Sunday, June 11, 2006

Episcopal convention to debate gay clergy

Here's a typical story. The "debate" is not about "gay clergy" but antinomianism.

Episcopal convention to debate gay clergy

The Post and Courier

In what could lead to a split in the worldwide Anglican Communion, Episcopal Church leaders will continue the debate on gay clergy Tuesday when they meet in Columbus, Ohio, for the denomination's 75th triennial convention.

Most leaders from the South Carolina Diocese do not expect a resolution. Many conservatives, such as diocesan canon theologian Kendall Harmon, predict 'obfuscation' at the eight-day gathering.

'The Episcopal Church is saying we really care about the communion, but we want to continue what we're doing,' Harmon said of ordaining openly gay clergy. 'What they're going to try to do is fudge.'

His concerns revolve around the very definite possibility that a failure to denounce the elevation of gay clergy could eventually cause a split between the Anglican Communion and its American member, the Episcopal Church USA. Many rectors in the South Carolina Diocese share his feelings, but not all.

Moderates and liberals, who number few in the S.C. Diocese, believe the only way to avoid an immediate schism is to delay definitive resolutions on homosexuality. Supporting the ordination of openly gay clergy, they say, will alienate conservative Episcopalians and Anglicans in Africa and Latin America, but failing to support gay rights will cause a split within the mostly liberal Episcopal Church.

Rev. David Williams is the rector at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Ansonborough and described the decision to appoint a gay bishop as a 'prophetic' step that was not consecrated in a vacuum.

'We spoke for ourselves,' he said of the denomination's 2003 vote to elevate the Rev. Gene Robinson to Bishop of New Hampshire. 'The church has no business monkeying around in people's bedrooms and private relationships.'

Upcoming convention resolutions reflect the denomination's split over gay rights and the interpretation of Scripture.

One (Resolution A095) calls for the church to oppose any laws banning same-sex marriage, while another (A160) resolves to express regret over the denomination's failure to communicate with the Anglican Communion before elevating a gay bishop.

How to frame the debate, in many ways, has become the crux of the debate.

Moderates, who would like to see a decision delayed, typically favor a bureaucratic framework, one that places emphasis on the Episcopal Church's failure to consult with the Anglican Communion before elevating Robinson. The sword rattlers on both sides - liberal and conservative alike - want something more definitive. Williams favors the more ambiguous approach, and says it's much more in line with the inclusive 'big tent' traditions of the Episcopal Church. Williams might be in the denominationwide majority on this, but in the South Carolina Diocese, he has few ideological allies in leadership positions.

The conflict within the denomination goes back to when debates over Darwin and creationism first started to heat up in the mid-1920s. Clergy in the Episcopal Church were becoming more progressive in their approach and scholarship, while the laity remained conservative. Both pastors and laypeople left the church as a result. Others attended conservative seminaries and tried to counter the rise of liberalism from within.

In the years since then, the tension within the denomination has been palpable but manageable. The elevation of Robinson changed that. Part of the reason is because pastors such as the Rev. Greg Snyder see no room for compromise when it comes to interpreting what Scripture says about homosexuality.

'What I'm hearing from the international community is they want to hear we're sorry for what we did, and that's not going to happen,' he said. 'I don't think the general convention is going to resolve any of these issues.'

He does believe that eventually the issue will come to a head. Snyder is a pastor at St. John's Episcopal Church on Johns Island who opposes the ordination of openly gay clergy. He has heard rumblings that the Anglican Communion intends to require members to sign a covenant that would clearly delineate the church's attitudes on homosexuality.

'There's a whole lot of talk about the possibility of an Anglican covenant,' Snyder said. 'That's the only way out of this mess.'

In case you don't know, Kendall Harmon has the blog to watch, titusonenine. Another good one is Stand Firm. for the other side you can go to An Inch at a Time, the blog of the president of the ECUSA GLBT group, Integrity, Susan Russell.

Our ELCA GLBT is worth watching as, of course, it will be interesting to see what the Good Soil people have to say about all this and their recent defeat in Metro New York (they don't have resolution results up yet, but the Assembly rescinded Resolution C from Oct 29, turned down a resolution commending Craig Nessan's "contextual theology," approved a resolution encouraging traditional Lutheran theology on Confessions and Scripture, and the makers of two additional resolutions promoting pro GLBT issues withdrew them on the last day.

This Shellfish is wondering if the tide is turning?

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