Mixed response to US Episcopal compromise on gay issue

By staff writers
September 26, 2007

There has been a decidedly mixed initial response to the attempt of the Episcopal Church in the USA to reach a compromise over the issue of lesbian and gay blessings and ordinations, with some media commentators hailing it as a refusal to give in and others seeing it as a cave-in.

On 25 September 2007, after nearly a full day of deliberations, the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops agreed overwhelmingly by voice vote to "exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."

They also pledged not to authorize public rites for same-gender blessings "until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action," according to the response. But they did not rescind actions already taken.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told reporters at a news conference following the conclusion of the meeting that bishops found "common ground to stand on … high ground. Not everyone is 100 percent happy with every word in this document, but we believe we have found a place that all of us can stand together -- at the foot of the cross."

The final statement adopted by the House of Bishops is being sent immediately via email to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is traveling in Armenia and Syria, a spokesperson for the Anglican Communion said.

Intended to clarify General Convention Resolution B033, the document offered the strongest language thus far about interventions from overseas bishops in local dioceses. "We deplore incursions into our jurisdictions by uninvited bishops and call for them to end," the document said. It also called for "unequivocal and active commitment to the civil rights, safety, and dignity of gay and lesbian persons."

Its overwhelming passage indicated strong support for the leadership of Jefferts Schori, who received a standing ovation and sustained applause at the news she is approaching her one-year anniversary as presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church.

Bishops supported her plans for: episcopal visitors; communion-wide consultations; increased listening across the Anglican Communion and assisting in ways to invite the Bishop of New Hampshire to the Lambeth Conference in 2008.

Jefferts Schori praised the "remarkable work" of the bishops. "We have reaffirmed our firm desire to remain as full members of the Anglican Communion."

She emphasized that the meetings were carried out within a context of mission, outreach and transformation, noting that nearly $1 million was raised for Gulf Coast hurricane relief efforts and that bishops and their spouses painted, installed sheet rock, helped rebuild damaged homes and made other community connections. That spirit of connectedness and service infused the deliberations, she said.

The impact of the decision, say analysts, will be to make it more difficult for conservatives within the 77-million Anglican Communion to kick the Episcopal Church out or to tighten their grip on its regualr work. But it is also a restraint on the freedom of lesbian and gay people's ministry within the church - which will not be able to grow further through ordained means in the near future.

Acknowledgments to Pat McCaughan and Mary Frances Schjonberg of the Episcopal News Service.

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