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THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH, USA AND HOMOSEXUALITY

LEAD-UP TO THE YEAR 2003 GENERAL CONVENTION

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Quotations:

bullet "The election in New Hampshire of a man who openly confesses an active homosexual relationship to be Bishop Coadjutor, and the inclusion of a measure affirming the blessing of same-sex unions on the agenda of the upcoming General Convention, both serve as symbols of a desperately confused, errant and disintegrating Anglican province. Open letter by 24 Episcopal bishops to the worldwide Anglican Communion. 1
bullet"The major question before this General Convention is whether or not the Episcopal Church has any right to make decisions contrary to the commonly accepted (read: traditional) interpretation of Scripture. Do we have the authority to vote to do something we understand to be right and just--even if contrary to or not addressed by Scripture?" Rev. Mark Harris, reporting on the Convention activities for Beliefnet.com 2
bullet"May you live in interesting times." Anon. An ancient Chinese curse.

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Events leading up to the 2003 General Convention:

bullet2003-MAR: Committee rejects marriage ritual for gays and lesbians: A committee of the House of Bishops for the Episcopal Church concluded an 18 month study into whether the denomination should recognize same-sex partnerships with a church ritual. Many churches have performed such rites recently, although none apparently were performed with the approval of a bishop. The committee rejected the concept. 3
bullet2003-MAR-7: Episcopal church supports overturn of Texas anti-gay law: The Episcopal News Service reported that the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold III, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church filed an amici brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in opposition to a Texas law which criminalizes certain sexual activities by same sex couples which are legal for opposite-sex couples. 4
bullet2003-MAR-18: At the House of Bishops' spring meeting at Kanuga, NC, the bishops discussed and received an 11 page report "The Gift of Sexuality: A Theological Perspective," written by the House of Bishops Theology Committee. The authors acknowledged that "...there is a range of sexual identities among human beings and a portion of the population experiences itself as having a homosexual orientation. As Christians, we affirm that persons of all sexual orientations are created in the image of god and they are full members of the human family." wrote: "We believe it is imperative that the Episcopal Church refrain from any attempt to settle the matter legislatively. For a season at least, we must acknowledge and live the great pain and discomfort of our disagreements."

