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Bishop's Refusal to Sign Statement Bars Him From Conference

Leaders of a conservative Episcopal gathering require those attending to agree that belief in Jesus is the only way to reach heaven.

June 04, 2004|Larry B. Stammer | Times Staff Writer

The Episcopal bishop of Los Angeles was forbidden from delivering a welcoming speech at a regional meeting of conservative Episcopalians that opened Thursday in Long Beach because he refused to sign a statement declaring that belief in Jesus as savior was the only way to get to heaven.

By requiring such a statement for conference attendance, leaders of the conservative American Anglican Council said they wanted the meeting to be a "safe place" for Episcopalians who dissented from the U.S. church's liberal stances on biblical interpretation and homosexuality.

The Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno's presence would "create a sense of discomfort," said the Rev. William Thompson, an official of the American Anglican Council and rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Long Beach.

Bruno called the decision to bar him from the conference in his diocese "disconcerting to me at best."

"I had no intention of making an issue of any of my views," Bruno said in an interview, "just welcoming people to our diocese as they participated and discussed their issues of faith and Christianity in an environment they found safe. That was my intent."

The rebuff underscored sharp divisions within the six-county Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese and the 2.3-million member national Episcopal Church. The council and the new Anglican Communion Network have been preparing to create a church within a church made up of what they describe as orthodox Episcopalians.

Bruno has been an outspoken advocate of the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the Episcopal Church and, in an action criticized by conservatives, blessed the same-sex union last month of a prominent gay priest and his partner. But Bruno and conservatives said that it wasn't his views on homosexuality that prevented him from addressing the two-day conference, attended by an estimated 800 people from Western states.

Instead, it was a sentence in the group's faith statement.

The sentence that gave Bruno problems declared: "I believe in and accept Jesus as Savior and Lord and that He is the only way into the heavenly kingdom." Conference organizers said the requirement to sign the faith statement was set before Bruno asked to attend.

Bruno said that line "basically excludes all people of Judaism, Islam and Buddhism as being within the love of God. I'm not willing to say that God has made that decision. I know that Christianity is the way for me, that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. But I cannot say that God will make that decision on the last day. I don't know what God's decision will be."

The Rev. Ron Jackson, president of the Los Angeles branch of the American Anglican Council and rector of St. Luke's of the Mountains Episcopal Church in La Crescenta, told his parish last week that Bruno was "relentlessly pushing the gay agenda."

Thompson, the Long Beach priest, said leaders of the conference conferred privately after Bruno expressed a desire to welcome participants to the Los Angeles Diocese, where the bishop has made reconciliation within the church a central theme of his leadership.

"I think that the sense was for some that he is identified as very strongly a supporter of the other side and that because he was strongly supportive of the other side, for many it might create a sense of discomfort with him being here," Thompson said. But since Bruno declined to sign the statement, he was told he could not attend.

While Bruno was kept out, two conservative bishops, the Rt. Revs. Joseph Wasonga of Kenya and Peter Beckwith of Springfield, Ill., spoke to the conference at the Long Beach Convention Center. Jackson likened the Episcopal Church, known for its liturgy and eloquent cathedrals, to the Queen Mary docked nearby.

The ship "bespeaks tradition and grandeur of an age gone by," Jackson said. "But, it is dry-docked. It can't go anywhere. It's a place for tourists and not sailors, a place where people can visit and buy sailing souvenirs. I don't believe that's the kind of ship that Christ is trying to build.... In many ways the Episcopal Church is like the Queen Mary."

The church is the U.S. branch of the 77-million-member worldwide Anglican Communion, whose spiritual head is Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. The U.S. church's decision last year to ordain a gay priest as bishop of New Hampshire caused deep divisions within international Anglicanism.

Whether the new conservative U.S. network is formally recognized as a movement in the American church will depend on several things, including the findings of a commission appointed by Williams to examine the Episcopal Church's decisions on homosexuality.

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