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THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH AND HOMOSEXUALITY

ACTIVITIES PRIOR TO 1996

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Topics covered in this essay:

bulletBrief Overview
bulletGeneral Conventions, 1976 to 1991
bulletThe Standing Commission on Human Affairs: 1992-1994
bulletGeneral Convention, 1994

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General Conventions -- 1976 to 1991:

The General Convention is the church's highest legislative body. It is held every three years. The convention has an interesting voting arrangement that is similar to those seen elsewhere in the Anglican Communion of churches. Resolutions have to be first passed by a House of Deputies made up of priests and lay members of the church. Both groups have to vote in favor of a resolution before it is sent to the House of Bishops for final authorization.
bullet1976 Convention: Resolution A-69 was passed, stating: "It is the sense of this General Convention that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church."

Resolution A-71 was also passed. It states: "This General Convention expresses its conviction that homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws with all other citizens, and calls upon our society to see that such protection is provided in actuality."

The decision of whether to allow known homosexuals to be ordained was deferred until the report of the Joint Commission on the Church in Human Affairs was available.

bullet1979 General Convention received the above report, which was quite progressive for its time. The Convention rejected the report and passed a resolution: "That this General Convention recommend to Bishops, Pastors, Vestries, Commissions on Ministry and Standing Committees, the following considerations as they continue to exercise their proper canonical functions in the selection and approval of persons for ordination.... There should be no barrier to the ordination of qualified persons of either heterosexual or homosexual orientation whose behavior the Church considers wholesome..... We believe it is not appropriate for this Church to ordain a practicing homosexual, or any person who is engaged in heterosexual relations outside of marriage."

At this convention, the Bishop of Southern Ohio, John Krumm, wrote a "statement of conscience" which formally indicated his disagreement with the resolution. 21 other bishops signed the statement. 3 They felt that it would make gays and lesbians into second-class citizens in the Church.

bullet1982 General Convention passed resolution B-6 1 A: "That the 67th General Convention reaffirms the actions taken by the General Conventions of 1976 and 1979 affirming that homosexual persons are children of God and are entitled to full civil rights."
bullet1985 General Convention passed a resolution : "That the 68th General Convention urge each diocese of this Church to find an effective way to foster a better understanding of homosexual persons, to dispel myths and prejudices about homosexuality, to provide pastoral support, and to give life to the claim of homosexual persons 'upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral care and concern of the Church' as recognized by the General Convention resolution in 1976."

In 1987, the Church's commission on health and human affairs sparked a debate within the denomination by publishing arguments for and against equal rights for homosexuals in the national Episcopal newspaper. Also that year, a study document was prepared for the churches in the Diocese of Newark, NJ. It commended "gay couples to the Church" and suggested "that their sacred commitments be recognized and blessed. The document also called on the Bishop to protect openly homosexual priests." 3
bullet1988 General Convention passed a resolution saying: "That this 69th General Convention decries the increase of violence against homosexual persons and calls upon law enforcement officials across the land to be sensitive to this peril and to prosecute the perpetrators of these acts to the fullest extent of the law; and be it further Resolved, that the Executive Council be directed to communicate with the Attorney General of the United States, and the Attorneys General of the several States the expressed wishes of this General Convention that such violence be decreased markedly; and be it further Resolved, that all Bishops, and especially the Presiding Bishop, be encouraged to speak openly and publicly to repudiate the misconception that the Church encourages such violence, and to counter the public declarations of those who claim that AIDS is the punishment of God upon homosexual persons; and be it further Resolved, that the actions of the 65th General Convention, which declared that 'homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all others upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church' be re-emphasized to all members of this Church.

In 1989, Bishop John S. Spong ordained the first gay male living in a committed relationship of five years in Hoboken, NJ.  Spong commented: "My church’s leaders recoiled, but the debate raised consciousness and even the attempts to disassociate the leaders of the Episcopal Church from my actions and those of the Diocese of Newark failed to reveal a consensus." 3

In 1990, Bishop Righter ordained a gay male who was involved in a committed relationship. A hearing was held to determine if the Bishop should be tried for heresy. The charges against him were dismissed on 1996-MAY-15. This opened the door for other, less courageous, Bishops to safely ordain homosexuals.
bullet1991 General Convention passed a resolution A104a noticing a "discontinuity" between the traditional teachings of the Church and the experience of some of its members, acknowledging also the Church's failure to resolve these matters legislatively.