Conservatives in the denomination generally supported the report. Liberals were critical; they faulted it for being thin on theology and short on insight. The report recommended against rites of blessings for same-sex unions and the ordination of sexually-active gays and lesbians. The bishops did not adopt the report. They simply offered "...it to the Church for study and reflection.12
bullet2003-JUN-8: Church elects its first gay bishop: Episcopalians in New Hampshire elected Rev. V. Gene Robinson, 56, to be their next bishop coadjutor on only the second ballot. This is the first time that an openly gay person has been elected bishop in the denomination. He succeeded over three other candidates for the position. Otis Charles, former bishop of Utah, announced in 1993 that he was gay. However he had waited until he retired to make the information public. After his election, Robinson said: "We will show the world how to be a Christian community...I plan to be a good bishop, not a gay bishop." 3 Some reactions:
bulletRev. David L. Moyer is the president of Forward in Faith, an Anglican group which opposes the ordination of women, said the election will cause a greater division within the Episcopal church. He said: "They are leading with their chin....I think either they aren't concerned with their legionship with the ... larger church or they're asking to be dismissed by the Anglican community." He said that the election is an open rebellion against God's created order and the teachings of the Church. 4
bulletLawrence Knapp of Pittsburgh is a church administrator for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He favors Robinson's election, but said:  "I think it will be very painful for many people. I'm in a very conservative diocese and I know there will be a lot of unhappiness here." He predicts that Robinson's election will be confirmed in 2003-JUL at the General Convention. He continued: "The revisionists are certainly in control of the leadership in the Episcopal Church." 4
bulletRev. Ian T. Douglas, a professor at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA said he thinks Robinson's election will motivate many church members to make fundamental decisions about the role of gays and lesbians in the denomination. He said: "We are no longer talking about some hypothetical or some disembodied discussions about liturgy. This is a discussion about a real live person called to a real live leadership position in the church." 5
bulletBarney Zwartz, Religious affairs writer for The Age, an Australian newspaper, wrote that: "It is likely that if the national church ratifies the election, most of the world's 38 national Anglican leaders will consider the US out of communion and withdraw recognition, as has happened with the Canadian diocese of New Westminster." 6
bulletIn an interview on the PBS station WNET during the week of 2003-JUN-13, David O'Reilly, the religion reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, suggested that a week previously he would have said that Robinson was a shoo-in to have his consecration upheld. "But things have been heating up in the past week. conservatives in the United States and even outside the United States are saying 'It's time to take a stand!' And they are vowing to see Robinson's election overturned." 7
bulletAccording to webmaster Lionel Diemel, "...because the election occurred within 120 days of the triennial General Convention (which begins on [2003-]July 30), the House of Deputies and House of Bishops each has to consent to the election. (Procedures are set forth in Canon 22 of  Title III. Note that only current diocesan bishops—bishops 'exercising jurisdiction'—are allowed to vote on this matter.)" His web site also contains selected quotations from bishops and para-church organizations on the Robinson election. 8
bullet Only those potential new bishops who are elected fewer than 121 days before a General Convention must have their positions approved by the Convention. In Robinson's case, he was elected bishop coadjutor, which means that he will only take over as bishop some time in the future, after the present bishop resigns. There appears to have been no real rush to elect Canon Robinson on JUN-8. The election probably could have been delayed by two months and a few days in order to have it fall after the Convention. Then, there would have been no requirement that his election be confirmed by the Convention. It may be that some elements in the New Hampshire diocese wanted to time the election in order to make it a test case at the Convention.
bullet2003-JUN: Statement on same-sex blessings: A group of fourteen concerned conservative Primates of the Anglican Communion issued a statement condemning: "The recent action of the Bishop of New Westminster [which] displays a flagrant disregard for the remainder of the Anglican Communion. The Bishop's decision to proceed with same-sex blessings is at variance with the witness of Holy Scripture and the recently concluded Primates' Meeting where the Primates as a body, issued an unambiguous statement on the subject....The unfortunate situation at New Westminster has taken the diocese far beyond the generally accepted teaching of the church and a declaration has already been made that communion has been severed as a result....Bishop Ingham's action has brought the Anglican Communion to a defining moment in which the clear choice has to be made between remaining a communion or disintegrating into a federation of churches....The Anglican Communion cannot ignore the blatantly divisive course of action initiated by Bishop Ingham and the Synod of New Westminster within the Anglican Church of Canada. Consequently, we urge all Anglicans who love their communion to join us in the call to action." 9
bullet2003-JUL-15: Twenty-four bishops issue an open letter: Two dozen conservative bishops of the Episcopal Church who are affiliated with the American Anglican Council issued an open letter directed to the primates of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Three of the bishops were from the Pittsburgh diocese; the rest were mainly from the southern U.S. states. They represent about 8% of the total number of active and retired bishops in the U.S. The letter said, in part, that: "The election in New Hampshire of a man who openly confesses an active homosexual relationship to be Bishop Coadjutor, and the inclusion of a measure affirming the blessing of same-sex unions on the agenda of the upcoming General Convention, both serve as symbols of a desperately confused, errant and disintegrating Anglican province. At stake are the fundamental doctrines of apostolicity and of marriage. The confirmation by national synodical vote of the bishop-elect or the adoption of any same-sex marriage provisions would be unparalleled departures from received church order and universal church teaching." 2
bullet2003-JUL-22: Presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church issues letter: The Episcopal News Service reported that: "Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold wrote to the primates... asking for their understanding of the difference in context between their provinces and the American church over the understanding of human sexuality. 'Over these last five years I have continually reminded our church that we are part of a larger reality called the Anglican Communion, and that what we do locally has ramifications both positive and negative in other parts of the world,' Griswold said. 'At the same time I am mindful that each of us has to interpret the gospel in our own context and within the particular reality of our own Province; there is no such thing as a neutral reading of Scripture. While we all accept the authority of Scripture, we interpret various passages in different ways'." 2,10
bullet2003-JUL-23: Conservative leaders of the Anglican Communion issue statement: Sixty two conservative Anglicans -- including 15 bishops of the Episcopal Church, USA,  seven primates, and some canons of the worldwide Anglican Communion -- met in a secret meeting at Fairfax, VA to prepare a statement in response to the possible affirmation of bishop-elect Robinson's election, and the addition of a church ritual to bless same-sex unions. It is called the "Truro Statement," and is named after the Truro Episcopal Church where the meeting was held. They claimed to represent "a majority of the world's 75 million Anglicans." According to the Anglican Communication Secretariat's data, the seven primates represent about 26% of all Anglicans. The ten active Episcopal bishops represent 9% of the American church. The statement said, in part: "The proposed actions by General Convention…would shatter the church...The American bishops at this meeting have prayed, planned and are prepared to respond as faithful members of the Anglican Communion. Should these events occur, the majority of the Primates anticipate convening an extraordinary meeting at which they too will respond to the actions of General Convention." Preferring to maintain the element of surprise, they refused to indicate what action that they might take. Archbishop Peter Akinola of the Church of Nigeria said that a response would be triggered if either Robinson's election is confirmed or if the Episcopal church decides to bless same-sex unions. 2,19
bullet2003-JUL-23: Archbishop of Canterbury issues statement: Archbishop Rowan Williams sent a letter to all Anglican primates asking them to maintain "mutual accountability" on emerging controversies such as equal treatment of gays and lesbians, lay members presiding at the Eucharist, and "alternative episcopal oversight" for dissenting parishes. He wrote, in part: "We do not have a central executive authority in our Communion; this means we are quite vulnerable in times of deep disagreement, and need more than ever to pay attention to one another...This is not to recommend a refusal to face circumstances or to avoid conflict at all costs. It is to acknowledge that who we are as Christians is connected to the worldwide fellowship to which we belong. Within a living Communion, we should never find ourselves in the position of saying, or seeming to say, to each other, 'I have no need of you' (I Corinthians 12.21)." 2

