Tuesday, September 20, 2005

An Ecumenical Take on Things...

If you're in a rush, scroll down to the bolded material.


Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Baptists head in opposite direction

News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

The Roman Catholic Church which is struggling to extricate itself from priestly pedophile scandals that has cost the church tens of millions of dollars in lawsuits is moving quickly to eliminate from its 229 seminaries, men who have engaged in homosexual activity and those with "strong homosexual inclinations".Pope Benedict XVI has given his approval to a new Vatican policy document that bans men with homosexual tendencies from being ordained as priests, reports Catholic World News.The policy statement is a direct result of the pope's concern about the pedophilia scandal in the church - especially in the U.S.The new document, prepared by the Congregation for Catholic Education in response to a request made by the late Pope John Paul II in 1994, will be published soon. It will take the form of an "Instruction," signed by the prefect and secretary of the congregation: Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski and Archbishop Michael Miller, according to the report.The Vatican made it clear that not only is homosexual misbehavior forbidden, homosexual orientation is totally unacceptable and investigators from the Vatican are US-bound to clean out the seminaries.The seminaries, which have more than 4,500 students were last reviewed about 25 years ago and took six years to complete.

American seminaries have come under sharp review by the Vatican as a result of the sexual abuse scandal that swept the priesthood in 2002. Church officials in the United States and Rome agreed that they wanted to take a closer look at how seminary candidates were screened for admission, and whether they were being prepared for lives of chastity and celibacy.The issue of gay seminarians and priests has been in the spotlight because a study commissioned by the church found last year that about 80 percent of the young people victimized by priests were boys, said the report.More than 10,000 teenage boys were sodomized, raped and fondled in the US alone with more than 100 priests removed from the priesthood in Boston alone. Some five bishops have been removed from office with the church's leading Roman Catholic Cardinal Bernard Law forced from office and sent to Rome.An American archbishop who is supervising the seminary review said last week that "anyone who has engaged in homosexual activity or has strong homosexual inclinations," should not be admitted to a seminary.While some would make a distinction between those abusing children were not necessarily homosexual some church officials in the United States and in Rome, including some bishops and many conservatives, attribute the abuse to gay priests.

The previous Pope, John Paul II did not, in his declining years, comprehend the extent of the abuse, but the election of Pope Benedict XVI who views homosexual acts as "intrinsically disordered" has called for an overhaul of the seminaries. He has spoken out on the need to "purify" the church. At its core what the Roman Catholic Church is asking is whether the doctrine on the priesthood presented by the seminary is "solidly based on the church's Magisterium," or teaching, and whether teachers and seminarians "accept this teaching."

NOW IT IS IRONIC that while the Roman Catholic Church is toughening its stance on homoerotic behavior and orientation, American mainline Protestant denominations are sweeping in exactly the opposite direction causing major dissent and pending splits within their ranks.Last week leaders representing 300 American Baptist churches in Southern California and parts of other Western states announced that they have taken the first steps to break with their national denomination, the ABC-USA because they said it had failed to declare homosexual practice incompatible with Christian Scripture.Citing irreconcilable differences over homosexuality and Scriptural authority with their comparatively liberal denomination, American Baptist Churches USA, the board of directors of the denomination's Pacific Southwest Region recently approved a resolution to begin withdrawing from the 1.5-million member national denomination. The board also announced its intention to cut off its contributions to national headquarters as of Dec. 31. The headquarters of the ABC-USA is in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

At the same time, a theologically conservative lay leader in the West Virginia Baptist Convention, the largest in the national denomination, said that he and his allies were preparing to follow suit. They said they would propose a secession resolution at next month's regional meeting in Clarksburg, W.Va.

If the two regions pulled out, their withdrawal could mark the largest single exodus of member congregations from any Christian denomination in the nation over the volatile issue of homosexuality. There are more than 5,800 local congregations in the denomination reports Larry Stammer of the Los Angeles Times.

But it is not just American Baptists in trouble over homosexuality, the Presbyterian Church USA is pleading for unity even as Presbyterians prepare to split on homosexuality.A special panel of the U.S. Presbyterian Church appealed recently for the church's 2.4 million members to seek unity as they continue their divisive debate over homosexuality and the Bible.The panel urged the church's 2006 national General Assembly to make no changes to a 1997 law that limits clergy and lay officeholders to sex within heterosexual marriage, although liberals have submitted bills to repeal the rules.Instead, the panel outlined a strategy in a 39-page report it says "is designed to help the church maintain peace, unity, and faithfulness to scriptural and theological principles while that debate continues." One doubts that Presbyterian Church advocates of homosexuality will cease pushing for acceptance of their behavior, and short of divine intervention it will be a fait accompli in time. Some conservatives consider the differences in beliefs within the denomination so distinct they have discussed whether a time may come to split off from the church altogether. The liberal Covenant Network of Presbyterians and conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee will study the report and go head to head when the time comes. The report will be mailed to the denomination's 11,000 congregations next month for discussion, then go before the General Assembly next June.

