ECUSA decisions on sexuality cause waves

Published September 1, 2003

Members of the traditionalist American Anglican Council distributed leaflets outside General Convention.

Expect a lot of attention.

When the Anglican Church of Canada, as expected, considers same-gender blessings at its General Synod in 2004, it will likely generate some of the international scrutiny that hit the Episcopal Church of the United States’ General Convention last summer.

Meeting from July 30 to Aug. 8, the triennial governing meeting approved the election of the church’s first openly gay bishop and tacitly accepted the blessing of homosexual relationships.

The decisions attracted huge media coverage (361 media representatives were accredited), strong reaction from liberals and conservatives (both religious and secular) worldwide and prompted the Archbishop of Canterbury to call a special meeting in England of senior bishops next month.

“There is a price to pay – both for innovation and for standing still,” said Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island in an interview.

Maintaining the status quo was certainly not the intent of the 835 deputies (comprising lay and clergy members) and 107 bishops, who voted to accept the election of Gene Robinson as diocesan bishop of New Hampshire. Bishop-elect Robinson has lived with a male partner for 13 years. On the issue of blessing homosexual relationships, the house of bishops deleted a phrase that would have directed the national church to develop a specific liturgy, but accepted a phrase that noted “local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.” Clergy and lay delegates, who meet separate from the house of bishops, jointly concurred.

Rev. Michael Hopkins, president of Integrity, an Anglican gay support group, noted that General Convention has “given individual bishops the right to do what the diocese of New Westminster has done – the right to develop their own pastoral practice.” Last year, the diocese of New Westminster in British Columbia voted to allow parishes to offer blessings for homosexual relationships, but the diocese developed a standard rite. The diocese saw its first sanctioned blessing of a same-sex couple last May (see related story).

Both ECUSA decisions involving sexuality were praised by liberals, who said that welcoming gays and lesbians is a matter of justice and consistent with Christian philosophy.

Conservatives denounced the moves, saying that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality and that the U.S. church has broken faith with the wider Anglican Communion, a federation of 38 churches and some 77 million members worldwide. Led by an organization called the American Anglican Council, conservatives have called a meeting for early October in Plano, Tex., at which they say they will craft a plea to the primates for the creation of a breakaway province within North America for conservative parishes.

“One of the things this means for (the Canadian church) is that it takes some of the spotlight off us for a little while,” noted Canon Eric Beresford, consultant for ethics and inter-faith relations with the national Canadian church office. Since the diocese of New Westminster’s action last year, “we’ve been the centre of attention,” he said in an interview at General Convention.

[pullquote]Focus groups in the Canadian church are currently discussing how the question of same-sex blessings might be discussed at the next General Synod, scheduled for May 28 to June 4 next year in St. Catharines, Ont. “With our synod one year after General Convention, it’s inevitable some ripples will be felt,” he said.

However, Mr. Beresford, added, "one of the things people are beginning to discern is a pattern of increased accommodation toward the relationships of gay and lesbian people," noting the court decisions permitting gay marriage in Canada and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down anti-sodomy laws.

As at General Convention, Canadian delegates can expect lobbying and demonstrations, Mr. Beresford said, but perhaps not at quite as intense a level. Pro-gay activists gathered under a rainbow banner outside the convention centre, singing Amazing Grace. Members of the American Anglican Council handed out leaflets saying “God Is Truth.”

Many rumours of disturbances did not, however, materialize, noted Rev. Hays Junkin, chair of the diocese of New Hampshire’s governing committee. “We heard rumours of procedural delays, parliamentary roadblocks, attempts to ruin the quorum,” he said.

As Canadians prepare for their meeting next year, he said he would say to them, “Don’t be afraid. Stay open to the great heritage of the Anglican church which we share. Remember that unity in Christ does not mean uniformity.”

However, Canon David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council, said in an interview that “if Canada goes in the same direction that the Episcopal church went, it will suffer the same tearing-apart. An Anglican province of North America could be a safe home for any Canadian diocese or parishes,” he said.

Mr. Anderson said the proposed province would be “totally separate” with “our own primate.” However, the church’s senior bishop said that would be unlikely. Noting that conservatives’ talk of an additional province has been around for several years, ECUSA Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said at a news conference, “I find it difficult to imagine two parallel realities within a geographic area.”


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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