Episcopalians Debate Homosexuality

Wednesday, July 5th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DENVER (AP) — The role of gays and lesbians in church — an emotional issue that has fractured many religious denominations — is now squarely before the Episcopalians.

Church members have gathered for the Episcopal General Convention to discuss, among other things, their unofficial policy of allowing each diocese to decide the roles of homosexuals. The 10-day convention begins Wednesday.

Church spokesman Jim Solheim said the members probably will not make a decision on whether to formally endorse the policy. Most leaders of the denomination with 2.4 million members don't think there is enough consensus on the issue yet, he said.

``I think we've made it very clear that we believe gay rights, we support civil rights, they're welcome in our congregation,'' Solheim said.

The Anglican American Council, a group of conservative Episcopalians, says the ``anything goes'' policy threatens to divide the church. The group insists it speaks for the church's mainstream.

But Soulforce, a gay and lesbian advocacy group, is demanding that homosexuals be accepted in the Episcopal Church and other denominations. Dozens of its members were arrested Tuesday on the steps of the Colorado Convention Center, the gathering site for the convention.

``For 30 years they've been discussing this. We're asking them now to resolve it,'' said Mel White, a founder of Soulforce and a minister in the Metropolitan Community Churches.

The Anglican American Council is committed to staying in the church, but other conservative members may leave. ``I think the potential is there for a devastating split,'' said Bishop Jim Stanton of Dallas, the council's president.

The Episcopal General Convention has final authority on matters of doctrine and policy. It is composed of about 300 members of the House of Bishops and about 800 clergy and lay people in the House of Deputies.

Gay issues have divided Episcopalians even though the church's parent group, the worldwide Anglican Communion, called homosexuality ``incompatible with Scripture'' two years ago.

The rift widened in January when two American priests who oppose homosexuality were consecrated as bishops in Singapore — without church approval — by two conservative bishops.

Similar conflicts are raging within other denominations. The Evangelical Lutheran Church discourages any blessings of gay couples, thought there are no official rules prohibiting such unions, and some pastors have said they intend to perform ceremonies for gays.

United Methodist Church leaders in May reaffirmed their opposition to homosexuality, the ordination of sexually active gays and consecrating same-sex unions. Presbyterian Church General leaders have recommended that ceremonies blessing same-sex couples be banned.

Jeanne Hill, a Presbyterian who has been arrested five times to protest her denomination's stance, was arrested again Tuesday outside the Colorado Convention Center

Wearing an ``I love my gay son'' button, Hill said she hoped the arrests and protests will encourage gay, lesbian and bisexuals.

``I hope young children see this happening and they will know people are out here who support them,'' she said.


On the Net:

Episcopalian Church: http://www.ecusa.anglican.org

The American Anglican Council: http://www.episcopalian.org/aac

Soulforce: http://www.soulforce.org