THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
ACTIVITIES DURING 1996
Topics covered in this essay:
Desmond Tutu is the Anglican Archbishop of South Africa. On the topic of homophobia, he
wrote a foreword to a book of homosexual church liturgies
which was published in 1996-JAN. He writes that "We reject them [homosexuals],
treat them as pariahs, and push them outside our church communities, and thereby we negate
the consequences of their baptism and ours. We make them doubt that they are the children
of God, and this must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy. We blame them for something that
is becoming increasingly clear they can do little about."
In 1996-FEB, he became the highest-ranking priest in the Anglican communion to suggest
that non-celibate homosexuals be allowed to become priests.
Bishop Walter Righter is currently the retired bishop of Iowa. In 1990-SEP, (some
sources incorrectly say 1989), while he was an assistant bishop in Newark NJ, he allegedly
violated his ordination vows by ordaining an openly gay man, Rev. Barry Stopfel, who was
known to be involved in a committed homosexual relationship. Bishop Righter has denied
that he is "holding and teaching, publicly or privately, and advisedly, any
doctrine contrary to that held by this church" in violation of its canon laws--or
that he had "violated his ordination vows." Ten Bishops asked that he be
tried for teaching false doctrine; i.e. heresy.
36 bishops have issued a simple but most eloquent statement:
"We the undersigned recognize the witness of the Rt. Rev. Walter C. Righter to
the Christ who lived, died and rose for the salvation of all. Walter Righter's trial is a
trial of the Gospel, a trial of justice, a trial of fairness, and a trial of the church.
We stand with Bishop Righter. We feel charged as Bishop Righter is charged. We feel on
trial as Bishop Righter is on trial. Should he be found guilty, we are guilty. Should
Bishop Righter be sentenced, we will accept his sentence as our own."
In an article written by Ed Stannard for Episcopal Life, he quotes Bishop Mary
Adelia McLeod (Vermont) as stating, "I do not think heresy is the issue. I think
that a group of bishops are trying to hold the church hostage, keeping us from being about
the really serious issues that the church is called to address and holding us hostage
until the church agrees with their particular theological viewpoint." He also
quotes Academic Dean Fredrica Harris Thompsett (Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge,
MA) who said: "Sexuality and morality, particularly lesbian and gay sexuality, has
become the scapegoat...as a sign that changing traditions have gone too far. It's really
about, 'Are the old guys still in control?' "
An ecclesiastical hearing was convened on 1996-FEB-27 as the initial step in a heresy
proceeding. Bishop Edward Jones (Indianapolis) was elected president of the nine-member Court
for the Trial of a Bishop. The hearing was conducted at the Cathedral Church of St.
John in Wilmington DE. The key debate was over the 1979 resolution (see above) which
described the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals as "not appropriate."
Some feel that this resolution is absolutely binding on the bishops; others feel that is
only an advisory statement.
The Right Reverend John S. Spong, Bishop of Newark issued a statement in early May in
which he supported Bishop Righter. He is the author of a number of popular books on
religion (including Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Born of a Woman, and Resurrection:
Myth or Reality . He revealed that Rev. Stopfel "had the support of the vestry
of the Church of the Atonement [in] Tenafly, New Jersey. He had the full endorsement of
the Commission on Ministry. He was approved unanimously by the Standing Committee of the
diocese. His ordination to the diaconate by Bishop Righter and his ordination to the
priesthood by me were both carried out in consultation with the highest authorities in our
national church structure." He refers to the heresy trial as an "ecclesiastical
version of 'ethnic cleansing' that has now been undertaken by the religious right wing of
the Episcopal Church." Bishop Spong stated that 25% of the total bishops of the
church had to agree with the heresy trial; this totals 75 bishops. The "right
wing" were able to gather 76 signatures, but had to obtain the votes of 44 retired
bishops (some of whom had not attended meetings of the House of Bishops in over two
decades), and one bishop who was unable to sign for himself because of Alzheimer's
disease. He noted that "four of the ten bishops who filed the original presentment
have themselves refused to implement the canons which opened the ordination process of our
Church to women." Those four could be charged with violating the canons which is
a more serious charge than has been laid against Rev. Righter.
On 1996-MAY-15, the Court for the Trial of a Bishop dismissed the counts against
Bishop Righter, saying there was "no clear doctrine" involved when he
ordained a non-celibate gay man to the diaconate in 1990-SEP.
The court stated: "We are not deciding whether life-long, committed, same
gender sexual relationships are or are not a wholesome example with respect to ordination
vows...We are not rendering an opinion on whether a bishop and diocese should or should
not ordain persons living in same gender sexual relationships. Rather, we are deciding the
narrow issue of whether or not under Title IV a bishop is restrained from ordaining
persons living in committed same gender sexual relationships."
