Presiding Bishop urges clergy to talk with Florida bishop about same-sex marriage disagreements

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Feb 4, 2019

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry told clergy in the Diocese of Florida Feb. 4 to work hard to stay in relationship with Bishop John Howard, even if they disagree with his opposition to same-sex marriage.

During a public conversation between Curry and Howard, the Florida bishop acknowledged that the presiding bishop had heard from people who were concerned about Howard’s plan to allow same-sex marriage in the diocese despite that objection. “I wonder if there is anything that you would like to say to us” about the ongoing conversation in the diocese, Howard asked of Curry.

“The inclusion that is at the heart of gospel that welcomes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is the same inclusive outstretched arms of Jesus that welcomes those who disagree with us,” Curry said.

“I believe that that conversation, that open availability to each other, face to face, it’s the way forward,” he said. “I would encourage anyone here [to] come and talk to him. Let him talk with you. Treat each as brothers and sisters and siblings in Christ, and you’ll find a way. I know that.”

“I know this guy,” Curry said, gesturing toward Howard. “We’ve been bishops together a long time. He has firmly held convictions. He’s a strong guy; he’s an old lawyer, but he’s a lawyer with a Jesus heart. I just would encourage you to sit down and talk with your brother, and I know he will talk with you.”

Some Florida Episcopalians have said that Howard is not living up to the General Convention’s desire to give same-sex couples unfettered access to same-sex marriage in all of the church’s domestic dioceses by putting what they perceive as threatening roadblocks in the way. Howard, who objects to such marriages, has said that’s not true, calling his process one of “collaboration and transparency” that simply requires conversation among him, the rector who wants to offer same-sex marriage, and the congregation’s wardens.

Howard formulated his policy in response to General Convention Resolution B012, passed in July to end the church’s requirement that bishops give their permission for clergy to use two marriage rites that the previous meeting of convention had authorized (via Resolution A054) for trial use by both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

Curry described how B012 emerged from an attempt to find a way for Episcopalians with “diametrically opposed principles” to remain in relationship without asking one side to renounce its strongly held theological beliefs or the other to give up its access to the sacramental rite of marriage. B012, Curry said, “was the result of people who differ staying in conversation and relationship with each other long enough for the Holy Spirit to show them a better way.”

“I am naïve enough to believe that if Elizabeth I could find a way [to do that] in the 16th century, we can find it in the 21st,” he said. “We are a tradition that has found a way to reconcile diametrically opposed positions without compromising either one. It’s called Anglicanism.”

Curry was referring to the Elizabethan Settlement, which sought an inclusive middle way for English Christianity between traditional Roman Catholic traditions and the then-emerging Protestant expression.

The presiding bishop also told the clergy gathering that General Convention last summer understood B012 “was not the permanent solution,” and it called for the formation of the Task Force on Communion Across Difference to continue to grapple with those differences. That task force is holding its first meeting in mid-March.

Curry is spending Feb. 4-5 in the diocese for a previously scheduled visit. As part of his time in the diocese, Curry met with clergy and their spouses at St. John’s Cathedral in Jacksonville. He and Howard spent an hour and 15 minutes conversing in the nave, seated in armchairs in front of the altar, as clergy in the pews listened. Howard asked questions of Curry. Some of those questions were synthesized from those submitted by the clergy ahead of time, according to what the Very Rev. Kate Moorehead, cathedral dean, said in her introduction.

Presiding bishops often include clergy-only gatherings during their diocesan visits. However, commenters on the unofficial Diocese of Florida public group Facebook page had criticized what they see as the closed nature of the planned meeting. As is typical, Curry has a number of other public events scheduled in the Diocese of Florida during his visit, at which Episcopalians will have opportunities to interact with him.

He will participate in evensong later on Feb. 4 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Tallahassee. The next day Curry will visit with second- to eighth-graders at Holy Comforter Episcopal School in Tallahassee and have lunch at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, a historically African-American congregation. That afternoon, the presiding bishop is due to confirm a small number of prisoners at Wakulla Correctional Institution outside Tallahassee.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.