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COLUMBUS, OH: Gay Debate Heats Up at Episcopal Convention

COLUMBUS, OH: Gay Debate Heats Up at Episcopal Convention

By Hans Zeiger
VOL Special Correspondent

By the end of the first day of the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, a growing rift in the church was evident.

Held in Columbus, Ohio, the Convention began on Tuesday with uneventful formalities in the houses of Bishops and Deputies. An afternoon meeting of the Special Committee on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion left standing room only as the committee heard mostly reserved testimony from clergy and laymen and discussed proposals on improved relations with the global Anglican Communion.

But an evening session of the Special Committee brought forth emotional arguments, revealing the depth of the divisions in the 2.3 million member Episcopal Church as well as in the 77 million member Anglican Communion.

The most contentious proposal before the Special Committee on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion was Resolution A165 regarding "Commitment to Windsor and Listening Processes." After the 74th Episcopal General Convention in 2003 approved the ordination of the homosexual bishop of New Hampshire, the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, and recognized the blessing of homosexual unions in a Canadian diocese, representatives of the global Anglican Communion responded with the Windsor Report. The report calls on the Episcopal Church to repent of its hasty actions at the 2003 convention and to renew its place among the world's Anglican fellowship.

Resolution A165 commends the Windsor Report "as an important contribution to the process of living into communion across the Anglican Communion."

In addition, the resolution calls on the Anglican Communion to begin a formal "Listening Process" that was originally commended in Resolution 1.10 passed by a global Anglican delegation at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Resolution 1.10 clarified homosexuality as a practice incompatible with the Bible while calling on Anglicans to listen to other viewpoints. The Lambeth Conference is held once every decade and Episcopal Church participation in the 2008 Lambeth Conference likely hinges on the resolution of the sexual issues within the Episcopal Church.

Moving forward requires listening on all sides, says the Rev. Canon Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia, who spoke in favor of Resolution A165. "We must move past the cardboard cutouts we build of each others and really listen," said Minns. "Listening must be mutual. We also need to recognize that listening is always done in a context."

The context here, he said, is Resolution 1.10. According to Minns, a clear statement was made about the role of homosexual behavior in Anglican practice, as distinguished from homosexual orientation, to which the listening ear of the global denomination must be attuned. But Sam Gould of Massachusetts, a representative of Episcopal Youth, sees a fundamental problem with the global Anglican Communion that precludes listening.

Gould says he agrees with Resolution A165 in principle, but he takes issue with the Third Resolve, which refers back to Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference. "I don't think that sounds much like a discussion. The actions of the General Convention in 2003 prompted the drafting of the Windsor Report. The Episcopal Church seems to be moving toward full inclusion of all people," but the rest of the world is not.

"We're ready," Gould continued, "and we have demonstrated it in resolutions passed over the last few decades. Now, are they willing to associate with us in our current stance? If, at the moment, the Anglican communion isn't willing to associate with us in our present stance, then who is breaking the Anglican Communion?"

Michael Hopkins, an alternate from the Diocese of Rochester and former president of the homosexual Episcopal pressure group Integrity, echoed Gould's critique of global Anglicanism.

"I can't tell you whether I support this resolution or not. I want to support it," Hopkins said. But the listening process "has never happened, even though we've been talking about it for thirty years...I think it would be helpful to say to the rest of the communion that this process is largely about unfulfilled promises."

Hopkins stated that the Anglican Communion agreed to listen to issues about human sexuality as long ago as 1978, but that they have failed to do so. In Uganda, for example, Anglican Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi condemned former Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo for his pro-homosexual stances and allegedly refuses Ssenyonjo a Christian burial when he dies.

It would be a disgrace then, according to Hopkins, were the Episcopal Church to make apology for its failure to listen in the past, by accepting the Windsor Report. The real failure lies on the part of the intolerant Anglican Communion beyond the Episcopal Church, Hopkins suggested. "I think gay and lesbian folk in this communion need to be apologized to, because taking it in any other way is laying the burden on our backs...I can't tell you what it means that the future of this communion has been laid on the backs of myself and my brothers and sisters in the gay and lesbian community."

But Dr. Michael Howell, a professor at the University of South Florida, suggested that "listening" cannot simply become an excuse for pushing an agenda that runs contrary to the original spirit of the Lambeth Conference. Howell told his fellow members on the Special Committee that the context of the Listening Process must be considered. "The listening process only occupies half of the third point [in Lambeth Resolution 1.10]. If we are going to refer to Lambeth 1.10 in this resolution, then we need to be faithful to what Lambeth 1.10 is really saying. If we say this is not what we really mean by listening, then we need to craft legislation that speaks to that."

Two other proposals concerning Episcopal-Anglican Communion relations were discussed on Tuesday evening in Columbus.

A166, proposed by the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, calls for the development of an Anglican Covenant to demonstrate the Episcopal Church's "commitment to mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Anglican Communion." Development of such a covenant will proceed by a process underscoring the church's "unity in faith, order, and common life in the service of God's mission."

Such a mission is objectionable to at least one priest who spoke up at the Special Committee hearing.

Nigel Taber-Hamilton, alternate from the Diocese of Olympia and rector of a church at Whidbey Island, Washington began by emphasizing the divisions in the room. "Like Martin, I will say Listening is a very good thing, and that's about the only thing I'm going to agree with him on."

Taber-Hamilton explained that he opposes A166 because "What we do and who we are cannot be separated...We need to acknowledge full participation." Since homosexual behavior is part of an individual's identity, condemning homosexuality excludes those who deserve a role in the church.

Taber-Hamilton went on to attack the very idea of a covenant, despite its centrality in both Old and New Testaments. "The adoption of an Anglican Covenant has been tried before; it was called the 39 Articles of Religion...It didn't work. Within 100 years the 39 Articles fell away. They weren't useful to the Church of England. It didn't work then and it won't work now. It is a small touchstone of an age gone by that holds little value for today."

Continued Taber-Hamilton, "We are not a confessional church. We do not need an Anglican Covenant. We already have an identity - worship, prayer, who we are. We should not surrender that identity to salve the consciences of those who demand our submission to their Puritan mission. We are in a situation where we have to choose which hostages will be shot, and I certainly don't want to do that."

Finally, Resolution C007, proposed by the Diocese of Newark, holds the excess of payments to the Anglican Consultative Council for the 2004-2006 triennium in escrow if the financial request of the ACC for the 2006-2007 is approved in full, and if the ACC continues to exclude the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada from the 2008 Lambeth Conference. It is resolved that "none of the money in escrow be released for payment until we are assured that all bishops with jurisdiction in the Episcopal Church will be invited to attend as full and equal participants at the Lambeth Conference."

Josephine Hicks, an attorney and the lay representative to the Anglican Consultative Council, explained her objection to the proposal. "I think it's important to remember that this church voluntarily withdrew its members from the ACC...We chose to voluntarily withdraw with no strings attached."

Hicks continued, "One of our budget priorities for this budget is our tangible relationship with the Anglican Communion...As long as it's important for us to be a part of the inter-Anglican Communion, it's important for us to meet that asking." Withholding money, she said, would signal arrogance "which would be a grave mistake at this point."

Special Committee member Debbie Melnyk, who was serving on the Executive Council when a decision was made to withdraw from the ACC, explained that money was not to become a factor in the discussions with the ACC. "We made a conscious decision at the time that we were not going to play the bribery game."


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