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NOTTINGHAM: Episcopal Church Reaffirms Position on Homosexuality

NOTTINGHAM: Episcopal Church Reaffirms Position on Homosexuality

News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

NOTTINGHAM, England (6/22/2005)--The Episcopal Church which, for almost 40 years has pushed the normalcy of homosexuality, reaffirmed its position both theologically and practically for the ordination of homosexual persons to all orders of ministry, and appealed, once again, to remain in the worldwide Anglican Communion of some 78 million Anglicans.

"We pray that whatever differences there are in our Anglican Communion may [we] never be overtaken by the anger and divisiveness of this world," said a document prepared for the occasion. "We believe that God has been opening our eyes to acts of God that we had not known how to see before," a document titled "To Set or Hope in Christ" - a response to the Windsor Report prepared for the Anglican Consultative Council. A group of international bishops, priests and laity that acts as the Fourth Instrument of Unity in the Communion listened politely as some Episcopalians including an avowed lesbian priest made their case. The book affirmed "the eligibility for ordination of those in covenanted same-sex unions."

Like Custer, it may well be the Episcopal Church's last stand. Two Anglican Primates from the Global South shook their heads in bewilderment with one, the Primate of Nigeria Peter Akinola handing out a two-page document of annotated Scriptures showing the incompatibility of homosexuality from the Old and New Testaments.

It would appear that the overwhelming differences will not be patched up and that schism is inevitable.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, called for a time of "listening" and reflection during the meeting, but it would seem that the divide is unbridgeable with statements from the archbishop himself that seemed to reinforce that view.

Frank Griswold, ECUSA's Presiding Bishop pled with the Council "to recognize such holiness in the lives of Christians of same-sex affection, and in their covenanted unions", arguing that as Peter and his companions in Acts 10, who, initially hesitant to welcome righteous Gentiles like Cornelius into their church, discovered that God has already welcomed them and poured out the gifts of the Holy spirit upon them.

The Presiding Bishop argued that Christianity from the beginning entered the fray of contested and contesting biblical interpretations. "There was never a time when all members of Israel or of the Christian Church agreed on all major matters."

Griswold said that, based on his fluid multi-interpretation of Scripture, "it seems very likely that there was no phenomenon in the time of the biblical writers directly akin to the phenomenon of Christians of the same gender living together in faithful and committed life-long unions as we experience this today."

Griswold drew on science to support his arguments saying, in the document, that many were now being informed by the "growing preponderance of opinion in the fields of scientific research."

"For centuries it had been assumed that same-sex affection was inevitably a distortion or dysfunction of human nature. Increasingly scholars in the field have found that the phenomenon of same-sex affection is not accurately understood as a biological, psychological, or cultural dysfunction but more adequately studied as simply another way in which human nature exists."

With Griswold to address the ACC were Bishop Neil Alexander of Atlanta; Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana; Bishop Suffragan Catherine Roskam of New York; the Rev. Michael Battle, academic vice president of Virginia Theological Seminary; the Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity and an assisting priest at All Saints' Church in Pasadena, California; and Jane Tully, founder of CFLAG (Clergy Families of Lesbians and Gays) and a parishioner of St. Bartholomew's Church in New York City.

Bishop Roskam said humility was required from those who speak in Western contexts. "Through history we have been more ready to speak than hear," she said. "It is our desire to hear and learn the theological differences of Anglicans around the world. Perhaps mutual humility is an essential virtue throughout the Anglican Communion."

Roskam acknowledged that the presenters comments may seem surprising or unsettling to some people, but "there is no intention to grieve or hurt you in any way," she said. "We want to serve our God [and] we pray that whatever differences there are that they may not be overtaken [by] the divisiveness from this world."

Jane Tully, the mother of two sons and wife of the Rev. Bill Tully, rector of St. Bartholomew's Church in New York City, gave a personal account of how she dealt with homosexuality in her own family. Their younger son Jonah announced that he was gay and while she feared for his health she was even more concerned about discrimination that he and many gay and lesbian people face.

"I had many questions, but I knew three things for sure," she said. "I knew that I loved Jonah, I knew that God made him and Jesus loves him, I knew that he was the same beautiful, funny person that I know now. Nothing had changed, but I had to learn what it meant."

Tully said she listened to her son because she loved him. "I listened to other people, I listened to my husband and others in the church [and] I listened to Jesus and to my heart." "I learned that my son didn't choose to be attracted to men. I did not choose my sexual attraction and neither did my husband. I believe that God made some people to love the same sex and the other sex. It is pretty clear to me that God loves diversity, just look at the world."

But two bishops from the Episcopal Church, the Rt. Rev. Charles Jenkins of Louisiana and the Rt. Rev. Neil Alexander of Atlanta, who voted the opposite on V. Gene Robinson's consecration, felt they could hold polar positions on sexuality and theological interpretation and still remain in fellowship and in Communion.

Jenkins, who opposed Robinson's election also serves the Presiding Bishop in his council of advice, upheld the view that sexuality should be between a man and a woman, "my presence is an act of obedience to Jesus who calls his flock to unity."

He said he disagreed with Griswold, "but I believe with every fiber of my being that Frank Griswold would guard my interest if I could not and I would guard his if he could not. Such relationships of trust are not uncommon in the Episcopal Church."

Jenkins said that his presence at the ACC was intended to "give you a glimpse how I as a bishop who voted in the minority at the 2003 General Convention."

He argued that every bishop and the majority of bishops, clergy and laity in the Episcopal Church want to remain a part of the Anglican Communion and said he does not want to walk separately..."and I pray that you will not walk separately from me."

Alexander, a revisionist bishop who is seeing considerable dissent in his own diocese over the consecration of Robinson, expressed the hope that the consultation would be the start of an ongoing process "to listen" as called for by 1998 Lambeth Conference. "I am convinced that if we talk more to one another, we will discover the gifts of the risen Christ. I believe that people of faith can live together with integrity in spite of different viewpoints."

The Rev. Battle, a specialist in black church studies and spirituality, came to Virginia Theological Seminary from Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C. was trained and ordained in 1993 by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said Anglicans should be "inclusive" on homosexuality.

He described how the Episcopal Church has struggled with the issue of sexuality just as the early church struggled with gentiles in its midst. "The inclusion of the gentiles in the early church was of great controversy," he said. "We have learned to appropriate scripture differently from many other Christians. We are still learning that this remains a complex matter as it did in the early church."

The Bible is interpreted in different ways throughout the Anglican Communion," Battle said. "We need to trust the Holy Spirit in our midst. We have learned that scripture is not a threat and it should not be used to destroy others or categorize others ... We've learned to read scripture in a way to make sense of its whole."

He added: "We invite you to continue to listen and we invite you to hear us as we are hearing you."


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