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Episcopal Same-Sex Unions Left Up to Local Churches

August 07, 2003|Larry B. Stammer | Times Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS — Amid signs of escalating tension in the worldwide Anglican Communion over confirmation of its first openly gay bishop, the nation's Episcopal Church leaders drew the line Wednesday on church-wide ceremonies for blessing same-sex unions.

The day after the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson won consent as the next bishop of New Hampshire, the bishops pulled back slightly and appeared to give tacit approval to leaving decisions on blessing gay and lesbian unions to local priests.

From the halls of the convention center here to Anglican churches around the world, reaction to Robinson's confirmation was swift and plain. About a dozen lay and clergy deputies wore ashes on their forehead Wednesday morning as a sign of penance for the bishops' action.

The Episcopal Church is one of 38 self-governing national churches within the Anglican Communion, which claims 77 million members.

In Nairobi, Kenya, the Very Rev. Peter Karanja, provost of All Saints Cathedral, said the U.S. Episcopal Church "is alienating itself from the Anglican Communion." He added, "We cannot be in fellowship with them when they violate the explicit Scripture that the Anglican Church subscribes to. We'd counsel they reconsider the decision. It's outrageous and uncalled for."

Bishop Lim Cheng Ean, head of the Anglican Church of West Malaysia, said bishops from the communion's nine-nation Southeast Asian province may discuss severing ties with the U.S. church at a meeting next week.

The divide between Anglicans in developing countries and those in the U.S. is the result of theological and political differences, observers in Minneapolis said. The church's mission is also shaped by differing needs and cultural demands.

In Minneapolis, a dozen members of the church's House of Deputies, which consists of priests and lay members, walked off the floor and several turned in their credentials, saying they were going home. Most, however, remained or simply chose not to vote for a day. But there was no mass walkout, according to church spokesman Jim Solheim.

"Patient waiting is essential without jumping to any conclusions about who will and who will not remain in the Episcopal Church," said Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, who voted for Robinson.

The deputy from South Carolina, the Rev. Kendall Harmon said, "We reject this action and disassociate ourselves from it." Reading from a prepared statement as an estimated 25 to 30 supporters gathered behind him in the House of Deputies, he said, "This unilateral action on our part is catastrophic. "We weep for the Episcopal Church and its members. We have made a terrible mistake."

The president of the conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Gerald B. Kieschnick, said he was "profoundly saddened and deeply disturbed" by the Episcopal Church action.

Fundamentalist Baptist minister the Rev. Jerry Falwell, appearing Tuesday on CNN's television's "Crossfire," reacted, saying, "A fornicator, an adulterer, is someone who violates Scripture [and] is forbidden from leadership in the church. The Episcopal Church is damaging itself."

Jim Lowder, interim executive director of the pro-gay Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, told Associated Baptist Press he was hearted by the Episcopal Church decision. "I think that this will be a hopeful sign for many of us who believe in God's inclusive love for all of creation," he said.

The resolution approved Wednesday on what appeared to be a unanimous voice vote by the House of Bishops repeated the church's commitment to minister to gay men and lesbians and said their committed relationships should be characterized by monogamy and "holy love."

But in striking out a provision calling for the drafting of ceremonies for possible church-wide use, several bishops made it clear that many felt they had to pull back after confirming Robinson. The provision had been proposed by the San Francisco-based Diocese of California.

"The exercise of restraint by this General Convention at this time would be very appropriate," Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia said in moving to block development of churchwide liturgies.

The Rev. David Anderson, president of the conservative American Anglican Council, said after the vote, "The bishops seemed to show some restraint...."

Gay and lesbian backers of same-sex ceremonies said they were disappointed that no nationwide rituals would be drafted. Nevertheless, they said that the watered-down resolution approved by bishops was "a step forward." They argued that the resolution contained the first acknowledgment by the church's national General Convention -- its highest law-making body -- of what is already occurring in some dioceses. As such, they said it amounted to a tacit approval by the national church that was likely to embolden other bishops to move ahead if they wanted to.

"As far as we're concerned, we have a significant move forward," the Rev. Michael Hopkins, president of Integrity, a national Episcopal gay and lesbian advocacy group, said after the vote.

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