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THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH AND HOMOSEXUALITY

YEAR 2000 GENERAL CONVENTION

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Topics covered in this essay:

bulletDevelopments leading up to the year 2000 General Convention
 
bulletGeneral Convention for the Year 2000

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Developments leading up to the 2000 General Convention:

bullet1999-SEP: U.S. Conference: The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) concluded in Dundee, Scotland on 1999-SEP-24. An announcement was made at the Council that a group of Anglican bishops will meet in New York later in 1999 for a "consultation" on homosexuality. They expect to have bishops at the meeting who represents "all shades of opinion" on the matter. 
bullet1999-OCT-8: Gay rights in parts of Africa: The Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church in the USA, Frank T Griswold, issued a statement in his capacity as the Presiding Bishop on Human Rights for Homosexual Persons. He "read with alarm and deep concern accounts of statements by the presidents of Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe which have become a provocation for the harassment and persecution of homosexual persons...Within the Anglican Communion we are seeking to discern a common mind on the issue of homosexuality in the life of the church. However, regardless of one's views on the matter, there should be no debate among us about human rights for all people - which are enshrined in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
bullet2000-FEB-9: Irregular ordination of two bishops: According to PCUSA News, a group of conservative Anglicans from around the world have become increasingly concerned about the liberal drift of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. They are distressed at the 30% decline in U.S. church membership over the past three decades. A main sticking-point is the belief among some Episcopal bishops that gays and lesbians be given equal rights. On 2000-JAN-29, two U.S. priests, John H. Rodgers and Charles H. Murphy, were consecrated as bishops in St. Andrew's Cathedral in Singapore. The ritual was performed by two archbishops from Rwanda, an archbishop from South East Asia, and two retired U.S. bishops from Tennessee and South Carolina. The new bishops intend to start "Anglican missions" in the U.S. -- in effect create a duplicate Episcopal Church. 

Within the Anglican tradition, the world has been divided into autocephalous [self-governing] provinces, each consisting of a country, or group of countries. Provinces are then divided into individual dioceses -- each under the control of a single bishop. Having two bishops attempting to exercise control in a single geographical area is to invite chaos.

A spokesperson for George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said the move was a cause of "grave disappointment...it is his [Carey's] view that such consecrations are irresponsible and irregular, and only harm the unity of the communion."

The conservative group, the American Anglican Council (AAC), was not directly involved in the consecration. On 2000-JAN-31, they said that the creation of the two bishops is "the beginning of a new reality for the Episcopal Church...The leadership of the Episcopal Church had utterly failed to recognize the magnitude of the crisis that is tearing apart our church." 4
bullet2000-FEB-14: The Episcopal Church's Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music issued a report dealing with same-sex unions. Ironically, it was released on St. Valentine's Day. It includes essays on Scripture, decision-making, church tradition, and blessings. The report says, in part, "We are not ready, theologically or scientifically, to say a defining word about the life of homosexuals in the church...In the context of reverence - and humility - it seems best not to take absolutist positions on a national level." It recommends a form of local option in which area dioceses would "find their own way in the matter." 5 This recommendation is only a suggestion; local dioceses are not at this time free to follow this advice. 
bullet2000-FEB-21: Bishops' meeting in Portugal: A week-long meeting of bishops from around the world will be held in Portugal, starting on 2000-MAR-22. The leader of the Anglican church worldwide, George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, issued a letter on FEB-17 to Anglican bishops. According to a ReligionToday news summary, Carey said that he holds traditional view of human sexuality and the family. He believes that "a vast majority" of bishops worldwide do so as well. However, he wants to consider the ideas of "faithful Christians, some of whom are homosexual themselves," who are challenging the Church's teaching on human sexuality because "they have felt excluded from the Church for many years." He called the ordinations of two American Episcopal priests as bishops "illegal." He wrote that they "breach Anglican rules and practice." The ordinations in Singapore were done "unilaterally, without consultation, and in secret." Carey expects that the unauthorized ordinations and homosexuality will be the main topics for discussion at the Portugal meeting.
bullet2000-FEB-20: Irregular consecration of two bishops: The Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, issued a letter to the primates of the Anglican communion which described "the recent consecration in Singapore of two priests of the Episcopal Church of the United States as bishops by the Archbishop of South East Asia and the Archbishop of Rwanda." He stated that: "neither the constitution of the Province of South East Asia nor that of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda, to whose primates John Rodgers and Charles Murphy have sworn an oath of canonical obedience, have been followed. In addition, Anglican polity requires that ordained ministers should be properly authorised to pursue their ministry in the Province within which they wish to work, and according to the Canon law of that Province. It appears that this is not the intention in this case, and it is doubtful in the present circumstances whether such authorisation would be forthcoming." Archbishop Carey is withholding recognition of Rodgers and Murphy as bishops. 6
bullet2000-MAR-20: The American Anglican Council, a conservative reform group from Dallas TX issued a statement stating that they believe that the worldwide Anglican Communion faces "a grave moment" in which "nothing less than the integrity of the Gospel and the future of the church is at stake." Their concern centers around ordination of sexually active homosexuals, and the blessing of homosexual unions in the U.S. However, they feel that these are symptomatic of a much deeper problem. A second conservative group, Georgia-based Concerned Clergy and Laity of the Episcopal Church, states: "Today, there are two religions in the Episcopal Church. One remains faithful to the biblical truth and received teachings of the Church, while the other rejects them." The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. (ECUSA), Frank Griswold, disagrees. He feels that the church is in crisis; a recent survey shows member satisfaction. He criticizes conservative elements within the denomination of pushing an anti-homosexual agenda. 7
bullet2000-MAR-22: Follow up: Irregular consecration of two bishops: Bishop John Rodgers now heads an Association of Anglican Congregations on Mission in Chicago IL. He now oversees about six churches. Bishop Charles Murphy heads First Promise and oversees a few American churches that he has aligned with the Province of Rwanda. 7

