Bishop Little sets policy on blessing same-sex unions

The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little, Bishop of Northern Indiana, has issued a pastoral letter on the provisional liturgy of blessing same-sex unions.

Bishop Little first recaps what happened at General Convention, before turning to his diocese:

Many in the diocese have been yearning for this liturgy; their sense of theological conviction, and of pastoral care for gay and lesbian Christians, requires them to extend the church’s blessing to same-sex unions. At the same time, many in the diocese believe that this development subverts the church’s traditional and biblical teaching on holy matrimony. People of good will – Christians deeply committed to Jesus and seeking the best for the church – come down on both sides of this difficult question. In my address to the 113th Convention of the Diocese of Northern Indiana last October, I recognized both the diversity of conviction and the necessity that I now face of articulating a policy in the diocese regarding the provisional liturgy.

Bishop Little excerpts his address before turning to the specific ground rules for the Diocese of Northern Indiana:

In light of the actions of General Convention, and of the convictions and pastoral concerns articulated last fall at our diocesan convention, I make the following response.

First, the provisional liturgy entitled “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” is not authorized for use in the Diocese of Northern Indiana. There will be no exceptions to this policy.

Second, priests of the Diocese of Northern Indiana who, for pastoral reasons, wish to use “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” may travel to a neighboring diocese to do so. I have spoken with the bishops of Chicago, Western Michigan, Michigan, Ohio, and Indianapolis (dioceses that border our own), and they have agreed that Northern Indiana priests may request permission to use a church in their dioceses for such a liturgy. Those priests should also apply for a “license to officiate” from the bishop of the neighboring diocese, since the liturgy would be under that bishop’s sacramental covering rather than mine.

I have attempted in this two-point policy to find a solution that will honor the conscience of all. On the one hand, as your bishop I believe that every sacramental act in the diocese is an extension of my own ministry; and, by theological conviction, I cannot extend my ministry to include the blessing of same-sex unions. On the other, priests who believe that they are called to use this liturgy have an avenue for doing so, though it will require traveling to a nearby diocese. In recent years, I have been both vocal and quite public about the importance of creating a “safe space” for people of divergent theological convictions. This policy is an attempt to do just that. While the solution is far from perfect, it will – at least in the short term – provide space for everyone to exercise conscience, and will require no one to act in a way that violates the deepest convictions of heart and mind.

We are utterly dependent upon the grace and mercy of Jesus. There are no good or perfect solutions to an issue that generates such passionate convictions and such a breadth of response. But Jesus is Lord, and we can rely on him to lead us into all truth (John 16:13). We can rely on him as well to enable us to “maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3). St. Paul’s words are wonderfully appropriate for the Episcopal Church – and our diocese – in this challenging season: “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body” (Colossians 3:14-15).

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