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Episcopalians Curb Policy on Gays
After rejecting a ban on gay bishops, church leaders put a stumbling block in their way, hoping to pacify the Anglican Communion.
By Stephen Clark, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 22, 2006
In a stunning reversal, Episcopal church leaders seeking common ground with the worldwide Anglican Communion on Wednesday agreed to "exercise restraint" in selecting openly gay bishops.
The decision came just one day after the House of Deputies, one of two legislative bodies for the church, rejected a temporary ban on gay bishops. Although the new policy does not explicitly ban gay bishops, it makes it more difficult for gay clergy to achieve that office.
The resolution was overwhelmingly approved at a joint session of the deputies and the House of Bishops on the final legislative day of a weeklong convention in Columbus, Ohio.
After much debate, the resolution gained credibility when Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori supported it, saying it would ease strained relations within the church and allow further discussion of the issue.
"I am fully committed to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in this church," she told deputies. "I don't find this an easy thing to say to you, but I think that is the best we are going to manage at this point in our church's history."
The Episcopal Church, which has 2.3 million members in the U.S. and is part of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion worldwide, has been torn by the issue of homosexuality.
After the 2003 election of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, Anglican officials asked the U.S. church to approve a temporary ban on gay bishops. Many conservatives, who represent a minority in the U.S. church but dominate some Anglican congregations overseas, were incensed by his election.
A panel appointed by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams recommended a moratorium on consecrating other gay bishops in a document called the Windsor Report. Some who support gay bishops have expressed a desire to break away from the Anglican Communion.
Robinson, who attended the convention, said he trusted Jefferts Schori's judgment. "While I was disappointed at the outcome, I don't see this as a huge setback," Robinson said in a telephone interview. "I think this gives us a way to move forward and deepen the conversation.
"I'm taking the long view on this," he added. "There's always going to be bumps in the road, and this is one of them."
Some delegates wept when the resolution was adopted, and even some who voted for it tearfully apologized to Robinson. "It came at a great price to many people," he said.
But some saw it as a price worth paying.
"It's a resolution of unity in which the Episcopal Church has gone further than I ever expected it would go in accepting the Windsor Report," said the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. "I think we've taken an action to let the Anglican Church see how serious we are."
Bruno, speaking from Columbus, added that he fully supported gay and lesbian bishops and compared the issue to women's struggle to become priests and bishops. "If you look at this in the same light as women's ordination," he said, "everything is a progression."
Not everyone agrees.
The Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena, who attended the convention, believes the resolution will have a "chilling effect."
"It was a very tragic moment," he said of its passage.
He noted that the Newark diocese was close to unveiling its short list of candidates for bishop. "It's going to be interesting to see," he said, "if there are any gay or lesbian candidates."
Episcopal, Presbyterian Leaders Rule on Gay Clergy
Episcopal leaders reject a ban on homosexual bishops. Presbyterians defer the issue of ordination to local, case-by-case decisions.
By K. Connie Kang and Stephen Clark, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
June 21, 2006
Episcopal church leaders on Tuesday rejected a temporary ban against gay bishops, while Presbyterians agreed to let local and regional governing bodies decide whether to ordain gay or lesbian ministers.
The actions by the churches' governing assemblies could cause further rifts in denominations already coping with theological divisions over homosexuality and declining membership.
The Episcopal House of Deputies, composed of more than 800 lay leaders and clergy, has been meeting in Columbus, Ohio. The Episcopal Church, with 2.3 million members in the U.S., is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Leading Anglican officials had asked the U.S. church to approve a temporary ban on gay bishops after V. Gene Robinson, who is gay, was elected bishop of New Hampshire three years ago. His election outraged conservatives, who constitute a minority in the U.S. church but who dominate some congregations overseas.
Robinson is the nation's only openly gay Episcopal bishop, though in May, two gay men and a lesbian were among six finalists to become bishop of a Bay Area diocese.
"I was very pleased that they voted it down," said the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena, who was at the meeting.
Bacon, in a telephone interview, said conservatives who want to stay with the Anglican Communion were disappointed by the vote. "I would say right now the church is significantly polarized," he said.
The nation's largest Presbyterian group, meeting in Birmingham, Ala., approved the new policy that enables local and regional church bodies to approve the ordination of gays and lesbians on a case-by-case basis.
While leaving intact a church law that requires ministers and lay leaders to practice "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness," representatives of Presbyterian Church USA voted 298-221 to adopt the measure.
In effect, the policy creates a loophole that would allow gays and lesbians to serve as ministers, even though the policy does not endorse gay clergy.
"It's a compromise that allows the church to live together in peace," said the Rev. Jon Walton, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of New York.
But the Rev. Donald Baird, a pastor from Sacramento, said he was concerned that the new policy would undermine church unity. "We used to act as one church," Baird said. "Now we'll have 11,000 churches."
The policy gives sessions (boards of trustees of local churches) and presbyteries (regional governing bodies) leeway to decide who can serve as pastors, as well as deacons and elders. But such decisions are subject to review by administrative and judicial bodies.
"What has changed is to give some added authority to the local presbyteries and sessions in making those judgments," said the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, chief executive at denominational headquarters in Louisville, Ky. "But it is also crystal clear that the fundamental standards don't change. And those standards are the same in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Birmingham or anywhere they're carried out.
"Certainly, there will be differing judgments in different locations and different mission situations as to what is essential for the ordination of people in ministry."
Attempts by liberals to rescind the requirement of fidelity in marriage and chastity for singles failed in 1998 and 2002.
At Tuesday's meeting, numerous efforts by conservatives to defeat or delay the measure failed.
Presbyterian Church debates issue of gay elders
Updated 6/22/2006 9:34 PM ET
By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY
The Episcopal Church isn't the only denomination debating gay issues — the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) faces a similar conflict, theologically and politically, at its assembly Thursday in Birmingham, Ala.
Can a local church ordain a gay elder when the denominational constitution forbids it?
At its 1996 assembly, the 2.4 million-member church set a national standard banning ordination for openly gay deacons, elders and ministers but retaining those already ordained.
There has been disagreement ever since, although, unlike the Episcopal Church, there has been no threat of schism or scolding by international bishops in the headlines.
A task force report to be presented in Birmingham doesn't address gay ordination directly, but its governance recommendations, if adopted, could open the door to it by acknowledging the discretionary power of local and regional churches.
"We're trying to clarify which national standards are essentials for everyone and where discretion can apply," says the Rev. Jack Rogers, who appointed the task force when he was moderator for the national church in 2001.
In his new book, Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality, he calls for full rights of membership for homosexuals in the church.
Not all branches of the Presbyterian Church agree on such issues. The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), formed in 1974, hews to "the inerrancy and authority of Scripture" and traditional roles for women.
Posted 6/12/2006 5:32 PM ET
Updated 6/22/2006 9:34 PM ET