The unending debate over gays

"The unending debate over gays" Continued...

Issue: "Shattered dreams," April 5, 2008

The Episcopal Church, like the United Church of Christ, accepts gay clergy and same-sex rituals, culminating in the 2003 consecration of Gene Robinson, its first bishop with a gay partner. In the ensuing conservative protest, nearly 100 congregations and an entire diocese have quit the denomination, with more expected to follow. The focus has shifted from denominational decision-making to secular court battles over ownership of parish buildings and bank accounts that will consume years and untold millions of dollars.

The Episcopal situation is unique due to the denomination's affiliation with the international Anglican Communion. All Anglican bishops meet once a decade at the Lambeth Conference. The 1998 gathering gave 88 percent approval to a resolution that cited Scripture in opposing blessings for same-sex unions and gay ordinations. But that had no force of law to restrict actions by the U.S. church.

The next Lambeth Conference is set to occur in England July 16-August 3.

Anglicanism's spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, barred Robinson from participation but invited U.S. bishops who approved and conducted his consecration. As a result, conservative "global South" bishops representing at least a third of Anglicanism are boycotting Lambeth. Instead they will attend a "Global Anglican Future Conference" in Jordan and Israel June 18-29, along with some who will also attend Lambeth.

What's decided is less important, perhaps, than the fact that two rival meetings are occurring and what that says about Anglicanism's fractious state. "To be honest, the split has gone too far to be repaired," remarks David Kalvelage of The Living Church, an independent Episcopal magazine that opposes gay ordinations.

Some U.S. parishes have aligned with Anglican bishops in Africa, Asia, and Latin America; individuals are drifting away; and a parallel split is developing in Canada. Traditionalists disagree on how to proceed, Kalvelage says, and it could take years for them to form a unified entity both globally and in North America.

Kalvelage emphasizes that this is not "a gay debate." It's "a matter of authority, chiefly the authority of Scripture. Is the Bible the Word of God? Or simply a nice book of stories?"

The standoff

Homosexual clergy and the church

1966: Presbyterians publish "Situation Ethics" by Episcopal theologian Joseph Fletcher, who thinks "love" trumps all biblical rules. Later mainline writings reinterpret Bible passages against homosexuality.

1970: Narrowly split Presbyterian assembly labels homosexual practice sin.

1972: United Methodist conference declares homosexual practice "incompatible with Christian teaching."

1972: United Church of Christ ordains mainline's first openly gay clergyman.

1977: Episcopal Bishop Paul Moore ordains partnered lesbian. (In 2008, his daughter reveals his own secret gay involvements.)

1978: Presbyterian assembly strongly approves "definitive guidance" barring actively gay clergy.

1979: Episcopal convention declares ordination of clergy in relationships outside heterosexual marriage "not appropriate."

1984: United Methodist conference mandates marital fidelity or "celibacy in singleness," and bars "self-avowed practicing" homosexual clergy.

1993: Evangelical Lutheran Church prohibits "practicing homosexual" clergy and blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

1996: Episcopal tribunal acquits a bishop who ordained a partnered gay because "no core doctrine" was violated; 1997 Episcopal convention takes no contrary action.

1997: Presbyterians ratify law requiring marital fidelity or "chastity in singleness" for clergy and lay officers.

2003: Episcopal Church consecrates a partnered gay bishop, provoking uproar across Anglicanism worldwide.

2007: Evangelical Lutheran assembly urges disciplinary "restraint" regarding clergy in "committed same-gender relationships."

Richard N. Ostling
Richard N. Ostling


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