Anglicans Hover on the Brink Over Gays

LONDON — A high-level commission of the worldwide Anglican Communion on Monday called on the American Episcopal Church to express regret for consecrating an openly gay bishop and to stop blessings of same-sex unions.

But the much-anticipated report does not seek to expel the Episcopal Church from the international communion or demand the removal of the gay bishop, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, as some conservatives had sought.

The Lambeth Commission document underlines the deep divide over sexuality that threatens to splinter the 77-million-member Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the American branch. Conservative theologians, particularly those from Africa and Asia, contend that the American church’s liberal attitude toward homosexuality violates biblical rules.

“The Episcopal Church breached the bonds of communion” by choosing as bishop “a person whom they knew had already been declared to be unacceptable to the majority of the Anglican Communion,” said Archbishop Robert Eames, Anglican primate of Ireland and commission chairman, referring to Robinson in a news conference at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

In response, the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding U.S. bishop and primate of the 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church, did not back away from his position generally supporting homosexuals in the church.

“As presiding bishop, I am obligated to affirm the presence and positive contribution of gay and lesbian persons to every aspect of the life of our church, and in all orders of ministry,” said Griswold, who led Robinson’s consecration ceremony last year. “I regret that there are places within our communion where it is unsafe for them to speak out the truth of who they are.”

Griswold declined to say whether he would elevate any other gay priests to bishop or stop allowing same-sex union blessings in the future.

But, reacting to the commission, the American primate issued a statement expressing his regret over “how difficult and painful actions of our church have been” for conservative Anglicans overseas.

The international panel on Monday strongly urged Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the communion’s spiritual head, to “exercise very considerable caution” before inviting Robinson to international church meetings. Likewise, American bishops who consented to Robinson’s consecration as bishop last year also were asked to skip such meetings until they expressed regret.

Griswold said he would continue to attend Anglican meetings unless he was advised otherwise.

“Where there is tension and disagreement, it’s most important then to show up, not out of a sense of arrogance or privilege, but because I don’t see how one can take steps toward any kind of reconciliation if the party to the process of reconciliation is absent,” Griswold said.

The commission’s 121-page report repeatedly urges reconciliation over punishment and warns that the communion could be irrevocably fractured if it did not take steps toward more cooperation.

“There remains a very real danger that we will not choose to walk together,” the document says. “Should the call to halt and find ways of continuing in our present communion not be heeded, then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart.”

Worldwide church leaders are expected to review the report for possible formal adoption in February. In addition, African bishops, who include some of the most outspoken opponents of Robinson’s consecration, are scheduled to meet this month in Nigeria.

The report calls for a halt to blessings of same-sex unions, which have occurred in the U.S. and Canada, and to the consecration as bishops of priests who, such as Robinson, are living in homosexual relationships. The panel reaffirmed the Anglican Communion’s 1998 statement that homosexual “practice” as opposed to orientation was “incompatible with Scripture,” although that policy also called on the church to “listen” to the concerns of gays and lesbians.

Still, a leading figure in conservative Episcopal circles, the Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon of the Diocese of South Carolina, described Monday’s document as too weak. “It’s an under-prescription for the seriousness of the disease,” he said.

He and other conservatives complained that the commission had not recommended allowing a separate conservative Anglican church in the U.S. and Canada with its own bishops.

The Lambeth Commission criticized some conservatives’ actions taken in response to Robinson’s elevation. It urged conservative Anglican bishops in Africa, Asia and South America who have assumed jurisdiction over dissident American parishes to stop such interventions and to express regret for them.

“They, too, have contributed to the crisis. They have contributed to the threats to the communion,” Eames said.

Conservatives were not asked to withdraw existing interventions, such as the guidance that a conservative Ugandan bishop has been giving to three dissident parishes seeking to secede from the Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese. Los Angeles Episcopal Bishop J. Jon Bruno has protested the guidance as illegal interference and has filed a civil suit against the three parishes. He is considering asking for church sanctions against a retired Texan bishop also helping them.

On Monday, Bruno’s office in Los Angeles said he would have no immediate comment on the international report.

In New Hampshire, Robinson’s office said he would have no comment until he had had a chance to read the full report.

In the longer term, the 17-member commission broke with Anglican tradition in calling for an international “Anglican covenant” that would require the 38 self-governing Anglican national or regional churches spanning 164 countries to surrender some of their autonomy.

The report stopped far short of adopting a Roman Catholic model of top-down leadership. But it called for more authority to be placed in the hands of the archbishop of Canterbury: “The commission believes therefore that the historic position of the archbishop of Canterbury must not be regarded as a figurehead, but as the central focus of both unity and mission within the communion.”

It will take several years for all the national churches to consider such restructuring and to put it into effect. Details of its possible ratification remain to be worked out.

Eames, the panel chairman, said Monday that the report should not be interpreted as trying to drum gays out of the church. “It should be stressed that there is absolutely no room for homophobia in the life of the Christian church. No room. No contemplation of it,” he said

In Washington, Episcopal Bishop John Chane, who approved Robinson’s consecration and, like Bruno of Los Angeles, performed a blessing over a same-sex union ceremony, said he welcomed the report’s invitation to express his regret — not about his actions but that they had caused division in the Anglican Communion.

“I accept this invitation, and express my sadness that actions we undertook in good conscience — actions which gave hope to one alienated and marginalized population — have themselves engendered alienation and made others feel marginalized. This was not our intent. We lament this result and I commit myself to participating fully and energetically in the process of reconciliation through dialogue and discernment which is outlined in the commission’s report,” Chane said.

The national Episcopal gay and lesbian advocacy group, Integrity, said it was “cognizant of the pain felt by some of our brothers and sisters in other [church] provinces,” but insisted that Robinson’s consecration and the Episcopal Church’s consent to same-sex blessings were “in keeping with the Gospel.”

“We also stand with Bishop Gene Robinson himself who was elected, confirmed and consecrated in accordance with canon law and a spirit-led process in the Diocese of New Hampshire,” said the Rev. Susan Russell of Pasadena, Integrity’s president.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Los Angeles Times, USA
Oct. 19, 2004
Larry B. Stammer, Times Staff Write3r

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday October 19, 2004.
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