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Sponsored link:

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Episcopal information:

bullet"The gift of sexuality: A theological perspective," 2003-MAR-18, at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/
bulletThe conservative group, American Anglican Council, is disseminating up-to-date information on the General Convention, from a conservative Anglican viewpoint. See: http://www.aplacetostand.org/.

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References used:

  1. Rev. Mark Harris, "A Sense of Impending Struggle. Notes from the front lines of the Episcopal Church General Convention," Beliefnet, 2003-JUL-29, at: http://www.beliefnet.com/ (This report was subsequently removed)
  2. "Group ‘prepared to respond' if General Convention affirms Robinson, blessing rite," Episcopal News Service, 2003-JUL-24, at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/
  3. Anne Saunders, "Church elects its first gay bishop," Associated Press, at: http://www.washingtontimes.com/
  4. Al Dobras, "Action Contradicts Stance of Worldwide Anglican Conference,"  Concerned Women for America, 2002-MAR-12, at: http://www.cwfa.org/
  5. "Election of gay bishop could cause church rift," The Associated Press, 2003-JUN-09, at:  http://www.ajc.com/news/
  6. Barney Zwartz, "Anglican turmoil over gay US bishop," The Age, 2003-JUN-9, at: http://www.theage.com.au/
  7. "Impact of gay issues on Episcopal church policy," WNET, week of 2003-JUN-13, at: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/
  8. Lionel Deimel, "Positions on the Election of V. Gene Robinson," at: http://deimel.org/church_resources/vgr.htm
  9. The Most Rev'd Drexel Gomez, "Statement issued by a group of concerned Primates," 2003-JUN, at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/
  10. Frank T. Griswold, "For the Primates of the Anglican Communion," Episcopal News Service, 2003-JUL-22.
  11. "A Statement from the Gathering of Worldwide Anglican Mainstream Leaders," American Anglican Council News, 2003-JUL-23, at: http://www.americananglican.org/
  12. Theology Committee, "The Gift of Sexuality: A Theological Perspective," at:  http://www.ecusa.anglican.org/

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Copyright © 2003 & 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2004-AUG-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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