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THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH, USA AND HOMOSEXUALITY

STATUS AT THE STARTUP OF THE YEAR 2003 GENERAL CONVENTION

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The main topics at the General Convention:

The 2003 General Convention, in Minneapolis, MN, started on 2003-JULY-30 and will end on AUG-8. Two tasks are liable to create an explosive atmosphere at the Convention. Conservatives are outraged at two items on the agenda: 1

bulletThe Diocese of California has created resolution C005 which would direct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to "prepare a rite or rites" for the Book of Occasional Services that supports "couples living in life-long committed relationships of mutuality and fidelity outside the relationship of marriage." 2
bulletOn 2003-JUN-7, Canon Gene Robinson, an openly gay male in a 14 year committed relationship, was elected as New Hampshire's next diocesan bishop by the clergy and delegates of the state Diocesan Convention. His election must be affirmed or rejected by the Convention. The last time that a bishop was rejected by a general convention was in the 1870's.

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The world outside of the convention:

As the Convention opened:
bulletThe Vatican issued a document asking Roman Catholic lawmakers to vote against any legislation that would recognize same-sex marriages.
bulletFifty days had passed since the groundbreaking decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal which required the Government of Ontario in Canada to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to record their marriages. Many committed gays and lesbian couples, presumably including some church members of the Episcopal Church, USA, have come to Ontario to be married.
bulletThe Supreme Court of Massachusetts is expected to issue a similar ruling at any time.

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Status of ritual blessing gay and lesbian unions and marriages:

bulletBishop John Chane of Washington, DC predicted in 2003-JUNE that Episcopalians will approve a liturgical rite for same-sex marriages. Bishop Chane told 60 Episcopalians at an evening prayer service at St. George's Episcopal Church in Glenn Dale: "We've been discussing the issue of same-sex blessings since 1972 in the Episcopal Church. I think we've spent enough time discussing. For those who say our theology is thin, I would respond to that and say, 'Your faith is thin and your fear is thick.' ...There may be some bishops who walk off the floor of the house. We're going to see some hissy fits. We'll see a lot of strange behavior." 3
bulletThe Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, rector of St. Paul's in Chatham, NJ and a deputy from the Diocese of Newark said: "I think it is time. What we have been doing with the issue of homosexuality is a sin. I am tired of participating in this corporate sin of avoidance. And the thing we have been avoiding is the deeper, more difficult issues of the Gospel." She feels that justice for the church's gay and lesbian members is "an important gospel project." However, she added, that the church as decided to stall on matters related to human sexuality and thus avoid debate on more difficult issues. She concluded: "I am tired of it. I want to get off the dime. I want to do this. I want to move on, and I think other people are there as well." 2
bulletThe Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music has received four resolutions concerning the creation of a liturgy to bless same-sex unions. 10
bulletResolutions C005, D022 and C051 would have a ritual prepared for "...rites of blessing for committed relationships outside marriage..."
bulletAnother resolution, B007, is an attempt to satisfy bishops on both sides of the issue by introducing a type of local option procedure. It is sponsored by bishops of Province IV and was authored by Bishop Stacy Sauls of Lexington. "...the resolution acknowledges that no consensus exists on how the participation of gays and lesbians is ordered by the church’s doctrine, discipline and worship. It further states that the unity of the Episcopal Church depends on compliance with its constitution and canons and that legislation attempted in the absence of consensus on homosexuality would 'imperil the unity of the church'." Bishop Sauls testified that it would offer: "...a way in which a bishop such as myself can allow blessings of same-sex unions to take place as a matter of pastoral care in my diocese without requiring a bishop who is opposed to have such blessings take place in his or her diocese." 10

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About the affirmation of Canon Gene Robinson's as bishop:

