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THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH, USA AND HOMOSEXUALITY

ACTIVITIES AT THE YEAR 2003 GENERAL CONVENTION

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Daily news from the Convention:

bulletJUL-30: Convention mood: Rev. Mark Harris reports that there is a sense that the House of Bishops would support the Robinson election. But the House of Deputies, made up of clergy and lay members from each diocese, must approve it first. He senses a rising support in both Houses. However, it was not clear whether it will be sufficient to affirm the election. 1
bulletJUL-31: Voting procedures: Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, "Following recommendations from his Council of Advice," asked the House of Bishops to approve special procedures for the vote on whether Bishop-elect Robinson's election would be confirmed or rejected. Discussion would be limited to a half-hour of table conversation and an hour of conversation as a committee of the whole. The public would be excluded from the latter. Ballots would then be distributed to all bishops who have oversight of a diocese, except for the presiding bishop. They would be given an hour to vote. The bishops unanimously agreed to the procedures. 2
bulletAUG-1: The two issues are really one: The Daily Encompass -- a daily newsletter produced by the conservative American Anglican Council -- interviewed the Rev. Ephraim Radner, a deputy to the General Convention from the Diocese of Colorado. Radner is concerned that progress in ecumenism will suffer if the Convention votes to blessing same-sex unions. He said: "The credibility of our dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church is in serious question." He feels that the two controversial votes at this year's Convention -- the blessing same-sex unions and confirming Canon Robinson's as the ninth bishop of New Hampshire -- are really a single issue. He said: "They're equal. The notion that they're separable is a fiction- certainly it is to our ecumenical partners." He also feels that an affirmative vote would harm the work of all Christian missionaries in nations with heavy Muslim populations. "The credibility of interfaith discourse by Anglicans throughout the world will be severely undermined." Radner believes that Convention's being so close to making these two decisions "is extraordinarily short-sighted and uncompassionate." 3
bulletAUG-1: Committee endorses Robinson: After two hours of testimony from bishops, deputies and visitors, the Legislative Committee on Prayer Book and Liturgy endorsed the ratification of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as bishop-coadjutor of New Hampshire. The ballroom where the decision was announced was packed with at least 500 attendees. Two hundred more were in the lobby and another hundred were in an overflow room. The voting was by secret ballot and the results have not been released. 4
bulletAUG-2: Evangelical involvement: Doug LeBlanc is an Associate Editor of Christianity Today -- America's leading Evangelical Christian magazine. He commented: "...I'm at Convention to work alongside Episcopalians who oppose Gene's [Robinson] confirmation as a bishop. I'm convinced that confirming Gene forces our decades-long discussion about sexuality to a premature and false sense of resolution. I cannot agree that his confirmation magically stands isolated from our debates on blessing same-sex couples. Most centrally, I do not believe God is sending a new revelation that contradicts his already complete self-revelation in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ. Some of the most fiercely committed may not understand how activists can hold their ground, even resist each other sharply, and still love each other. That's only one of the mysteries that tends to get lost amid the dueling slogans of our open hearings and plenary debates. I worry it will be only more obscured if Gene Robinson is confirmed through autonomous and unaccountable American power." 5
bulletAUG-3: Deputies ratify Robinson's election: CNN.com reported that the House of Deputies voted to ratifying Canon Robinson's election. The overall vote was 128 to 63, an unexpectedly large majority. The lay members voted 63 to 32; the clergy voted 65 to 31. The votes of lay members from 13 dioceses and clergy from 12 dioceses were not counted because their members could not reach a consensus. CNN reported that: "Bishops who believe gay sex is a sin contend that allowing him to serve is a tacit endorsement of ordaining homosexuals. These conservatives said it would force them to consider leaving the church, weakening the denomination and sparking a bitter fight over parish property and funds....But liberals said the threat has been exaggerated, and note that many conservatives had pledged to break ties before over issues such as ordaining women but did not follow through." 6 Canon Robinson said: "I think all of the grim predictions about some sort of schism are probably overstated. We certainly lost a few people when we ordained women, but there were great predictions that there would be a real worldwide split in the church, and indeed that's not come to pass." 6
bulletAUG-4: Final vote scheduled: The third and final vote on Robinson's election was scheduled in the House of Bishops. "Of the 110 dioceses that are part of the church, 106 are voting on Robinson's candidacy -- three bishop posts are vacant and one bishop is submitting a write-in ballot." 7
bulletAUG-4: Final vote delayed: Two items suddenly emerged together, about two hours before debate was to begin:
bulletA man in Manchester, VT, who is allegedly studying for the Episcopal priesthood, sent an E-mail to Bishop Thomas Ely of Vermont, asserting that Robinson had touched him inappropriately a few years ago at a church convention. His views on gay or lesbian priests and bishops is unknown. He allegedly wrote: "When I first encountered Gene at a ... convocation a couple of years ago he put his hands on me inappropriately every time I engaged him in conversation." He defined the contact as "harassment." If that contact was inappropriate and distressing to the individual, one wonders why he continually engaged Robinson in conversation during the convention. One would think that he would avoid Robinson after the first experience, if he considered it to be an unpleasant form of harassment.
bulletRobinson co-founded a single, local, mutual support group called "Outright" in 1995. After having helped to get it started, he severed his involvement with the group in 1998. Four years later, in 2002, the group established a web site at http://www.outright.org Its purpose was "to create safe, positive, and affirming environments for young gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and questioning youths aged 22 and under." Over time, eight other similar groups were organized. All are separate from the original Outright; all shared the same name; and all are believed to be 501(c)(3) organizations. Each created a web site which was linked to the original web site, making a total of nine web sites, in: in Augusta, Bangor, Ellsworth, Lewiston-Auburn, Portland, Rockland, ME; Concord, Portsmouth, NH; and Burlington, VT.  Those web sites contains links to outside sites that give youths access to a range of resources. Obviously, they have no control over the content on those external web sites. Allegedly, about six months ago, the webmaster of the Concord, NH site added a hyperlink to an external web site which, some time in the past, added erotic photographs. Robinson told CNN that he not aware of such a link. During the reporting by the media, the description of the "erotic" photographs evolved into "pornography." When the news surfaced, the hyperlink was quickly removed from the Concord site, because, as their spokesperson said: "The adult site is not something that we consider appropriate for any youth." On CTV news -- a Canadian TV news program -- for the evening of AUG-5, a screen view was shown that was apparently from the offending, external web site. It had a single picture of three youths or young adults. There were attractive two males and one female shown in a group, dressed in bathing suits.

