dissent at General Convention.”
A majority of members who were against the denomination’s ongoing support and recognition of same-sex unions have left the Church for worship facilities “more suitable to their convictions,” Smith said.
Eliminating discrimination has been a central Church goal since 1994 with the passing of a Church law prohibiting bias based on “race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities and age,” Smith said.
For nearly the past two decades, Episcopalian leaders have struggled to understand the Bible and adequately work out Church literature on sexual orientation, which now means homosexuals’ “full inclusion” into the totality of Church life, according to Smith.
A document published on the 2012 General Convention website, generalconvention.org, contained a resolution Church leaders approved this year to persuade Congress to enact laws repealing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which holds marriage is between a man and woman, and grant federal benefits “to couples in a same-sex marriage.”
Currently, 13 Episcopalian dioceses in seven different states currently permit gay marriage within the Church, the document said.
The Rt. Rev. G. Porter Taylor, bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina, plans to meet with local leaders in the future about the resolution as well as study and carefully supervise the provisional rite over the next three years, Smith said.
“Provisional rites are subject to clearly defined expectations of accountability and report,” he said. “Whatever dioceses elect to use this rite will communicate specific expectations of how the rite can and cannot be used and the type of feedback reporting that will be necessary after the use of the rite.”
Church leaders anticipate using the feedback to revise the rite by the next General Convention in 2015.
Smith felt it was too soon to determine how the resolution would impact the Christian church as a whole but hoped both churched and unchurched individuals alike would “welcome this small effort of compassion and understanding by the Episcopalian Church.”