bulletThe Rev. Robert Taylor, dean of St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle and the church's first openly gay man called to serve as a cathedral dean, called New Hampshire's decision "a Holy Spirit moment." He said that Robinson was elected not because of his sexuality, but for his gifts "and the depth of his ministry as a pastor, reconciler, and proclaimer of the good news of Jesus Christ." 2
bulletThe conservative American Anglican Council (AAC) posted a statement on its website that Robinson's election was "yet another unfortunate day for the Episcopal Church [and further evidence of how far the church] has moved out of the thriving mainstream of worldwide Anglicanism."
bulletBishop John Chane predicted that the Convention will give consent to the election of canon and bishop-elect Robinson as bishop coadjutor. Bishop Chane said: "This church cannot not affirm the valid election of a person I think in everyone's opinion is called to be the bishop of New Hampshire...You vote Gene Robinson in, then the next step logically is to address the issue of the [liturgical] texts." 3
bulletDavid Virtue, webmaster of a conservative Anglican web site, www.virtuosityonline.org, estimated that 76 of the 100 members of the House of Bishops will vote to confirm Robinson's election. He wrote: "All that remains is for a brief benediction to be said over the corpse of what was once the Anglican Communion and recognize that spiritual anarchy now reins." 4
bulletRt. Revs. Edward Salmon Jr. and William J. Skilton, bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, issued a statement saying:  "If Gene Robinson's election is confirmed by General Convention, it would bring through the back door a practice that the Episcopal Church has never agreed to approve through the front door...We do not have a theology for same-sex relationships, and to agree to the Robinson election would be tacitly to sanction relationships still searching for a theology. We do not believe such a theology is possible without doing violence to Holy Scripture." 3

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Suggestions of a schism: 

bulletBishop Venables, the presiding bishop of the Province of the Southern Cone in South America, said: "Obviously, God's will for the church is unity, and the breakdown of that communion is a devastating thing. But it's clear that there will be a breakdown in communion."
bulletBishop-elect Robinson said: "It breaks my heart if any of them choose to leave. But if they leave it's because they are choosing to leave, and they are choosing to divide this communion, not me...I am not willing to take responsibility for the future of the Anglican Church....If there came a point where I felt like that's what God was calling me to do, absolutely, I would do it. But I do not feel that that is what God is calling me to do. On the contrary, I feel that God is calling me to move deliberately forward. I work very hard to make sure that the voice I hear in my head is God's and not my own ego doing a fabulous rendition of God's voice."
bulletThe Rev. Canon Edward W. Rodman, professor of pastoral theology and urban ministry at the Episcopal Divinity School, in Cambridge, and an advisor to a consortium of liberal Episcopal groups said: "I never knew that the Anglican Communion was together. That's one of the problems with the conservatives' rhetoric. All the provinces of the Anglican Communion are autonomous, so what is there to fracture?"
bulletThe Very Rev. Canon David C. Anderson president of the American Anglican Council, said, "We've kept the Anglican family together through thick and through thin, and the hope is that we can continue, but realistically families come to a point where there's so much strife and stress going on that you don't know how things will work out." 5
bulletRev. Canon David C. Anderson, president of the conservative group, the American Anglican Council issued a statement on JUL-21 saying, in part:

"The AAC will launch an unprecedented mainstream Anglican presence at General Convention designed to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ through legislative engagement, special events, worship and prayer, and the media...We will also work diligently to prevent, on theological and practical grounds, any attempt by General Convention to step out of orthodoxy and affirm homosexual behavior."

In what most are calling a defining moment for the Episcopal Church, General Convention will essentially be deciding on whether or not the Church will remain a part of the fellowship of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Specifically, Convention will be voting on whether or not to give its consent to the election of Canon Gene Robinson, the openly homosexual Bishop Coadjutor-elect of New Hampshire. Canon Robinson is the first openly homosexual person to be elected bishop in the Anglican Communion. Convention will also be voting on a resolution that would authorize the development of liturgies for the so-called "blessing" of same-sex unions.

"There are apparently many in the Episcopal Church who have decided that homosexuality is more important than remaining a part of the vibrant and growing Anglican family," said Canon Anderson. "Sadly they are willing to divide the family over an issue that the vast majority of the Communion has already concluded to be inconsistent with the Biblical faith.
" 6

bulletConservative Anglicans from all over the world met in 2003-JUL-23 in Washington DC for a two day meeting. Seven primates and a number of bishops who claim that they represent most of the 75 million members of the Anglican communion subsequently issued a letter demanding that Canon Gene Robinson's election as bishop of New Hampshire be rejected by the Episcopal Church's general convention. This is because Robinson is a gay male in a committed relationship. If his election is confirmed, then this group is "prepared to respond." They threaten to convene an "extraordinary meeting" involving the leaders of most of the Communion's 38 provinces to deal with a "dramatic realignment." 7
bulletRev. Mark Harris, a priest and deputy (delegate) to the General Convention wrote on JUL-29: "The battle on the surface is about the inclusion or exclusion of sexually active gay men and lesbians in various holy vocations (marriage and ordained ministry). But behind this public controversy is a challenge of a more disturbing sort, one that strikes at a central tenet of Episcopal Church governance. The challenge concerns authority of national conventions. 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?" 8