It is not known whether the link to the external web site was intentional or not. The ReligiousTolerance.org web site -- the one that you are now visiting -- has had instances where we linked to external religious and theological web sites that later went offline. Without our knowledge, their URL was bought up by a porn company who had no connection to the original owner. They converted the original theological web site into a link to their porn site. We also removed the external links as soon as we became aware of it.

David Virtue, a conservative Anglican activist "and writer who has been among the harshest critics of Robinson and of Episcopal gay activists" alerted bishops to the link. He is apparently a "member of the American Anglican Council, which opposes Robinson's ratification." 8

Robyn Cotton, a supporter of Robinson from Concord, NH called the allegations "preposterous. This is horrible. It's character assassination." 9

Rev. Susan Russell, another supporter, said that it took "at least two or three clicks" to get from Outright's Web site to a pornographic one. It probably look five clicks: one to go from the Outright site to the Concord site; one to get from that site to their links page; a second to select a category of links; a third to get from that page to the external web site; and a fourth to get to erotic photographs. She continued: "I've spent enough time on the Web to know that no matter where I go, I'm three clicks away from where I don't want to be." 9

Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, asked the bishop of Western Massachusetts, the Right Rev. Gordon P. Scruton to conduct an investigation into the two allegations.

bullet2003-AUG-5: Robinson cleared: Bishop Scruton completed his investigation in less than 24 hours, clearing Bishop elect Robinson of both charges. 8 Bishop Scruton stated: "In both allegations, it is my conclusion that there is no necessity to pursue further investigation, and no reason on these grounds to prevent bishops with jurisdiction from going forward with voting about whether or not to consent to Canon Robinson's consecration." Scruton contacted the man from Vermont who explained that Robinson had touched him on the arm and upper back briefly and in public -- allegedly in a large room with about 300 people present. Scruton said that the man from Vermont: "...acknowledged that other people could have seen the exchange as natural and normal...."I asked him whether he wanted to bring a formal charge of harassment. He said very clearly 'no'...He said he regretted having used the word 'harassment' in his E-mail....he indicated he had no desire to pursue the matter further." 8

Scruton said that Robinson "was not aware that the [Outright] organization has a Web site until this convention." He noted that Outright's response to investigators "emphasized to me" that Robinson had no part in the creation of the web site." 8
bulletAUG-5: Robinson's election confirmed: The House of Bishops voted on Robinson's confirmation. He needed 54 votes from the 107 bishops. He received 62. Canon Robinson has now been affirmed as bishop-coadjutor of New Hampshire. 7

