April 1, 2001
volume 12, no. 91

Homosexuality Debate Splits U.S. Protestants

Many Ignoring Official Teachings, Bless Same-Sex Unions

    NEW YORK, MAR. 31, 2001 ( Conflicts over the ordination of homosexual ministers and official recognition of same-sex unions is provoking sharp debate in many U.S. Protestant churches.

    Take the Anglican Church. At a global level the Anglican Communion has rejected homosexuality. But in the United States, not all Episcopalians, as Anglicans are known here, are following established doctrine. Representatives from the churches that make up the Anglican Communion recently held a meeting to try to avoid an open split on the matter.

    Some Anglican leaders are upset that a few Episcopal bishops have ordained non-celibate homosexual men and lesbians as priests, the New York Times reported March 3. Last year this caused a reaction on the part of Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, in East Africa, and Archbishop Moses Tay of Southeast Asia. They consecrated two Episcopal priests as bishops and put them in charge of a new Anglican mission to the United States. Since then about 20 conservative parishes have joined the new grouping, after cutting their ties to the Episcopal Church.

    The Episcopal Church follows the official Anglican position that holds same-sex relationships to be wrong. However, Anglican leaders at the recent meeting declined to act against those dioceses in America where homosexuals are being ordained, the Associated Press reported March 8.

    The gathering ended with only a statement calling for study, discussion and prayer on the issue. They also promised "to seek to avoid actions that might damage the credibility of our mission."

    The Episcopal Church was nearly split over the question of approval of homosexual unions during its General Convention last July in Denver, Colorado. Although Episcopalians narrowly voted against a resolution that sought official recognition of same-sex marriages, they approved another in favor of providing "prayerful support, encouragement and pastoral care" to heterosexual and homosexual couples living together outside of marriage.

    By contrast, at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, 82% of all Anglican bishops in the world voted against approving homosexual practice. But the president of Integrity, the Episcopal homosexual caucus, the Rev. Michael Hopkins of Glenn Dale, Maryland, thinks the consensus has waned since then, the Associated Press reported March 16. Within the United States, Hopkins is confident the next Episcopal Church convention in 2003 will formally approve same-sex rituals.

    As for clergy ordinations, Hopkins says, "We don't see the need for any legislation. ... It's a done deal.'' He estimates that a quarter to a third of Episcopal dioceses already allow openly homosexual and lesbian priests.

Methodists in conflict

    The Methodist church is also grappling with the issue. The Chicago Tribune reported Dec. 7 on a Methodist minister, the Rev. Gregory Dell, who returned to active service last July, after completing a year's suspension for his ceremonies uniting homosexual couples. The Methodist church has banned the official recognition of these unions, but Dell's suspension has not deterred him.

    To avoid problems Dell is now organizing the joining of homosexuals off church property. While Dell is present, he does not marry the couples. Instead, they in effect join themselves by exchanging vows without his aid. Later, a service is held at Dell's Chicago church with the couple's friends and family to celebrate the union.

    Dell said he has facilitated a handful of marriages and homosexual unions since a new protocol was adopted last September. Chicago's United Methodist Bishop C. Joseph Sprague said the arrangement appears to comply with the church's tenets. But one critic of Dell called the new policy a "flagrant contradiction" of the church's condemnation of homosexual unions.

    "I think it's a clever way around a pastor being held accountable for what's happening," said James V. Heidinger II, president and publisher of Good News, a Methodist evangelical magazine. "To do that kind of service outside and go inside to celebrate it -- if folks are thinking that's operating in agreement with what the church had in mind, I think that's just a real misconception."

    The United Methodist Church has 8.5 million members and maintains a wide spectrum of ideologies, the New York Times noted Jan. 2. Recently there has been a surge in the number of Methodist congregations opposing the ban on same-sex unions, the Times reported.

    Although no formal complaints have been brought against his church, Dell admits that the policy may be challenged in the future, probably at the next General Conference in 2004.

Presbyterians reject ban

    The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on March 14 announced the results of a vote on a proposal to ban blessings for homosexual couples. The proposition was rejected, according to the Associated Press. The decision leaves clergy free to conduct such ceremonies so long as they are not confused with marriages. The issue has divided the 2.7-million-member church for many years.

    The measure to ban same-sex ceremonies was passed by the national assembly last June and sent to 173 regional legislatures for ratification. A simple majority of 87 presbyteries was needed for passage but by March 14 only 63 were in favor and 87 opposed, defeating the enactment.

    The so-called Amendment O proposal was a bid to overturn the policy set by the denomination's highest court in a ruling last May on a blessing ceremony at South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry, New York.

    The court said the 1991 national assembly had defined Christian marriage as only between a man and a woman, ruling out same-sex ceremonies that are considered the same as a heterosexual wedding. But the court said that didn't bar clergy and congregations from holding blessing ceremonies that are not confused with weddings.

    A survey of Presbyterian members showed 57% backed a ban on same-sex blessing rituals, the denomination reported March 2. The ban was favored by 61% of the lay elders surveyed, but only 50% of pastors.

    The next conflict over the question of homosexuality is set for the annual national assembly to be held June 9-16 in Louisville, Kentucky. Some 30 bills for that meeting propose repeal of a requirement that clergy and lay officers "live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness."

    Catholic doctrine on homosexuality states that "under no circumstances" can homosexual acts be approved, according to No. 2357 of the Catechism. "Homosexual persons are called to chastity," says No. 2359. At the same time the Church asks that they be treated with "respect, compassion and sensitivity." ZEA0103312

April 1, 2001
volume 12, no. 91
USA News
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