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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