Features

Nothing resolved

"Nothing resolved" Continued...

Issue: "Books and Movies 2006," July 1, 2006

The election of Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, 51, of Nevada, who takes office in November, only muddied things more for the Anglican primates. She was the most radical of the seven candidates running for the office of presiding bishop. A feminist (she referred to "Mother Jesus" in her convention sermon), she voted in 2003 for the consecration of Gene Robinson and attended a worship service at the convention sponsored by the gay caucus Integrity. She has approved same-sex blessings for two Nevada couples (for "pastoral" reasons).

She left a career as an oceanographer, became a priest in 1995, served as an assistant rector of an Oregon church, and catapulted to bishop in 2001. Her diocese is one of ECUSA's smallest, with 6,000 members in 35 congregations and shrinking attendance.

Complete coverage

There was no way the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) could keep its dirty laundry out of sight. Mainstream news media turned out in force to cover the convention in Columbus. Credentialed staff came from 43 secular broadcast and print outlets in the United States, Canada, and Britain. Hundreds of dailies ran wire service stories by Rachel Zoll of The Associated Press. Joining the mix were staff from 117 religious news outlets, many of them ECUSA-related publications.

But this also was the church convention where blog journalism came of age. Some of the biggest and best-known blogs had credentialed staff and space in the ECUSA press room. Most were conservatives keeping their constituencies informed about the skirmishes for ECUSA's soul.

At www.standfirminfaith.com, priest Matt Kennedy, 34, of Binghamton, N.Y., blogged live, keeping thousands of viewers updated every few minutes as delegates and bishops debated and voted.

At Classical Anglican News Net (CaNN), many of the two dozen blog sites it hosts also were treating viewers in coordinated efforts to the latest news developments, interviews, and other features-and allowing viewers to respond.

The best-known and most respected CaNN-hosted blog is www.titusonenine.classic alanglican.net, run by conservative priest and theologian Kendall Harmon of South Carolina. His blog is considered must reading by many bishops and other church leaders.

Combined CaNN traffic mushroomed to 70,000 unique viewers a day, causing server crashes in the final days. Techs hurriedly arranged for alternate servers and backup websites. Stand Firm suffered similar problems.

The largest and oldest blog is a web news service run by veteran journalist David Virtue, a perennial burr under the ECUSA establishment's saddle. He and three other writers posted an average of more than 30 stories daily. His webmaster reported 30,000 unique visitors a day, many from the global south.

Optional standard

Conservatives prepare to leave after the PCUSA creates a loophole in the ban on gay ordinations

Retired Texas conservative Marj Carpenter stood at the microphone, choked with emotion. She formerly headed up the news operation for her denomination, the 2.3-million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and she served a term as moderator of its top policy-making body, the General Assembly, which she was now addressing.

"I'm against the ordination of homosexuals, though I love 'em," she told the 500-plus commissioners, or delegates, on June 20. "But we've been fighting in this ditch for 28 years, and the ditch is getting deeper. It's starting to affect our [church] work . . . and I'm ready to try something else."

The persistent wearing-down tactics of the pro-gay forces in the church had worked. The "something else" she and other leaders at the microphone endorsed was a proposal to allow exceptions to the PCUSA's constitutional ban on ordination of noncelibate homosexuals.

Commissioners voted 298 to 221 to approve the proposal, one of seven crafted over several years by a task force on "Peace, Unity, and Purity" that included some conservatives, among them co-chair Gary Demarest, a minister from Pasadena, Calif. The vote is exempt from ratification by the church's regional presbyteries.

Under the new policy, the constitutional standards for ordination, including those pertaining to homosexuals, remain in place, but a candidate who disagrees with any can declare an objection. The ordaining church or presbytery will then decide whether the standard involved is an essential element of Reformed faith, and if it isn't, whether to tolerate the exception.

Reaction came swiftly.

"When . . . something mandatory is reduced to something optional, it destroys the constitution," asserted Robert Gagnon, a New Testament professor at Pittsburgh Seminary who has written about gay issues and the church.

"The consequences of the decision of this General Assembly throw our denomination into crisis," declared a statement read by Terry Schlossberg, executive director of the Presbyterian Coalition, an alliance of 13 evangelical caucuses representing thousands of church members.

"Many individuals and congregations will conclude from this decision that the PC(USA) has abandoned the historic faith of the church. The decision will be regarded by others in the worldwide body of Christ as profoundly offensive," the groups said.

It "marks a profound deviation from biblical requirements, and we cannot accept, support, or tolerate it. We will take the steps necessary to be faithful to God," they warned.

They indicated they would announce specific steps later, some perhaps as early as this month. Asked by a reporter if schism is inevitable, Mrs. Schlossberg said: "We hope not."

Another group of more than 100 churches, part of a renewal effort known as New Wineskins Initiative, will meet this month to plan action. Some of these churches were poised to walk if the proposed change were approved.

Pastors of 30 of the PCUSA's largest churches recently issued a letter warning against passage of the de facto local-option measure. They feared it would result in more unrest and defections in their ranks.

The financially ailing denomination can ill afford schism. The PCUSA lost nearly 50,000 members last year, and officials estimate the loss of another 85,000 this year.

There may be legal relief for the conservatives. A former member of the PCUSA's highest court suggested the new policy itself is unconstitutional. Among church court precedents, Daniel Saperstein cited this one: "It is not within the power of any governing body [including churches and presbyteries] or judicial commission to declare a properly adopted provision of the Constitution to be invalid."

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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