Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Episcopal Church may put itself on a collision course with the rest of the Anglican Communion

A resolution that declares “God has called and may call such individuals (gay or lesbians), to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church” is now just one small step from becoming the official policy of the Episcopal church. The resolution was passed by wide margins by both of the church's main decision-making bodies, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, at its General Convention in Anaheim, California, south of Los Angeles. Tuesday's resolution appears to have ended an effective three-year moratorium on the election of gay bishops that had been agreed to cool tensions.

The resolution also recognized that "the baptized membership of The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God."

Rev. Susan Russell, who is president of Integrity USA, an advocacy and support group for LGBT Episcopalians, called the vote by the bishops "an historic move forward and a great day for all who support the full inclusion of all the baptized in the Body of Christ."

"The resolution passed today by the House of Bishops was another step in the Episcopal Church's 'coming out' process,” Russell said in a statement. "It sends a strong 'come and see' message to anyone looking for a faith community where God's inclusive love is not just proclaimed but practiced."

The new approach is likely to deepen theological fissures that led some traditionalist Episcopal congregations and dioceses last month to form a rival church. And it is almost certain to trigger a backlash among conservative Anglican leaders who have urged the U.S. church to refrain from relaxing ordination and marriage standards.

The spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, had expressed apprehension during a brief visit to the conference last week about decisions "that could push us further apart."

But progressives in the 2.1-million member denomination said the move toward inclusion reflects the reality of a church that is home to many partnered gays and lesbians who belong to parishes that encourage their involvement and already bless their unions.

"Being an Episcopalian means you can disagree and still worship together," said the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles. "We're going to leave the door open for all those who disagree with us to find a place here and peace here."

"There is no desire from within the Episcopal Church to leave the Anglican fold," Ian Douglas, a member of the House of Deputies, told Reuters by telephone.

He said the resolution confirmed the church's "commitment to nondiscrimination" and "states what is on the books."

Divisions between liberals and conservatives already had undermined Episcopal Church unity by 2003, when it consecrated Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first bishop in Anglican history known to be in an openly gay relationship. No openly gay or lesbian bishop has been elected since Robinson's consecration.

A bishop who left the church last year predicted that the decisions made in Anaheim would increase strains with disaffected conservatives.

"Clearly the activists have done a good job promoting their agenda," said the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, a founding bishop of the newly formed Anglican Church in North America, which hopes to gain recognition from the Anglican Communion as a rival province to the Episcopal Church.

"The generosity shown by the rest of the communion has been astonishing and has been thrown back in their face," Minns said. "There will have to be a renegotiation of how the Episcopal Church fits into the family."

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