Thursday, September 14, 2006

Episcopalians fear split over gays

HOMOSEXUALITY: They express their concerns as 11 bishops declare a stalemate on the issue.

10:00 PM PDT on Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Press-Enterprise

Internet links

Many mainline Protestant denominations are wrestling with the ordination of homosexual clergy and blessing same-sex unions. Here are links to some web sites with information about those debates:

Episcopal Church USA:

Transformation Ministries:

American Baptist Churches:

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

United Church of Christ:

United Methodist Church:

United Presbyterian Church:

Some Inland Episcopalians fear the church they love could be headed for a major split over whether homosexuals should be allowed to marry and to serve as clergy.

Eleven bishops meeting in New York said in a brief statement Wednesday they could not agree on how to respond to seven dioceses that want to split from the denomination because they oppose blessing same-sex unions and the ordination of gay clergy.

That is not a good sign, said Ward Lantier, a Redlands Episcopalian who converted from Roman Catholicism more than 30 years ago.

"The failure of these people to reach agreement is very serious," Lantier said. "It indicates that the division between liberal and orthodox Episcopalians is closing."

Nobody wants to see the church split, he said. "We all hope and pray that's not where we're headed. With the news from New York, that's what it seems."

Wednesday's meeting of the bishops -- called by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who heads the Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church -- recognizes how fractured the Episcopal Church is, said Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.

The institute describes itself as an ecumenical alliance of American Christians working to reform their churches.

The election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church this summer is probably accelerating that, Tooley said, because of her support of the denomination's first openly gay bishop and of the blessing of same-sex unions.

Several mainline Protestant denominations are wrestling with similar issues.

Locally, the Pacific Southwest Region of American Baptist Churches USA voted in May to withdraw from the denomination in part because they believed national leaders have not moved to stop the ordination of homosexual clergy or halt the appointment of gays to leadership positions.

The new Baptist organization, Transformation Ministries, will hold its first general meeting in Alhambra next month.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church USA are debating how to deal with homosexuality.

More than 100 churches that were affiliated with The United Church of Christ have left that denomination since it formally supported same-sex unions last year.

At least three parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, which covers westernmost San Bernardino and Riverside counties, withdrew from the diocese and affiliated with a diocese in Uganda that opposes gay clergy and same-sex unions.

Although denominational splits are painful, they are not new in the American church, Tooley said.

American Christianity "has always been somewhat individualistic and not bound to formalized structures," he said.

The debate is not just about sexuality, Tooley said.

"In large part it's over what are scriptures, the identity of Christ, human nature and the role of the church," he said. "Traditionalists say the role of Christ is redemptive and sal-vific. For others it's more of an affirmation. It's hard to rectify those two very different world views."

The Rev. Paul Price of St. George's Episcopal Church in Riverside said the debate centers on whether to place more authority on Scripture or on the Holy Spirit moving the church into a new era.

"In the Anglican tradition we look at Scripture, reason and tradition as a guide," Price said. "We want to explore what it means for people to be homosexual. . . . Many of our churches have said this is not something that is a choice by humans. It is a part of who they are, and we are embracing those people who are homosexuals."

The Rev. David Starr, priest in charge at St. John's Episcopal Church in San Bernardino, said a split is not inevitable.

"They're still talking," Starr said of the bishops. "When people are communicating and holding each other in prayer, there is hope."

Although denominational issues are important, they are not foremost in most parishioners' minds, said the Rev. John Saville of St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Corona.

"Most people I know are focused on the Gospel and trying to live each day," Saville said.

The debate over homosexuality can distract the church from other important work such as mission and evangelism, said the Rev. Dr. David T. Gortner, director of the Center for Anglican Learning and Leadership at an Episcopal Church seminary in Berkeley.

The church is encouraging congregations to fight world poverty, improve the quality of education around the world and improve maternal health, Gortner said.

"This (differences over homosexuality) has pushed so many people in this country and around the world in such different directions," Gortner said. "Others of us wish this would stop. There is a broad middle that is saying we are Episcopalian and we will stick it out, no matter how much it hurts."

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