Responses were highly polarized, as expected:
bulletChurch spokesman Daniel England called the approval "an important step for the church...Some will be elated at this news, others very disappointed. And yet the decorum and the civility throughout leads me to believe that things will hold together."
bulletBishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, PA is opposed to Robinsons consecration. He said that those who fought approval of his election were "filled with sorrow" and feel a "grief too deep for words...This body has denied the plain teaching of Scripture and the moral consensus of the church throughout the ages. This body has divided itself from millions of Anglican Christians throughout the world....May God have mercy on his church." Later, Bishop Duncan read a statement by than a dozen conservative bishops. He said: "With grief too deep for words, the bishops who stand before you must reject this action....We are calling upon the primates of the Anglican Communion, under the presidency of  the Archbishop of Canterbury, to intervene in the pastoral emergency that has overtaken us." Their intervention will have to be limited to persuasion, as the Anglican Communion cannot order one of their Provinces, like the Episcopal Church, USA to do anything. With the majority of Episcopalians in New Hampshire voting in favor of Robinson's election, and a majority of laity, priests and bishops having separately voted to confirm Robinsons election, the rest of the Communion has a weak case if they wish to roll back time.
bulletThe Rev. Susan Russell of the gay Episcopal group Claiming the Blessing, said she believes the church is strong enough to survive the conflict over gay and lesbian priests and bishops. She said: "Yes, there's a lot of fear, but I happen to believe the love of God can overcome that....What we really need to do is hang together as we have in this convention through this difficult time, and find a way through this." On another occasion, she said: "This is an example to the country, to the culture, and to other denominations that diversity is something to be celebrated and that the entire family of God is enriched by individuals who commit themselves to each other." 10
bulletBishop Edward Little of Indiana warned that: "The Episcopal Church will emerge from this convention broken, wounded, divided and desperately polarized."
bulletRev. David Anderson, president of the conservative American Anglican Council, said: "The repercussions will start when people go home to their congregations, when records meet parishioners at the church door, when people start to say, 'I'm out of here'." He said that he will organize a meeting of conservative Episcopalians in October to carefully consider their options, including the possibility of forming orthodox parishes into a new Anglican province in the United States whose territory would be geographically identical to the Episcopal Church, USA.
bulletRev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina, said that the three votes were too close to be definitive:
bulletThe lay members of the House of Deputies voted 63 to 32 to confirm Robinson's election
bulletThe clergy followed suite by voting 65 to 31.
bulletThe vote by the House of Bishops was 62 to 43 with two abstentions. 10 This gave Robinson a 19 vote margin.  Harmon allegedly said the approval had only a nine-vote margin. He seems to have meant that if nine supporting bishops had changed their mind and voted against Robinson that his confirmation would not have occurred.

Under church law, a simple majority of all three groups is sufficient.

bullet Dorothy Spaulding, 74, a church member from Virginia, said: "I feel betrayed...We have a lot of gays in our parish and most of them are nice people. They are still living in sin." She did not know whether she would attend church this Sunday. If she goes, she does not know whether she will put money on the collection plate." 11
bullet About 300 Episcopalians -- including about 20 bishops -- who opposed Robinson's election, met for worship at Westminster Presbyterian Church. "In the pews, several people wept. Some spoke of the decision as a death."
bullet Bishop Robert W. Duncan of the Pittsburgh Diocese said: "We've been dealt a grave blow. How do we go forward and forth? I want to suggest to you, you already know the answer. It's one word, five letters. Jesus." On another occasion, he stated: "This body willfully confirming the election of a person sexually active outside of holy matrimony has departed from historic faith and order of the Church of Jesus Christ." 12
bullet Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney said that the Episcopalians were "turning away from the clear teaching of the Scriptures."
bulletBishop Robinson thanked his supporters and pledged to work towards reconciliation. He said: "I am proud to be in a church which works to be a safe place for all of God's children." 12

It would be interesting to compare the above positive and negative comments with debates in 1976 when the church debated whether to allow women to be ordained as priests, and with debates in the mid-19th century over the abolition of slavery. There might well have been many points of similarity. The Episcopal Church avoided schism on those two occasions. They will probably lose some congregations and members this time around, but will probably avoid a schism.