David Virtue, a spokesperson for HOPE (a Episcopalian group opposed to homosexual
ordination) is quoted as saying: "The church has said that it has no doctrine on
human sexuality ... and that it no longer recognizes Holy Scripture"
The decision of the Court could have been appealed to a second, similar court. However
the 10 bishops who brought the charges noted on 1996-JUN-11 that such an appeal would not
be rendered until after the next General Convention. Instead, they have stated that the
court decision is "flawed and erroneous." They "have proposed to
give the 1997 General Convention the opportunity to affirm its acceptance of the authority
of Holy Scripture that this court has refused to accept.". They will propose a
change to the church's canon law which would require all ordained clergy to abstain from
all sexual relations outside of marriage. They will also create a "fellowship of
Episcopal parishes and dioceses which uphold scriptural authority". The
fellowship will support individual congregations whose "bishop has departed from
the standards and norms set forth by the Church's teaching."
In 1996-MAR, the "Episcopal Laity Group ran a series of full page ads in
Delaware, Tennessee, Oregon and Washington state newspapers. They called for the church to
reassess its views on homosexuality. They feel that the church "is becoming a
denomination recognized for blessing same-sex unions, ordaining actively gay and lesbian
persons and attempting to rewrite the Book of Common Prayer...to replace biblical truth
and godly morality with secular humanism and moral relativism." Spokesperson
William Cheney of Atlanta, said their goal is to "take back the church and create
a true confessing church which restores Christ's Gospel."
On 1996-MAY-16, Reuters news agency quoted Robert Runcie who was the Archbishop of
Canterbury of the Church of England during the 1980's. He said that he had
ignored church rules by ordaining practicing homosexuals while in office. He had not
actually confirmed that they were homosexual and living in a committed relationship; he
simply did not inquire and assumed that they were. He said that the Church of England's
stand on homosexual priests is "ludicrous" and an "unsatisfactory
In 1994, it is alleged that Bishop Allen Bartlett, Jr., of the Diocese of Pennsylvania
ordained Rev. David Morris, a non-celibate homosexual, as a deacon. In 1995-JUN, two
priests and over 100 lay persons initiated a complaint against Bishop Bartlett related to
this action. Bishop Browning decided to not proceed with the complaint until the trial of
Bishop Righter was concluded. In 1996-SEP, Bishop Browning announced that he will not
convene a panel of bishops to review the allegations. He said: "I conclude that
the paper submitted to me by the complainants regarding the ordination by Bishop Bartlett
does not on its face charge any 'offense,' [under the canons of the Church]....These
rulings have...definitively established for the church at this time that the ordination by
a bishop of a non-celibate homosexual person is not a disciplinary 'offense' for which a
charge may be brought."
In a letter to the clergy in his diocese Bartlett wrote that this decision "means
that those of us in this diocese and the wider church as well can devote all our time and
energies to ministering in the name of Christ to a confused and hurting world, without the
distractions of a lengthy investigation and possible trial."
Referring to the denomination's General Convention, at Philadelphia PA in 1997-JUL.
Bishop Bartlett noted "I have faith that the church gathered in legislative
session can discern the voice of the Spirit, through faithful listening to one another,
honest sharing, and prayer."
At a convention, the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania recommended that the
church create "a rite or rites for the blessing of committed relationships between
persons of the same sex."
Response from "both sides" was predictable:
|Rev. David Moyer, rector of Good Shepherd parish in Rosemont PA who also objects to
female ordination, said that the vote is "...just one more step in the erosion of
Christian morality in the Episcopal Church...Church doctrine says either engage in married
heterosexuality or lead a chaste life, but the diocese seems to think the established,
biblical historical doctrines of the church are no longer applicable...We seem to have two
different religions under one roof...How can I now lecture young people and tell them my
diocese says fornication and sodomy are not to be avoided?'"|
|Rev. Ruth L. Kirk, one of the resolution's submitters, said "If I quote the Old
Testament in terms of condemnation of same-gender sexual expression, I can also say
slavery is OK, masturbation is sinful, multiple wives is OK. So we can't develop Christian
moral codes purely on the moral codes of the first century and before...As I said at the
convention: can God do a new thing? And can God use the Church to do a new thing? For
centuries we have condemned gays and lesbians. It is time to support committed, loving
During 1996-JUL, the Second National Consultation of Episcopalians on Same-Sex
Unions was held at the College of Preachers, in Washington, D.C. While there
was not complete agreement on some issues, the delegates reached a consensus that:
|"...the desire to celebrate the commitment to a life together arises from
within the baptismal community as it seeks to support all its members, including those who
are lesbian women and gay men, as they endeavor to form and deepen their Christian
identity by making mature commitments, sharing their gifts with the community, and
receiving the support of the community."|
|"...there is no justification for the exclusion of gay/lesbian people from full
participation in the liturgical and sacramental life of the community."
Their report includes a "A Rite for the Celebration of Commitment to a Life
- Marilyn B. Alexander, James Preston, "We Were Baptized Too: Claiming God's Grace
for Lesbians and Gays", Westminster John Knox Press, (1996) ISBN 0664256287
- "Report of the Second Consultation of Episcopalians on Same-Sex Unions,"
July 1996; available online at: http://www.diocal.org/oasis/intro.html
- "A Rite for the Celebration of Commitment to a Life Together" at: http://www.diocal.org/oasis/sect2.html
Copyright © 1997 to 2001 incl. by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2000-DEC-2
Author: B.A. Robinson