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Comment by Dean Gene Robinson:

Canon and bishop-elect Gene Robinson, 53, revealed what he considers the future of the Church of England and the rest of the Anglican communion. He said: "I personally can see a time when there is an openly active gay bishop in the Church of England...It really is a very small step isn't it, between having someone who everyone knows is gay but no one talks about it to accepting that someone is gay and talking about it?" He added that the Church's has had a tradition of gradually becoming inclusive of groups that were previously excluded on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation: "I think God has taught us something about people of color, God has taught us something about women, and now God is teaching us something about gay and lesbian people. It will not be too many years before we look back on this recent controversy and think: 'My goodness, how misled we were.'....We are all going to be in heaven together some day and we are all going to get along because God wouldn't have it any other way, so we should start practicing now....I must say that we are intent on tearing ourselves apart around the sexuality issues. Young people who have already decided about this issue and moved on with their lives find that ridiculous. For them the Church now looks hopelessly irrelevant....I do not think the current controversies will cause us to come apart. This notion of having to find our unity in unanimity is misplaced and is not the Anglican tradition. We have always been separate, independent provinces that are in some way related to each other, because each of us is related to the Archbishop of Canterbury....The Archbishop of Nigeria, who has been very vocal on this issue, has no authority over any province of the Church other than his own. Neither does the meeting of the primates who have spoken out on this issue....We all know we have had gay priests and gay bishops for ever. The only thing new about me is that I have been honest about that. When the other nominees during the contest brought their spouses, I brought my partner along. The experience of people here is: 'Oh my goodness, there is nothing earth-shattering about this. They are two normal human beings. They seem to be faithful and honest and there is no big deal'....I was chosen as bishop by a totally democratic process which is very different from how things are done in Britain. Not a single bishop had a role to play in my selection....The strength of what we do is that we trust the clergy and laity of a diocese to have a sense of vision for where we want the diocese to go and we trust them to choose the person they feel is best able to lead them in that direction." 9

Robinson commented on the recent abortive attempt to appoint Canon Jeffrey John to the post of bishop in the Church of England. John is a celibate homosexual. Robinson said:  "It is very sad what has happened to Jeffrey and his boyfriend. My heart goes out to them. It just seems the Church of England was about to do something that might have helped it break through and take it forward but in the end was not able to do it." 9

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References used:

  1. "Impact of gay issues on Episcopal church policy," WNET, week of 2003-JUN-13, at: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/
  2. David Skidmore, "Sexuality issues still high on the agenda of General Convention," Episcopal News Service, 2003-JUN-12, at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/
  3. Julia Duin, "Episcopal bishop presses for same-sex 'marriage'," Washington Times, 2003-JUN-23, at: http://www.washtimes.com/
  4. Michael McManus, "Episcopalians risk schism. Diocese elects an openly gay man as bishop, but will it be approved?," The Charlotte Observer, 2003-JUN-16, at: http://www.charlotte.com/mld/observer/news/6098149.htm
  5. Laurie Goodstein, "Homosexuality Issue Threatens to Break Anglicanism in Two," The Ledger Online, 2003-JUL-19, at: http://www.theledger.com/
  6. "AAC Poised to Take Stand for Mainstream Anglicanism and Biblical Orthodoxy at Episcopal Church's 74th Annual General Convention," American Anglican Council, 2003-JUL-21, at: http://www.americananglican.org/
  7. Jonathan Petre, "American gay bishop 'would shatter Church'," Telegraph.co.uk, 2003-JUL-24, at:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
  8. 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 taken offline)
  9. Chris Hastings and Elizabeth Day, "God 'wants openly gay priests in C of E'," Telegraph.co.uk, 2003-JUL-20, at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
  10. David Skidmore, "Committee prepares same-sex blessings resolution for bishops," Episcopal News Service, 2003-AUG-2, at:  http://gc2003.episcopalchurch.org/

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Copyright © 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2003-AUG-1
Author: B.A. Robinson

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