THE Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at their national meeting in Orlando recently rejected a proposal that would have allowed gays in committed relationships to serve as clergy under certain conditions. The measure affirmed the church ban on ordaining sexually active gays and lesbians, but allowed bishops and church districts called synods to seek an exception for a particular candidate - if that person was in a long-term relationship and met other restrictions.Delegates voted against the measure 503-490. This amounts to the Episcopal Church version of local option. Delegates voted 851-127 to keep the church unified despite serious differences over homosexuality. They also rebuffed what many saw as an attempt to push the denomination toward approval of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.Nobody was particularly happy. Conservatives said the ordination proposal would have effectively overturned prohibitions against non-celibate gays in the Lutheran ministry and advocates for gays weren't satisfied, either. They said the measure would have created a second-class roster for homosexual clergy in the church.

The theological struggle over what the Bible says about homosexuality which has been tearing at Protestant denominations for years is coming closer to a head, and if these denominations approve, in any form, homoerotic acts they will self destruct.Proof of this has been the rising tide of independent Evangelical Protestant churches and denominations that are holding the line on sexual issues. Parents do not want their children exposed to homoerotic behavior, and they are running as fast as they can in the opposite direction.

THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH which in 1970 reported 10.7 million members in the U.S. has declined significantly over the past 35 years; they reported 8.3 million in the year 2000, a membership loss which has averaged about 77.000 per year. They are the third largest Christian denomination and the second largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. Like its other mainline Protestant brothers and sisters the UMC is embroiled in homosexuality. Some UMC members have suggested that the current conflict over sexual orientation and behavior within the denomination may cause a church schism similar to that which occurred at the 1844 General Conference.The Rev. William Lawrence, dean and professor of American church history at Southern Methodist University's Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX says the North American cultural debate over equal treatment of homosexuals and same-sex committed couples, including the right to marry, is mirrored within the denomination."The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church" regulates the activities of the denomination world-wide. It contains a few references to homosexuality, including two which cover the core disputes: "Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church." It also affirms that the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. They argue that ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by their ministers and shall not be conducted in their churches. They do support equal rights for persons of all sexual orientations in certain restricted areas.It remains to be seen whether the UMC will undergo a new schism over sexual orientation, or will be able to find a compromise path between unanimity and schism -- one that will accommodate diversity of beliefs and perhaps of actions.

BUT IT IS THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH USA that has gone right over the pulpit's edge and into a sexual swamp.It publicly consecrated its first openly homosexual bishop two years ago; it has allowed the ordination of avowed homosexuals and lesbians to its pulpits, with many dioceses experimenting with rites for same-sex blessings, though this has never passed officially through General Convention.The result of all this is that the Episcopal Church is now in impaired or broken communion with 22 provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion with Global South, largely African Archbishops, leading the charge in declaring they will no longer walk with the Episcopal Church unless it repents of its position. That seems most unlikely.The Episcopal Church is doing its best to stay at the Anglican table by calling for more "listening" processes and spinning the Windsor Report to say that while they feel the pain of their brothers in the Global South they have no intention of changing their mind on homoerotic behavior.

Author and social critic Dr. Os Guinness recently charged here that the Episcopal Church has demonstrated the worst and most extreme capitulation to the spirit of the age in its embrace of modern sexual mores.Calling ECUSA's liberal hierarchy "kissing Judases"(taken from Soren Kierkegaard) --followers of Jesus who betray him and his teachings--Guinness ripped ECUSA, citing "a troubling growth [therein] of those who bend every nerve to reach successive generations of the cultured despisers of the Gospel: and then join them and become like them and no longer faithful to Jesus Christ. Some have surrendered to Enlightenment ideas, and become skeptics about God's sovereignty, or skeptics about human sin, or skeptics about the possibility of the supernatural and any world beyond the here and now."Guinness was speaking to several hundred persons attending an awards dinner for four orthodox Anglican archbishops in New York recently."The result is an Alice in Wonderland church in which "Christian" leaders now openly deny what all Christians have believed and many have died to defend. There are denominational leaders who now celebrate what their faith once castigated; who advance views closer to their foes than to their founder; who deny the faith, but stay on shamelessly as leaders of the faith they deny, Guinness charged.

There can be little doubt that if America's mainline denominations continue down their present pathway they will find the endorsement of pansexuality a fatal attraction leading to their extinction with millions of faithful Christians fleeing to Evangelical, Roman Catholic and other orthodox jurisdictions that offer a safe haven on matters of faith and morals.

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