Chicago Bishop Jeffrey Lee releases letter supporting marriage equality

[Episcopal Diocese of Chicago] The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee, Episcopal Bishop of Chicago, has sent a letter to members of the diocese in support of the marriage equality legislation pending in the Illinois legislature.

“I am writing today to express my support for the bill currently before the Illinois legislature that would allow same-sex couples to marry legally,” writes Lee. “As I am sure you are aware, my support for this legislation imposes no duties on you. I cherish the fact that the Episcopal Church trusts its members to arrive at their own conclusions about moral and political issues. I would like to say a few words, however, about how I came to my opinion, in part because I believe I owe it to you as your bishop, and in part because I believe that the Christian argument for legal marriage equality is not well understood.”

The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago approved guidelines and a liturgy for blessing same-sex unions in June 2011.

The diocese comprises 40,000 people in 124 congregations in Northern Illinois.

The entire letter, reprinted below, is available online by clicking here.


January 03, 2013

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

I am writing today to express my support for the bill currently before the Illinois legislature that would allow same-sex couples to marry legally. As I am sure you are aware, my support for this legislation imposes no duties on you. I cherish the fact that the Episcopal Church trusts its members to arrive at their own conclusions about moral and political issues. I would like to say a few words, however, about how I came to my opinion, in part because I believe I owe it to you as your bishop, and in part because I believe that the Christian argument for legal marriage equality is not well understood.

The state of Illinois and the Christian church face different questions in determining whether it is good and wise to allow same-sex couples to marry. If one believes in equality before the law, it is extremely difficult to justify denying the benefits of civil marriage to same-sex couples. Opponents of the current legislation would have to present compelling evidence that marriage equality will harm our state so deeply that we must continue to deny same-sex couples the rights that opposite-sex couples freely claim for ourselves. I do not believe that the experience of states and countries in which same-sex couples are already free to marry legally supports this case. Rather, extending the benefits of civil marriage to same-sex couples has made it easier for them to order their lives together, to care for one another and to raise children in a stable home. Creating stronger, happier households contributes to the common good, and that is enough reason to support any legislation.

The debate over marriage equality, however, is seldom decided entirely on its merits as sensible public policy. Because both church and state claim authority over the institution of marriage, the debate always takes a theological turn. I do not believe the state owes the church any deference in defining civil marriage. But my own convictions about the nature of marriage and the sort of laws that should govern it are inescapably shaped by my Christian faith. I also hope that the current civil and religious debates about marriage equality and the blessing offered by the church to same-sex couples will enrich the understanding of Christians and other people of faith about the nature of all committed life-long relationships.

I believe that marriage is a sacred vocation. The union of two persons in heart, body and mind is a school of holiness, a way of ordering our lives so that we might learn to be more faithful servants of Christ. I also believe that the faithful, loving, and lifelong union of two persons–of the same sex or of opposite sexes–is capable of signifying the never failing love of God in Christ for the church and the world. Such unions can be sources and signs of grace, both for the couple and for the wider community.

As a Christian, I believe that our society needs all of the sources and signs of grace that we can get. As a citizen of the United States, I believe in equal protection under the law. I believe that both ends will be served when marriage equality is the law of the land in Illinois, and I am grateful to be bishop in a church that offers all couples a community of faith, love, support and accountability.

Faithfully,
The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee
Bishop of Chicago

Comments

  1. Frank Bergen says:

    Well reasoned, well stated. Thank you, Bishop Lee, for sharing your thoughts with your people and the wider church.

  2. The Rev. Janet Campbell says:

    Well said, Jeff. Thanks!

  3. Epiphany greetings from this member of the Diocese of Eau Claire. Thank you Bishop Lee for sharing your well thought out response!

  4. Don Schmidt says:

    My partner (of 45 years) and I “ran off” to Buffalo,Ny this May to be married in Church! The rector was the college roommate of my partner. We had a wonderful ceremony! The Officient wore a cope, Another priest friend of Jerry’s from college days and his wife attended. The priest friend assisted at mass and read the gospel. A member of the vestry of this little inner-city church attended. (To keep an eye on things, he said) Afterward we all adjourned for a celebratory luncheon.
    My point is: a great big hole in our spiritual life has been filled. No one was injured. No traditions were upset. We go our way as aspiring Christians. People notice that we smile more and hold our heads a bit higher.

  5. Robert Bator says:

    Bishop Lee,
    Solid, forthright and no “now hear this” tone.
    Loved the line of Don Schmidt (above) who had been partnered for 45 years who attests
    “a great big hole in our spiritual life has been filled.” Yes opportunities for grace and union should
    abound and they will– if more religious leaders like Bishop Lee affirm this is a justice issue.

  6. David Yarbrough says:

    “…the Episcopal Church trusts its members to arrive at their own conclusions about moral… issues.”

    Scripture, tradition, and reason only enter into the discussion when the member feels like it?

    TEC is doubling down on its efforts to remake God in man’s own sinful image.

    • The Rev. John Blakslee says:

      With respect to Scriputre our understanding of its meaning is not static but has been evolving over time. We now understand it more thoroughly and completely and as time progresses I expect our understanding today also will grow and expand. Tradition, too, is not static. We can not look to one point frozen in time and say that is it! , that is tradition for all times and situations. When one comes to reason, it is clear that Bishop Lee expresses what is today a reasonable position involving justice, an awareness of the limitations of Scriputre as they may have previously been understood, and an approach to human life that has the support of a wide variety of thinking people. In fact, those who cite Scripture, tradition and reason more often than not are simply maintaining a viewpoint that has created God in their own image.

  7. Many thanks to Bishop Lee for his thoughtful letter on marriage equality. I am grateful for his leadership on this issue. I am currently visiting in England, and will forward his letter to a number of Anglican friends here.

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