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Episcopal leader urges patience

The bishop makes her appeal as the global church calls for a ban on same-sex unions.

March 01, 2007|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church said Wednesday that it is being pushed toward painful decisions on questions of sexuality and scriptural interpretation by "impatient forces" eager for clarity, but she urged members to wait and be without fear as the church struggles through a difficult time.

Appearing in a live webcast, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori acknowledged that the church, the American wing of the global Anglican Communion, risks losing its place and voice in that fellowship if it does not comply with demands from Anglican leaders that it bar official blessings for same-sex couples and take other actions.

Jefferts Schori said, however, that she believed the church was being asked to pause, not retreat from its positions on the divisive issues. "If we can lower the emotional reactivity in the midst of this current controversy, we just might be able to find a way to live together," she said.

In a meeting that ended last week in Tanzania, the leaders, or primates, of Anglican provinces around the world issued an ultimatum to the U.S. church. By Sept. 30, they said, the Episcopal Church must state explicitly that it will not authorize blessings for same-sex couples and will bar gays and lesbians from becoming bishops.

In 2003, a long-simmering conflict between liberal and conservative church members in the United States and abroad reached crisis level when the Episcopal Church consecrated its first gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

On Tuesday, Robinson made his first public comments on the Tanzania meeting, saying the Episcopal Church should not yield to demands that it roll back its acceptance of gays. Instead, he said, it should "get on with the work of the Gospel."

In response, Jefferts Schori said Wednesday that such a decision was not hers to make, and that she did not know exactly where the Episcopal Church's leadership and membership stood. She said a clearer understanding might emerge after two upcoming meetings: a gathering this weekend of its executive council, which includes bishops, clergy and laity, and of its House of Bishops in mid-March.

At several points during her hourlong webcast from New York, in which she answered questions submitted by phone, e-mail and from a studio audience, she acknowledged the anguish and anxiety the conflict was causing those on all sides.

That pain was evident in several of the questions. One caller said her daughter, a lesbian seeking to become an Episcopal priest, was brokenhearted by the primates' demands.

Another woman, who said she was listening to the webcast with her partner, said she could not view the proposed restrictions for gays with the understanding and patience that Jefferts Schori advised. "It seems very harsh," the caller said.

Jefferts Schori, who has expressed support for gay clergy and blessing same-sex unions, told the woman she shared some of her concerns. But she repeated her call for forbearance.

"We are being pushed toward a decision by impatient forces within and outside this church who hunger for clarity," she said. "That hunger for clarity at all costs is an anxious response to discomfort in the face of change."

In London, meanwhile, another branch of the Anglican Communion wrestled over related issues Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. The Church of England's governing General Synod affirmed existing teaching that homosexuality does not bar full participation in the church but sidestepped language about accepting gay sexual relationships.

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rebecca.trounson@latimes.com

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