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Published: Saturday, 8/9/2003

Episcopal Church epiphany

Let us pray that God never intended for religious diversity to provoke this many battles. The gathering storm in the Episcopal Church over elevation of a gay clergyman to bishop is one such war that need not be fought in God's name. The U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Church didn't disintegrate after it ordained women 30 years ago, and will not do so after appointing its first openly gay bishop.

Certainly change is difficult but it doesn't have to divide. Newly elected Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire is not an abomination, he's an honorable religious leader who happens to live openly as a gay man. His only crime is being honest about who he is while dedicating his life to his church.

Is he harming anyone, or is he trying to help nurture the spiritual lives of the Anglican Christians he serves? Are the alarmists grieving over his election the same people who lamented the inclusion of women as pastors of Episcopal parishes?

Scripture can be used both to justify or condemn the denomination's decision to confirm Bishop Robinson, so the arguments against an openly gay bishop become more subjective than objective. Besides, gays who have not revealed their sexual orientation have served as Episcopal bishops and some church parishes already allow homosexual clergy to serve.

Why then did some conservative factions of the church leave the confirmation vote of Bishop Robinson in tears? Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan left saying he and others felt “grief too deep for words” and called on Anglican leaders worldwide to intervene in “the pastoral emergency that has overtaken us.”

Bishop Duncan dug in his heels and declared, “This body [the Episcopal General Convention] willfully confirming the election of a person sexually active outside of holy matrimony has departed from the historic faith and order of the Church of Jesus Christ.” Again, in the name of all that is holy and historic the righteous prepare for battle.

“This body has divided itself from millions of Anglican Christians around the world,” the bishop concluded after a futile last minute attempt to derail the Robinson election. Not even what appeared to be trumped up sexual misconduct charges against the clergyman could stop a majority of the diocesan bishops from approving Father Robinson as the new bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire.

While the American Anglican Council, which represents conservative Episcopalians, contemplates its next move, the Archbishop of Canterbury cautions congregations about reacting too rashly. Bishop Robinson hopes no one will abandon the church over him.

Diverse views have sparked vigorous debate in the Anglican Communion before, but the association of churches in 164 countries remains unified. The matter of Bishop Robinson's sexual orientation need not be “a communion-breaking issue,” said one church leader in Australia.

Amen. Surely there are more important battles to be fought.



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