By Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III
The bishop of Texas, the Rt. Rev. Andrew C. Doyle, has embarked on what I believe is a promising approach to a serious problem causing great consternation inside the Episcopal Church. Specifically, Bishop Doyle hopes to deal with the question of blessing same-gender relationships in a way that will eliminate or diminish the schism within our Church over the issue. This divide has threatened not only our religious harmony, but our church membership and its financial well-being. And if nothing is done, we can expect the split to grow wider after General Convention.
Through Bishop’s Doyle’s leadership, the Episcopal Diocese of Texas will allow clergy in conversation with their parish to make their own decision about whether or not they want to bless same-gender relationships. (Same-gender marriage is prohibited by law in Texas.) A congregation could either vote to support the blessing of same-gender covenants or vote to prohibit them. Or, it could do nothing at all. Either way, the oversight of each parish by the bishop of Texas would be consistent with the vote in that parish. Liberal parishes could vote to bless same-gender relationships under procedures authorized by the bishop of Texas. Traditional parishes could amend their governing documents to provide that they would never permit such blessings and would be supported in such a decision by the bishop of Texas.
Bishop Doyle asked that I support his approach and I have done so wholeheartedly. I have watched as our Church has been torn apart by this issue and now faces the prospect of continuing disunity because of it. Bishop Doyle intends to establish an all-are-welcome approach that will allow parishes within the Diocese of Texas to make their own decision on this issue. This approach comports with a longstanding tradition inside our Church for some decisions to be made at the local level while others are at the level of General Convention.
Hardliners on both sides of the issue may find fault with this proposal. But to me, it seems the best way to establish a win-win situation in which there is not one set of winners and one set of losers. If our Church continues to remain split between two sides that take an either/or approach to this issue, we all will be the losers as our membership continues to splinter and lawsuits over church property continue to mount. Bishop Doyle’s approach is an opportunity to take a middle way in a manner which respects and brings all voices to the table. If we cannot do that on this critical issue, we risk further division on other matters.
Hopefully, Bishop Doyle’s proposal for the Diocese of Texas will work as intended, and will become a model for dioceses in other states where congregations are grappling with this issue. His approach is based on mutual respect and understanding, and it allows our Church to remain united during this trying time. I encourage members of our Church to read Bishop Doyle’s Unity in Mission statement, which more fully explains the approach the Diocese of Texas will follow. It can be viewed at epicenter.org/unity.
We are told in Ephesians 4:5 that we are united by “one Lord, one faith and one baptism.” If we adopt the thoughtful approach that Bishop Doyle has proposed, we can remain united, allowing us to dedicate ourselves fully to our mission of advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.