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General Convention, 2000

The Episcopal Church held its 73rd General Convention in Denver, CO. Some developments were:

bullet2000-JUL-7: Judy Collins cancels concert: According to the Episcopal News Service, Judy Collins cancelled a concert to be held in conjunction with the 73rd General Convention of the Episcopal Church. She allegedly did this to protest what she regards as the church's discriminatory policies against homosexuals. Collins said that she was "shocked" to learn that "the Episcopal Church, of which I'm a member and in which I was married, does not have an official national church policy allowing ministers to officiate at same-sex unions or ordain openly gay people." Her cancellation is to protest the "indecision of the Episcopal Church to fully accept all persons into the Christian faith."  

Michael Hopkins, president of Integrity (a national Episcopal group of gays and lesbians) said that his group respects Collins' "right to make this decision." They appreciate "the message of the full inclusion of lesbian and gay persons that she intends to send to the church...the Episcopal Church, we believe, is on a journey to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people, a journey we, as Episcopalians, are proud of -- despite the fact that it remains incomplete. We especially regret that this action affects the Presiding Bishop's Fund, one of the church's finest organizations, which helps countless thousands of people throughout the world, including gay and lesbian persons."

Bishop Steven Charleston, dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA delivered a sermon in Denver CO, at an Eucharist for  Integrity. He asked: "When is it time for the church to stand up and say, 'Enough is enough?' The time is now!" He stated that the church's fundamental issues in the field of human sexuality "can be named in two words: It is power and it is fear. That fear must be expunged from our church once and for all, and that power must be shared." 1
bullet2000-JUL-10: Committee approves sexuality resolution: Special Committee 25 was established to handle all of the resolutions that involved human sexuality. According to the Episcopal News Service, the Committee prepared a "compromise measure that acknowledges traditional teaching on marriage while supporting 'relationships of mutuality and fidelity other than marriage.'" The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) will be asked to draft rites that express support for "lifelong committed relationships" the next General Convention to vote upon. The rites are to be prepared for inclusion in the Book of Occasional Services, as opposed to The Book of Common Prayer. Some members of the committee felt that the Church should have first developed a rationale and theological basis for recognizing and blessing same-sex marriages before suggesting that ceremonies be written. The terms "homosexual," "gay," "lesbian," and "same-sex" do not appear in the resolution. 2
bullet2000-JUL-10: Over 70 gay protestors arrested: According to the Episcopal News Service, Soulforce staged a protest in front of the Colorado Convention Center. Some of the speakers that day were:
bulletJimmy Creech, chairperson of Soulforce, who pleaded that the church: "Open your arms; open your doors; open your hearts. Stop the debate. Be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
bulletLeanne Bryce, a former lesbian youth minister from St. Aidan's Episcopal Church in Boulder, CO was fired when a union ceremony became known.  She accused St. Aidan's rector and the bishop of Colorado of putting her through "a public inquisition," and of calling the couple "debased, demonically possessed." She decried the "heartbreaking intolerance perpetuated by the institution [the Episcopal Church] we love."
bulletOtis Charles, retired bishop of Utah, said that he had not previously had "the courage to live the truth of my life. the time has come to say that we [lesbians and gays] are fully a part of the church. We refuse to be silent; we refuse to be invisible." 3
bullet2000-JUL-10: American Anglican Council says gays can be "healed": According to the Episcopal News Service, the American Anglican Council (AAC) announced a new advertising campaign. The AAC is a conservative reform movement within the denomination. Their ads will feature a man and a woman who consider themselves healed of homosexuality. The series is called "God's love changed me." James Stanton, bishop of Dallas and the president of the AAC, said the campaign consists of "compelling stories of change -- living proof of God's power to change lives." The program included the testimony of a church member who said that, through God's power, he was able to overcome homosexuality. [Editor's note: The ads are deceptive, because they imply that persons with a homosexual sexual orientation can change to a heterosexual orientation. There is a near consensus among gays, lesbians, bisexuals, human sexuality researchers and mental health professionals that a person's sexual orientation cannot be changed. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and heterosexuals can change their behavior; they can decide to become celibate; bisexuals can decide to stick with the opposite sex. But sexual orientation is fixed. The only change that a homosexual or heterosexual can make is to become celibate.]
