Episcopal convention sees painstaking work on sexuality issues

Published June 17, 2006

Columbus, Ohio Issues concerning homosexuality will not be resolved at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention before the election of a new presiding bishop, or national leader, on June 18, since members of a special committee wrestling with the issues have not yet agreed on the wording of key resolutions. Church leaders had said earlier that they hoped to have the controversial issues decided before the election. In a special 90-minute session on June 17, the committee passed two resolutions on the issues, sending them to the full convention, but two more key resolutions are still in the domain of the committee. The public deliberation session provided a window into the painstaking work being done by the 18-member panel, which is scheduling extra early-morning, midday and evening meetings. Of the two resolutions that were approved, the first concerned the language of “an expression of regret” that the American church’s consecration of a gay bishop and acceptance of blessing ceremonies for gay couples caused pain to other Anglican churches in the world where homosexuality is not readily accepted. Members wrangled over whether the resolution should express regret for not having “adequately explained” the moves, then wondered whether that wording expressed a sense of American arrogance. “It could be misinterpreted as being heavy handed,” said committee member Rev. Ian Douglas of Massachusetts. Other members suggested saying that the U.S. church “had not entered into a mutual discernment process” with the rest of the worldwide Anglican Communion and others said the wording should perhaps read “not sought the collective wisdom” of the communion. The committee chair, Bishop Dorsey Henderson of the diocese of Upper South Carolina, urged his colleagues to move things along. “I’m terrified we will get jammed up on the last day,” he said. The triennial governing convention runs from June 13 to June 21. The second resolution asks the convention to endorse a plan for “designated Episcopal oversight” developed by the church’s bishops in 2004 that would allow bishops to cross diocesan boundaries to minister to congregations that disagree with their diocesan bishops. The situation has arisen generally where a bishop has liberal views on homosexuality and clashes with conservative congregations, some of whom have joined breakaway groups or sought the leadership of a bishop from outside the country. Ten of the church’s 110 dioceses have formed a dissenting group, the Anglican Communion Network. An organization called the American Anglican Council (AAC), based in Atlanta, acts as a sounding board and source of advice for congregations wanting to break away from the national church. The committee added wording to the resolution that asked the convention to “urge continued maintenance of historic diocesan boundaries, the authority of the diocesan bishop and respect for the historical relationships of the separate and autonomous provinces of the Anglican Communion.” Many Episcopalians have expressed resentment at pressure by other Anglican churches since each church in the worldwide communion is self-governing and not subject to a central authority such as the Roman Catholic pope. Bishop Robert O’Neill of Colorado noted that the committee needed to get the resolutions “into the system” because they could undergo further revisions in either of the convention’s two legislative bodies, the house of bishops and the house of deputies (laity and clergy). Both were approved and the panel scheduled an early-morning meeting for June 18 to deal with resolutions that would address the fallout from the consecration of the openly-gay Bishop Gene Robinson and from a 2003 decision recognizing that gay blessing ceremonies occur in some dioceses. In a brief interview outside the committee room, Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, a support group for gay Anglicans, said the lengthy deliberations show that “these are people of deep faith and commitment to the Anglican Communion, with wide differences. They are giving their best effort.” Conservatives, however, say they do not believe the committee, or the convention, will give them what they want – a ban on any further election of gay candidates to the episcopate, an strong expression of repentance for the 2003 actions and a ban on same-sex blessing ceremonies. Those moves are called for in an international Anglican statement called the Windsor Report. “If their resolutions are worded in Windsor words and convey the content Windsor is looking for, it would be unacceptable to the house of deputies and the house of bishops,” said Canon David Anderson, president of AAC. “If they pass what is acceptable to them, it will not be acceptable to the primates (national archbishops).” As to whether the unresolved nature of several of the issues will affect the election of the presiding bishop, Rev. Sandye Wilson said she thought “people put too much stock in how it’s going to affect the outcome of the election.” Conservatives have already said that none of the seven candidates are acceptable to them.


  • Solange DeSantis

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

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