"An Impossible Moment"
By Hans Zeiger and Auburn Traycik
COLUMBUS, OH, 6/14/06--The breadth of the chasm over homosexuality in the U.S. Episcopal Church (ECUSA) was on full display here Wednesday evening, at a General Convention legislative committee hearing that filled a 1,500-seat hotel ballroom and overflowed into the hall outside.
During a two-and-a-half hour meeting that heard comments from nearly 70 bishops, deputies and others - including the Archbishop of York, a guest at the convention - it became painfully clear how difficult it will be for the convention to find agreement on legislation that could determine whether ECUSA remains part of the "official" Anglican fold.
"I think we've reached an impossible moment in holding it together," said Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, Moderator of the conservative Anglican Communion Network. Duncan cited Dr. N.T. Wright, the Church of England's Bishop of Durham, who called on ECUSA in an essay published Wednesday to repent or face the alienation of the Anglican Communion. Wright was a member of the panel that produced the 2004 Windsor Report, which recommended steps for ECUSA to take help repair damage to Anglican relationships caused by its 2003 approval of actively gay bishop V. Gene Robinson and same-sex blessings.
Robinson himself told the hearing, "It seems to me that this debate is about one thing: do we recognize the mark of Christ and the Creator in the faces of the people of this communion?...Do we see Christ and are we courageous enough to acknowledge Christ in the lives and relationships of our gay and lesbian neighbors?...
"Our homosexual agenda is Jesus Christ. By the living Christ who has acted in my life I am convinced that I am not an abomination in the eyes of God...Let us say our prayers and stand up for right."
AT SPECIFIC ISSUE in the hearing held by the Special Committee on the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion were four proposed resolutions that will form key parts of ECUSA's response to the global church, and particularly to the 2004 Windsor Report; it called (among other things) for ECUSA to make a certain statement of regret for its 2003 actions and implement moratoria on the consecration or public blessing of same-sex unions. The resolutions under consideration were:
*A160, which would have the convention express its "deep regret for the pain that others have experienced" over the 2003 General Convention decision to approve Robinson's consecration and same-sex blessings, and offer "repentance for having breached bonds of affection" in the Communion "by any failure to consult adequately with our Anglican partners before taking these actions";
*A161, which urges the exercise of "very considerable caution" in electing and consecrating bishops "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church";
*A162, which would eschew the authorization of public rites of blessing for same-sex unions but maintain "a breadth of private responses to situations of individual pastoral care" for homosexuals in the church; and
*A163, which backs the House of Bishops' DEPO (Delegated Episcopal pastoral Oversight) plan for use "when necessary" for those unable "to receive appropriate pastoral care" from their own bishops.
The opening prayer of the hearing was led by committee member Rev. Sandye Wilson. In repudiation of the Augustinian separation between the City of God and the City of Man, Wilson petitioned for a church "affirming the beauty of diversity...denying the separation between secular and sacred, the world and church."
Among "witnesses" was the Rev. Susan Russell, president of the Episcopal gay group Integrity. She asked the committee "to remember in their deliberations that [the Windsor Report] was created without consultation with, contribution by or participation in by a single openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person -- and that the 30-year promise to listen to the witness of gay and lesbian persons continues to go unfulfilled. There is much to regret in our Anglican family -- and the continued silencing of gay and lesbian voices in the wider communion dialogue must be on the list...Let us reject the implication that we are at a 'Deal or No Deal' moment in the Anglican Communion." tonight.
Many in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion viewed the actions of the 2003 convention as arbitrary and preemptive. But the Rev. Peter Cook of Louisiana compared ECUSA's pre-emptive actions to those of the U.S. in its invasion of Iraq, which the church has condemned.
Perhaps the most forcible and symbolic words of the night came from the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, the second-ranking Archbishop in Anglicanism.
He said, "It is a broken friendship which needs to be healed. Will it actually be sufficient to repair our friendships? I am doubtful."
The Archbishop explained that the Anglican way of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason must form the foundation for friendship. But, asked the Archbishop, "Do our friendships meet that particular norm?" Furthermore, "Do these resolutions show us the Christ who bears the marks of crucifixion?"
"Truth and unity are not separable," concluded the Archbishop. "Windsor wanted space to be created, and I am not sure your resolutions will create space for our communion to be together."
Meanwhile, another voice from England cheered on efforts of liberals in ECUSA. The Rev. Colin Coward, a homosexual activist in the Church of England, told the Special Committee, "ECUSA has worked diligently at the listening process and the rest of the communion has done almost nothing." Coward labeled the global Lambeth Convention of 1998, which declared homosexuality incompatible with the Bible, "dysfunctional."
Conservative witnesses echoed the Archbishop of York. "Where is the clarity; where is the honesty? For some reason [the retired Special Commission that drafted the resolutions didn't] take the language of the Windsor report seriously enough to include it in these resolutions," said Canon Dr. Kendall Harmon, a deputy from South Carolina. ECUSA had been asked to implement moratoria on gay bishops, but the "language we get" calls for "very considerable caution'...This is a marriage that is in danger, and it is a marriage headed for divorce."
"Repentance" was a word bandied by both sides at the hearings Wednesday night. Judy Mayer, a deputy from Fort. Worth, opposed Resolution A162.
"I do think recognizing regret is the first step in the state of repentance," Mayer said. "Genuine repentance starts with regret and doesn't end there."
Repentance was urged on the other side by Ernesto Medina of Los Angeles, a member of the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music, who affirmed those who join "in the spirit of Holy Scripture that says no one is unacceptable who accepts God...We do however repent of the institutional prejudice perpetrated against" a variety of minority groups. Medina concluded, "We are called to speak now lest anyone else suffers while we remain silent."
While moderates supported the resolutions for their compromise in affirming homosexuality while expressing regret for the 2003 General Convention actions, liberals suggested that regret was in order for "our complacency as a church" over slavery and racism, as one speaker put it, and for oppression of homosexuals, as several others indicated.
Left-wing clergy and laymen took to the floor to proclaim the need for public and pastoral recognition of homosexual unions. One priest said, "These blessings are not officially authorized, however they are not private or hidden or veiled." A homosexual wedding ceremony, he added, is "not just a pastoral act but an evangelical act and a beautiful act."
"I urge the Committee to resolve a fuller compliance with the Windsor requests of The Episcopal Church. The Lambeth Commission on Communion was asked to address a very specific question: how to repair a "tear in the fabric of the Anglican Communion" - a tear that had already occurred," said John W. Howe, Bishop of Central Florida. "The Commission was composed of persons with viewpoints that spanned the Anglican theological spectrum, and yet it was unanimous in the recommendations it produced. In effect it said, "This is what must happen if what has been broken is to be repaired." Neither the Commission, nor the Primates, who endorsed its Report, invited The Episcopal Church to propose a lesser alternative," he said.
"I never dreamed that I would find myself [contending with this issue] again," said the Rt. Rev. William Skilton, Assisting Bishop of South Carolina. In 2003, Skilton warned that "the damage would be irreparable." Today, he says, "The church is damaged, hurt in this country and beyond...What I plead for is that this church affirm completely the Windsor Report, so that this church can come together and find a way. At this rate," he concluded, "we can't do it."
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