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The New York Times
Stay Tuned, as 2 Churches Struggle With Gay Clergy
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Published: June 24, 2006
The only certain result of the Episcopal and Presbyterian church conventions that ended this week is that the participants will return to fight another day — and at future church conventions — over homosexuality.
For the Episcopal Church U.S.A. and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as with other mainline Protestant churches, the summertime convention season has become a painful ritual. In each church, the conservatives and the liberals are bound together like brawling conjoined twins.
The liberals dominate the power centers of the denominations — the national offices and the legislative arms. The conservatives have threatened to walk away, but most have not because they say the church is rightfully, theologically, theirs.
"It's all very well to threaten divorce, but it's another thing to go to the divorce court," said David C. Steinmetz, a professor of the history of Christianity at Duke Divinity School who has spent the last few years on schism watch.
Members of both churches had looked to this year's conventions to clarify their positions on ordaining gay clergy members and blessing same-sex couples.
But instead, each convention produced the kind of parliamentary doublespeak that some Episcopalians call "Anglican fudge," a concoction often used to smooth over differences at meetings of the global Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the American branch.
The Presbyterians, on the sixth day of their eight-day General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala., approved the proposal of a bipartisan "Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church," which had spent five years trying to devise a compromise that would keep the church from splitting. The vote was 57 percent to 43 percent.
The proposal gives congregations and regional districts known as presbyteries the leeway to ordain gay clergy members and elders, despite church standards banning the ordination of gay leaders, which the delegates voted to reconfirm at the convention.
Liberals who favor a "live and let live" solution were relieved. But the ball is now in the conservatives' court, and in the post-convention wrap-up, conservative leaders said in interviews that they were not in unity.
Some said they knew of individuals who would surely leave the Presbyterian Church and of churches that intended to "separate themselves" from the denomination, at least temporarily.
But the leaders of most conservative caucuses in the church are encouraging their members to stay and fight, and to challenge the first ordinations of gay clergy members in ecclesiastical courts. A victory or two would give them the precedent they need to undermine this "compromise," they said.
The Rev. Michael R. Walker, executive director of Presbyterians for Renewal, a large conservative group, said: "It's going to increase confusion and rancor in the church, and it's certainly going to result in a quagmire within church courts. So, far from promoting peace, unity and purity, it actually promotes unrest and disunity and impurity."
He said the compromise solution, in which each church or presbytery could make up its own mind, was not acceptable to many conservatives because they felt "guilty by association" with a church that had "compromised biblical standards" on sexuality and morality.
Terry Schlossberg, executive director of the Presbyterian Coalition, another conservative group, said: "We're tired. We don't want to keep fighting the same battles over again, but there are battles to fight that we could prevail in. We are going back to work. We will recommit ourselves to seeing this rescinded at the next General Assembly."
Stay tuned in 2008.
The Episcopalians went into their convention under pressure from conservatives in the United States, and in Africa, Asia and elsewhere, to express regret for consenting to the ordination of a gay bishop — V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire — at their convention three years ago.
The demands were in the Windsor Report, a document commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury in an effort to referee the ruckus that erupted after Bishop Robinson's consecration. The report asked the Episcopal Church to place a moratorium on the election of gay bishops, and to stop blessing same-sex couples.
The decision came down to the last day of the church's convention in Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday. The House of Deputies, made up of priests and lay people, was apparently in no mood to comply with the report's demands.
Then, at the urging of the church's newly elected presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the House of Deputies passed a statement saying the church should "exercise restraint" in electing bishops "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."
Some advocates of gay inclusion were disappointed, but some of their liberal allies said it would buy the Episcopal Church time to remain in the Anglican Communion and persuade the bishops of other nations to accept the American position.
"I don't see it as a setback," said Bishop J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles, a liberal. "I see it as a detour in the path to full inclusion of gay and lesbian people."
Bishop Bruno said he had been assured by the Archbishop of York, who was at the Columbus meeting, that the American statement would be sufficient to prevent the Americans from being excluded from the next major meeting of Anglican bishops, the Lambeth Conference in 2008.
The conservatives, however, insisted that the Americans' mea culpa was insufficient.
"If the communion puts its stock in this promise, it's going to be terribly deceived," said Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, a conservative group that has formed an alliance with conservative Anglicans in the developing world.
Bishop Duncan suggested in an interview that he had received assurances that the Anglican Communion would soon reprimand the Episcopal Church for disregarding orthodoxy.
"That's the stuff of reformations," he said. "And no reformation goes quickly."
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