They decided to take no action on two resolutions: one would have allowed the ordination of sexually active homosexuals and would allow priests to bless same-sex unions; the other would have prohibited the ordination of a sexually active homosexual.

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The Standing Commission on Human Affairs - 1992 to 1994:

During the "1992-94 Triennium", the Commission focused their attention on two groups:
bulletchildren, and
bullettheir "sisters and brothers in Christ who find themselves -- among other things -- to be lesbian and gay."

They reported their findings to the House of Bishops at the Church's General Convention of 1994. 1

Some of their concerns were:
bulletInfection of young people with the HIV virus during their teenage years
bulletRejection by society of youth who are gay or lesbian, and the effect this has on their self-esteem
bulletRejection by parents of gays and lesbians if they decide to come out of the closet." "26% of gay youth are forced to leave home because of conflicts with their families over their sexual identities. Up to half engage in prostitution to support themselves, greatly increasing their risk for HIV infection." 2
bullet"Gay youth are two to three times more likely attempt suicide than heterosexual young people. It is estimated that up to 30% of the completed youth suicides are committed by lesbian and gay youth annually." 2

In 1992, the Standing Commission on Human Affairs heard personal testimony from gay and lesbian Episcopalians. Some positive responses:
bulletOver 50 congregations in one diocese added their names to a brochure welcoming lesbians and gays as members
bulletA male member of the church described how his retired bishop had been opposed to homosexuals in his diocese reversed his opinion and now feels that "full inclusion in the Church was, among other things, an issue of justice." The deciding factor was apparently that he actually met gays and lesbians.

Some negative responses:
bulletA lay woman and her partner were denied communion and asked to confess their relationship as a sin.
bulletA rector delivered sermons denouncing homosexuals as "people with emotional problems" This same rector counseled a parishioner that the Lord would withdraw blessings if he became an active homosexual.
bulletA lay man and his partner had contributed financially to the parish, but were not included on the regular anniversary list.
bulletA lay man feels that "some [homosexual] people get squashed, wounded, rejected." He was urged to undergo an exorcism to drive out the demons of homosexuality.
bulletA heterosexual woman was made no longer welcome in her parish because of her support for gay rights. Members of Integrity are allowed to remain if they no longer speak out on the subject.

The Commission concludes ironically that "in this Decade of Evangelism, we seem intent on alienating and keeping out one of the few identifiable groups of people who want to be welcomed in." They published a "wish list" in 1994 that calls for:

  1. Dialogue on human sexuality to continue within the Church
  2. Gays and lesbians to be increasingly welcomed, and that people within the Church who are promoting the opposite view be called to task.
  3. More lesbian and gay members come out of the closet and be recognized as human beings rather than as an issue.
  4. Church members to fight local initiatives designed to deprive gays and lesbians of equal civil rights.
  5. Members speak out against "gay bashing".
  6. Members pray for understanding.

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1994 General Convention:

Bishop John S. Spong (Newark, NJ) distributed a "Statement in Koinonia". "Koinonia" means collegiality. He stated that "homosexual persons who choose to live out their sexual orientation in a partnership that is marked by faithfulness and life-giving holiness." should be eligible for ordination. 88 bishops signed the statement.

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References:

  1. The report of the Standing Commission on Human Affairs of the Episcopal Church to the 1994 General Convention is available at: http://www.ai.mit.edu/
  2. "Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide, Volume 3: Prevention and Interventions in Youth Suicide", U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Rockville, MD, 1989. The report was later suppressed.
  3. John S. Spong, "Homosexual History: The victory for gay rights in the Episcopal Church is almost complete," Beliefnet.com, 2003-JUL, at:  http://www.beliefnet.com/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2003 incl. by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2003-JUL-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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