Recently, an opinion poll was published in the Summerville Patch noting that the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, gathering in Indianapolis, authorized a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex couples. While this report is true, it must be made abundantly clear that the Diocese of South Carolina in no way supports this action and her deputation to Convention (except for two symbolic representatives), including Bishop Lawrence, has left Indianapolis in an effort of differentiation from the larger Episcopal Church.
With that said, it is probably helpful to consider the “why” of South Carolina’s departure. As it will be developed below, the Diocese of South Carolina and The Episcopal Church agree that the doors of the church should be open to all people, regardless of anything they are, claim to be, or have done in the past. This is unequivocally true. However, our Diocesan theologian, the Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon, has rightly described the actions of The Episcopal Church as “unbiblical, unchristian, unanglican and unseemly.” The concern has little to do with who is welcome in the church, but what the church should affirm and bless. The bottom line is that same-sex unions reject the clear, Biblical revelation of God, two-thousand years of church history, and the theological understanding of ninety percent of Christians around the world. Quite simply, The Episcopal Church has elected to bless activity that almost all Christians, everywhere, at every time have understood to be outside of Biblically ordered sexuality and the redemptive plan of God.
Of course, the deeper issue has less to do with sexuality and more to do with redemption. Blessings of same-sex unions are simply a symptom of a larger theological bankruptcy that has, among other things, essentially denied the reality of sin at an individual level. Sure, The Episcopal Church is quick to recognize institutional and social sin, passing endless resolutions that “seek to transform the unjust structures of society.” There is, however, no acknowledgement that humanity needs redemption from anything other than perceived socially constructed institutions such as gender-identity and heterosexual marriage. In such a theological paradigm, one need simply plea that “God made me this way” and any structure (God given-such as gender or marriage between one man and one woman-or otherwise) that inhibits this self-understanding must be removed. Thus, while our current debate presents itself as a sexuality discussion, the implications are easily and quickly brought to bear on other moral behavior. Never mind that the whole point of the Bible, including Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, is to reveal to us God’s glory and His offering of redemption from evil and sin for all people. It is this sin in our lives that so often comes to us quite naturally and easily, as if we were created for it.
To the contrary, orthodox Christian belief recognizes that Jesus offers us redemption, not only from unjust social structures such as slavery, but from personal, individual sin. Behaviors that we claim we were created for are actually distortions of the image of God and, thus, bind us to sin rather than free us to new life. The message of Jesus, however, is that we are redeemed through faith in His death and resurrection. Thus the church, including The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, remains a place where sinners of all stripes are not only welcome, but longed for. However, my prayer and hope is that our sin is not affirmed and blessed in the church, but challenged, and that by the power of Jesus Christ we are transformed and redeemed into the image of God for which we were actually created.
Tyler Prescott is Assistant Rector at St. Paul's Summerville, a church in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.