It is understandable that the entire Anglican Communion will be thrown into turmoil over the election of the first openly gay bishop. However, as in the case of other moral issues such as human slavery, contraception, and ordaining women, it was necessary for one Province to deviate from the consensus within the Communion -- to take the first step, and lead the other Provinces towards change.

bullet AUG-6: Convention approves compromise resolution on gay ritual: There were signs that the delegates to the Convention were exhausted by the controversy over Bishop Robinson's confirmation process.  Some protested in silence. "A dozen people wore ashes on their foreheads, as a sign of penance and mourning. A few wore black armbands. Some seats on the floors of the two decision-making bodies the House of Deputies and the smaller House of Bishops stayed empty all day." 11 The bishops "seemed eager to create no further controversy, division or pain. They said unity or at least agreeing that they did not yet agree on what their religion says about homosexuality would be better." 11 They rejected a resolution which would have created a church ritual to bless same-sex and other non-traditional relationships. Instead, they overwhelmingly approved a compromise resolution which would introduce a local option into the church:
bulletIt discusses the treatment and pastoral care of gay and lesbian Episcopalians.
bulletIt recognized that some priests were already performing blessings of gay and lesbian couples in some dioceses in the U.S.

The resolution It stated that local congregations "are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions." The Associated Press said that: "Some bishops interpreted that as allowing the blessings while others said no authorization had been given for blessing ceremonies." 13

Leaders of Integrity, a gay-positive Episcopalian group, said that the latter section  would, for the first time, signal to bishops that they had the broader church's permission to allow same-sex unions in their dioceses if they choose to. Rev. Michael W. Hopkins, president of Integrity, commented: "This is a major step forward. There has never been an explicit statement that acknowledges that bishops can do it." The resolution must still be approved by the House of Deputies. However, this is expected to happen.

Bishop Gethin Hughes of the diocese of San Diego, CA said: "This is best because those of you who have reached a further point of clarity can continue to do what you think is right in your area. For many of us who are still struggling" there will be more time for sorting through the issues and coming to some answer together. 11

Rev. David H. Roseberry of Plano, TX left the House of Deputies, turned in his resignation letter to the leader of his delegation and sent a note saying goodbye to his diocesan leader in the House of Bishops. He said: "We have violated our own constitution, so I am doing what I was called in my own heart to do. What has happened is incredible. This is not the only body that is listening. There are 70 million Anglicans listening around the world."

The Rev. Canon Ephraim Radner, a deputy from Colorado, also left. He told the House of Deputies that: "It is with profound sorrow and trembling reluctance that I inform the house of my conviction that this convention's action of consent to Canon Robinson's election as bishop in this church is unconstitutional." He said that he was "no longer a representative to anything" and left the Convention.

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References used:

  1. Rev. Mark Harris, "A Sense of Impending Struggle. Notes from the front lines of the Episcopal Church General Convention," Beliefnet, 2003-JUL-30, at: http://www.beliefnet.com/
  2. David Skidmore, "Bishops Approve Procedure for Robinson's Consent," Evangelical News Service, at: http://www.aplacetostand.org/
  3. Douglas LeBlanc, "Gay rights would not bless ecumenism," American Anglican Council, 2003-AUG-1, at: http://www.aplacetostand.org/
  4. David Skidmore, "Robinson consent sent to House of Deputies," Episcopal News Service, 2003-AUG-1, at: http://gc2003.episcopalchurch.org/
  5. Doug LeBlanc, "Gene Robinson and me," American Anglican Council, 2003-AUG-2, at: http://www.aplacetostand.org/
  6. "Gay bishop clears key vote," CNN.com, 2003-AUG-3, at: http://www.cnn.com/
  7. "Episcopalians delay vote on gay bishop candidate," CNN.com, 2003-AUG-4, at: http://www.cnn.com/
  8. "Church clears gay bishop nominee of allegations: Accuser describes how he was touched," CNN.com, 2003-AUG-5, at: http://www.cnn.com/
  9. "11-th hour sex claim stalls vote on gay bishop. E-mail alleges misconduct. Episcopal Church opens probe," The Toronto Star, Toronto, ON, 2003-AUG-5, Page A1 and A14.
  10. Alan Cooperman, "First openly gay bishop approved: Cleared of sexual misconduct. Vote threatens to split Anglicans," 2003-AUG-6, The Toronto Star, Pages A1 and A18.
  11. "Episcopal Leaders Reject Proposal for Same-Sex Union Liturgy," New York Times, 2003-AUG-7, at: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/07/national/07BISH.html
  12. "American Episcopals choose sin over Scripture," Massachusetts Family Institute, MFI E-alert, 2003-AUG-8.
  13. "Episcopal Bishop To Perform Blessing Service For Gays," Associated Press, 2004-MAY-28, at: http://www.thewbalchannel.com/family/3358790/detail.html

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Copyright 2003 & 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2004-JUN-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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