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COLUMBUS, OH: Danforth warns Episcopalians on issues

COLUMBUS, OH: Danforth warns Episcopalians on issues

By RACHEL ZOLL,
AP Religion Writer
June 15, 2006

COLUMBUS, Ohio - John Danforth, an Episcopal priest and former U.S. senator, warned Thursday that the church risked irrelevancy by focusing on divisive issues such as gay clergy and same-gender couples.

Instead, Danforth said the denomination should turn away from the "inside baseball" of church politics and put its energy behind reconciling a world increasingly polarized by politics and religion.

"For 99 percent-plus of people, they really couldn't care less who the bishop of diocese 'X' or 'Z' is," Danforth said, during the church's national legislative meeting. "Nor could they care less whether a liturgy for blessing same-sex unions is available in a prayer book or over the Internet."

If the Episcopal Church breaks apart, "we'll be one more little splinter, one more tiny wedge in the world of wedges," he warned.

Danforth made the comments at the General Convention, where delegates are deciding whether they should stop electing gay bishops for now and put restrictions on same-sex blessing ceremonies to appease irate fellow-Anglicans around the world.

Danforth said he knew almost nothing about how the convention operates and could not advise delegates on how they should vote.

Simmering disagreement on gay issues erupted over the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who lives with his longtime male partner.

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. arm of the global Anglican Communion, and the majority of overseas Anglican leaders believe gay relations violate Scripture. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has expressed concern that the communion could break apart over the issue.

On Thursday, the House of Deputies, comprised of lay people and clergy, approved a resolution on a voice vote affirming their commitment to remain within the communion. The measure now goes before the House of Bishops for their consideration.

The outcome of the convention, which runs through next Wednesday, will be a key factor in how the Anglican fellowship fares.

Overseas archbishops have asked the Episcopal Church for a moratorium on electing gay bishops and on creating official prayer services to bless gay couples. However, the main proposal before the convention does not include a moratorium.

Instead, it asks dioceses to "exercise very considerable caution" in electing leaders. The measure also includes a temporary bar on same-gender liturgies, but uses wording that leaves an opening for individual priests to conduct the ceremonies informally.

Robinson and other gay advocates have urged delegates not to create new barriers for homosexuals for the sake of unity. But Episcopalians with traditional views of Scripture have complained that the proposals are meaningless and fail to go far enough toward addressing conservative concerns.

The Pittsburgh-based Anglican Communion Network, which represents 10 Episcopal dioceses and more than 900 parishes that opposed Robinson's election, has a meeting set for the end of July to discuss their future plans. The network remains part of the Episcopal Church for now, but could ultimately attempt to replace the denomination as the American member of the communion.

The committee shepherding the legislation through the convention is deciding whether to amend the measures in the light of comments at several public hearings over the last few days. Delegates can also revise or reject the legislation during floor debate.

Church leaders hope voting on the issue will be completed before the election of their new presiding bishop on Sunday. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, the top official of the 2.3 million-member denomination, is finishing a nine-year term.

END

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