Virginia bishop writes to diocese on same-sex marriage

Editors’ note: Episcopal Diocese of Virginia Bishop Shannon Johnston issued the following letter to the diocese Aug. 20 shortly before the United State Supreme Court issued an order delaying the beginning of same-sex marriages in the state less than a day before couple could begin seeking marriage licenses.

Dear Diocesan Family,

Recent court decisions in Virginia and around the nation are shining a spotlight once again on issues relating to same-sex marriage. These are matters that generate passions that range from joy to anger. At this important time for our Diocese and our commonwealth, we have an opportunity to reflect on how we can constructively and compassionately deal with issues that continue to challenge our society and our Church.

As Christians, we are called on to bear witness to our faith in the public square. The strength of Anglicanism is that we can do so with conviction and passion, while recognizing that we are not of one mind. Indeed, it is that very diversity that makes our Church a powerful force for reconciliation in the world.

On the issue of same-sex marriage, some of our members, both clergy and lay, feel called to demonstrate their support in the public square – indeed literally on the courthouse steps. Others feel called to make a distinction between the blessing of same-sex unions and holy matrimony. Still others respond with a defense of traditional marriage. Honoring these differences in no way diminishes the power of our witness; it strengthens it.

I support our clergy who want to bear witness to their sense of justice and equality in marrying gay persons when and if that becomes legally possible in Virginia. But I also would note that, as is the case with heterosexual marriage, clergy who might officiate at same-gender marriages outside the pastoral relationships of our communities of faith do so as agents of the commonwealth, and not in the context of the liturgical life and witness of our Church.

Meanwhile, as the debate over same-sex marriage (distinct from the blessing of unions) continues in the councils of our Church, I emphasize that, as is again the case with heterosexual marriage, no priest of this Diocese will be required to officiate at marriage rites that their conscience cannot allow. Clergy who hold such restrictions of conscience also have my support in their convictions.

I pray that our actions relating to these important issues will continue to be guided by our love for one another, and by our willingness to honor the voices of those who call us in justice to move in new directions, as well as the voices of those who call us in faith to hold on to the best of our tradition.

It is at times like these when we can demonstrate to the world what it truly means to love our neighbors. Witnessing for justice, living into our diversity in faith … we are called to do both.


The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston


  1. Ira Phillips says:

    Are we Christians who believe in the words of God? If so, then the Bible is very clear on the subject of same sex relationships as stated in Leviticus 18:vs22-24. Romans 1:vs 24-32 is also very specific on same sex relationships. So why are church leaders condoning “Blessings” on same sex marriages? Just because politicians have bowed to the wishes of a few sinners are our church leaders also supposed to follow just like sheep to slaughter? Passing a law does not make it morally right in the sight of God. Yet, some of our church leaders are turning their heads from God’s word and supporting sin through “Blessings” of gay marriages. Animals do not lay with the same sex…are they more intelligent than humans?

  2. I’m a bit confused by this letter. It doesn’t seem clear whether when (I guess I should say if) Virginia legalizes civil gay marriage if Bishop Johnston will permit the sacrament of marriage to occur in churches in the diocese. I believe that’s implied in the first sentence of the fourth paragraph. And I agree that it’s important to point out that priests who perform marriages are operating under the jurisdiction of the state. But this letter does not clearly address the bishop’s stance on sacramental Christian marriage. Am I wrong? As an advocate for LGBT inclusion in our Church, I believe it’s not only important to support civil gay marriage in the public square as people of faith but also to advocate for religious marriage equality within our faith communities.

  3. Dave STOWELL says:

    I don’t know what Bishop Johnston believes. He seems not to have the moral courage and character to speak as an apostolic Bishop having pledged before God and his people to do so. Any perceived problems PECUSA may have on any issue are to be laid at the feet of its bishops. What ever one beliefs are they at least deserve to be led and taught by their Bishop agree or not. What they don’t deserve is gutless political correctness as a shield and focus for adoration.

  4. John B. Donovan says:

    Society is in serious decline in part because of absentee fathers, and this is due in part to the failure to recognize the essential contribution and distinctive strengths of men in the family. Women have distinctive psychological strengths as well. Rediscovering these basic realities will spark a resurgence of family vitality, and the church should be at the heart of this. An extra father doesn’t equal a mother; an extra mother does not equal a father.

  5. Rev. Fr. Ken MacKenzie says:

    This is a great example of bishop fence sitting. With all due respect
    to conscience there is a need for a bishop to require and set out true Christian guidance. Obviously this bishop does not believe in PECUSA positions. It is very hard to work under such wishy washy guidance. I left a diocese for lack of guidance I suggest rereading scripture. Praying and following your conscience to another diocese.

  6. John E. Taylor says:

    More of this “diversity is what makes us strong” foolishness. Whatever happened to Truth?? When Christ said “not one jot or toddle of the Law shall pass until all is fulfilled”, that must necessarily include the plain fact that God hates male homosexual acts.

  7. David Yarbrough says:

    Shannon Johnston is trying desperately not to alienate his gay membership (who contribute liberally), at the expense of the majority who are loyal to the word of God in Scripture.

    His failure to stand up to Katharine Jefferts Schori and Stacy Sauls over the departure of the Falls Church and other parishes is indicative of this weakness.

  8. Jack Gerlach says:

    I find it interesting that she says, “I pray that our actions relating to these important issues will continue to be guided by our love for one another,”. I think we are to be guided by our love of Jesus as unambiguously stated in scripture.

  9. As Anglicans, it is imperative to keep alive the importance of learning new facts about the biological and psychological make-up of the human anatomy. One of the true gifts of the Anglican Communion has always been to be open to new information, discoveries, and scientific findings. Suffice it to say that a lot of illnesses, diseases, and complex biological conditions that were heretofore thought to be “sins” were discovered to have physiological causes and were understood after research and study came forth. Human anatomy is complex, and human sexuality is more complex than researches in the past even guessed. If one accepts the belief that each person is as he/she is, then the so called “issue” of homosexuality becomes a mute point and we need to stop making a “big deal” out of it. Especially with regards to young people who clearly know how they are, they need our support , not judgemental condemnation. There’s nothing “Christian” about that.Education is the key.

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