bullet2000-JUL-14: Committee 25 prepares two resolutions: The committee distilled many resolutions down to two -- each of which contained multiple parts:
bulletThe first resolution called for a pastoral teaching and study guide on the "sin of heterosexism" and a continued dialog on human sexuality. The former was rejected; the latter was accepted.
bulletThe second resolution contained eight parts. It affirmed traditional marriage and called for a liturgical rite to support "relationships of mutuality and fidelity other than marriage" It said that the church expects all lifelong, committed relationships to be characterized by "fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful honest communication and holy love." The clergy approved the call for the liturgical rite by one vote, but the laity rejected it by two votes. In the Anglican movement, a resolution has to be passed by three groups: the Bishops, clergy and laity. [Author's note: A majority voted in favor of the resolution to provide a liturgical rite. However, a 2/3rds majority is required; it was almost achieved. Considering the rate of change in society over homosexuality, a similar resolution might well pass at the next General Convention in 2003.]
bullet2000-JUL-25: Reactions to the convention:
bulletThe American Anglican Council (AAC), a conservative renewal group, had a "profoundly bittersweet view" of the convention. A representative said: "While we are greatly heartened that the House of Bishops and Deputies prudently decided not to split the Episcopal Church over issues of human sexuality, it is sadly evident to us that two strikingly different churches exist under the same roof. "...one church embraces the culture as its guide and stands at the fringe of Anglicanism [seeking to] legislate sexual license at the expense of marriage and traditional morality...[the] other church, comprised of orthodox and mainstream Anglicans like the AAC, believes in the transforming power of God and the hope of salvation that comes from the gospel." They did not explain how recognition of same-sex unions would legislate sexual license.
bulletA gay couple wrote: " 'Pastoral care' for couples without sacramental celebration is a meaningless endeavor for the church. Social service agencies can provide pastoral care."
bulletIntegrity, the Episcopalian gay-positive support group commented: "With the passing of this resolution by both houses, the question is no longer whether our relationships exist or are of God. The question is how they should be celebrated.
bullet2000-OCT-4: Aftershock: Conservative congregations leaving Episcopal Church: According to ReligionToday: A total of 24 congregations have left the Episcopal Church and joined the new Anglican Mission in America, led by two irregular bishops: Charles H. Murphy of South Carolina and John H. Rodgers of Pennsylvania. Murphy predicts that as many as 80 congregations could be aligned with the AMiA by early 2001. 8

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References:

  1. J.H. Thrall, "Singer, an Episcopalian, protests 'discriminatory' policies," Episcopal News Service, 2000-JUL-7 #00245
  2. David Skidmore, "Committee send sexuality resolution to deputies," at: http://www.ecusa.anglican.org/ens/GC2000-048.html
  3. Tom Beckwith, "Dozens arrested in gay group protest at Episcopal convention," Episcopal News Service, 2000-JUL-10, #00246
  4. Chris Herlinger, "Consecration of dissident Americans as bishops called an 'affront' ", Ecumenical News International, distributed by PCUSA NEWS on 2000-FEB-9. 
  5. Religion Today news summary for 2000-FEB-15
  6. George Carey, "Letter to the primates of the Anglican communion," ACNS 2037, issued 2000-FEB-20
  7. "Anglicans confronted with fractured American church," Maranatha Christian Journal, 2000-MAR-22, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000322b.htm
  8. "More conservatives abandon Episcopal church," at: http://www.religiontoday.com/

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Copyright 1997 to 2003 incl. by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2003-JUL-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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