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EPISCOPALS MEET FUNDAMENTALISTS IN PHILADELPHIA

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Source: The Philadelphia Daily News, 1997-FEB-26, Article "Episcopal leaders clash with host on gay issues" by Ron Goldwyn, Daily News Staff Writer.

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A fascinating display of homophobia and lack of communication was demonstrated in Philadelphia. The principals were:
bulletRev. Charles E. Bennison Jr., bishop of the Pennsylvania diocese of the Episcopal church.
bulletPaul Ryker, convener of Integrity, a gay-positive, officially recognized organization of Episcopalian gays and lesbians
bulletThe Rev. Benjamin Smith, pastor of Deliverance, a primarily African-American fundamentalist church with a 5100 seat sanctuary
The Episcopal church rented the sanctuary in order to hold a ritual to elevate the Rev. Charles E. Bennison Jr. to the title of bishop coadjutor of the Pennsylvania Diocese. This involved bussing representatives from some 50 Episcopal churches, schools and "other groups" who would take part in the opening presessional.

Problems arose over one of the 50 groups: Integrity, a support group for gay and lesbian Episcopalians. They brought a banner to hold in the presessional. It was seized by the owners of the rented sanctuary and only returned after the service.

The pastor of Deliverance said that he would have "absolutely" voided the rental to "people who embrace [homosexual] people who are the anti-Christ...We were not aware of the fact they were having some kind of gay celebration, that gay people were involved in their service...I did not know they embraced gays as believers. I thought it was a regular Christian Christ-honoring service." He cited Biblical passages from First Corinthians, Romans and Genesis to support his homophobic beliefs. "I cannot understand how people profess to be godly when these scriptures plainly explain God's attitude toward this behavior...God loves the individual but hates the sin. We cannot embrace this kind of behavior...I took it [the banner] down, because we do not believe that gay people, lesbians and homosexuals, are saved people. We want to lead them to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, but we don't fellowship with people who profess to be saved and are engaged in sinful practice."

The dispute left Episcopal leaders, traditional supporters of gay rights, saying that they would never have rented Deliverance if they knew that homosexuals were unwelcome. Bishop Allen Bartlett, retiring bishop of the diocese said that he welcomed and ordained gays in "deeply committed relationships" who have met with God's favor. "It is very personal with me. I am impressed with the Christian witness of many persons who have shared with me that is their orientation...If everything else in their life is wholesome and upbuilding of the faith, that does not seem to be a sinful relationship."

Incoming Bishop Bennison said "It's just two completely different communities that are thinking differently...We had no idea it was an issue for them. Gay and lesbian people are such a part of our life, it was a non-issue from our perspective. Perhaps for them it was unthinkable...we would have gays and lesbians publicly present. He said gays and lesbians "suffered enormous humiliation -- the hurt was so obvious -- and it pained me deeply for them."

[We find it surprising that officials in the two groups would be so unaware of the other group's policy on homosexuals]

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