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Posts for July, 2009

Anglican-Episcopal Split on the Horizon

Timothy Kincaid

July 27th, 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury has responded to the action taken by the Episcopal Church to allow ordination of gay bishops and celebration of same-sex unions. (The Guardian)

The archbishop of Canterbury today reiterated his opposition to ordaining gay clergy and authorising same-sex blessings, warning liberal churches that such practices would lead to isolation and relegation in the Anglican communion.

Rowan Williams was responding in a statement today to developments in the US Episcopal church which earlier this month voted to open the ordination process to gay people and to consider developing blessings for same-sex couples.

Williams is envisioning a resulting two-tier church: those who are “good” Anglicans and obey the demands of exclusion and repression of gay Christians coming from the African and Asian churches, and those who are secondary churches who offer inclusion to gays and thus are not allowed to participate fully in communion matters and in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.

This is likely to be as acceptable to the Episcopal Church as it would be to anyone else. So it looks like this is the beginning of the end of a world-wide Anglican Communion.

What Mainline Clergy Believe

Timothy Kincaid

May 22nd, 2009
National City Christian Church, Washington D.C. - Disciples of Christ

National City Christian Church, Washington D.C. - Disciples of Christ

“Mainline Christianity” has deep roots and wide branches. With about 18% of Americans (and 24% of all voters), the denominations that makeup this more-liberal end of the Protestant Christian world trace to the founding of our nation. When Americans think of church – the steeple, the stained glass windows, the minister in a clerical collar – these are probably the Christians that come to mind.

However, in today’s sound-bite driven media and take-no-prisoners politics, moderate Christians with nuanced positions and non-combatant values don’t make for good television. Instead the fire-breathing “Bible believing” family values culture warrior gets to speak for all of Christianity. So to non-believers, the impression is that Christianity is at war with the rest of the world, and gays are enemy number one.

But a recent survey of Mainline ministers finds quite another Christian response to gay and lesbian Americans. On most issues, these denominations are quite supportive.

The six denominations included, in order of support are:

  • United Church of Christ
  • Episcopal Church
  • Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • Evanglical Lutheran Church in America
  • Presbyterian Church (USA)
  • United Methodist Church
  • American Baptist Churches (USA)

(for those unfamiliar, American Baptist Churches is a smaller Baptist organization that is not affiliated with the very conservative Southern Baptist Convention)

Mainline Protestant Clergy Views on Theology and Gay and Lesbian Issues: Findings from the 2008 Clergy Voices Survey was released this month. And it provides us with better understanding of the beliefs of clergy in Mainline Denominations.

In general, these ministers are supportive of gay civil rights. Additionally, they are fairly supporting of the inclusion of gay persons into the body of the church – though that differs by denomination.

Some of the more interesting public policy issue findings are:

  • 79% agree with the statement “Homosexuals should have all the same rights and priveleges as other American citizens”
  • 67% support passing gay-inclusive hate crime laws
  • 66% support employment non-discrimination laws
  • 55% support adoption by gay persons

The one area where there is not majority support is for marriage equality. Only 33% support gay marriage with another 32% supporting civil unions. However, as I discuss in another commentary, support for marriage goes up to 46% when religious assurances are given.

There is also a large variance between denominations on this issue.

  • 67% – United Church of Christ
  • 49% – Episcopal
  • 42% – Disciples of Christ
  • 38% – Presbyterian
  • 37% – Lutheran
  • 25% – Methodist
  • 20% – American Baptist

After clergy were reassured that churches and ministers would not be forced to conduct such marriages, support for civil marriage laws were over 50% for all denominations other than United Methodist and American Baptist.

The report goes on to break Mainline Christianity into three camps in relation to gay and lesbian issues; 29% are a supportive base, 30% are an opposing base, and 41% are in an uncertain middle. They find that on most issues the middle tends to side with the supporting base.

They also found that 45% of mainline clergy report that they are more supportive than 10 years ago. Only 14% are more conservative. The following is how those who became more supportive explain the change.

Among clergy who reported becoming more liberal on gay and lesbian issues, the top factors they cited as being very or extremely important to this change were discernment through prayer and reflection (66%), having a friend, congregant or colleague who is gay or lesbian (58%), and additional Bible study (55%).

We have long known that coming out is a valuable way to influence public opinion. Those who have real life examples from which to draw – rather than lies and stereotypes from anti-gay activists – are more likely to find that gay men and women are a valuable part of the social fabric.

But those within the Christian fold will also find it interesting that prayer, reflection, and Bible study can yield greater support for gay persons. Religion, when applied by devout and sincere people seeking to find meaning from sacred Scriptures for real life situations, need not be the enemy of freedom and equality.

As for the inclusion of gays and lesbians into religious life, the study found

  • 94% – welcome gay persons in their church
  • 63% – believe that the gospel requires their full inclusion in the church
  • 51% – believe the church should not work towards making homosexuality unacceptable
  • 45% – support ordination of gay and lesbian ministers without special requirements
  • 13% – lead congregations that have formally become “open and affirming congregations”

These denominations have the potential to become strong allies in our question for civil equalities. Already many ministers from these denominations are active in showing legislators and voting citizens People of Faith who do not agree with the political agenda of “Christian” and “Family” groups that seek the exclusion of gay persons from civil equalities.

As time goes on, it is increasingly likely that Mainline Christianity is going to move in the direction of fuller acceptance, inclusion, and support. We should, as a community, be appreciative of their help and proactive in efforts to build bridges to these churches.

Loss for Anti-Gay Ex-Episcopalians

Timothy Kincaid

January 5th, 2009

When the Episcopal Church ordained Gene Robinson as a Bishop, it threw several conservative congregations into a tizzy. Some were so upset about the idea of their church including an openly gay man in so high a position, that they announced that they would take their marbles and go elsewhere.

St. James parish in Newport Beach was one such church. Now they have found that it just isn’t that easy. The Supreme Court of California has informed St. James parish that they can go elsewhere, but they have to leave their marbles behind.

The California Supreme Court ruled that the 2.4-million-member national church, and not a local parish in that state, owns a church building and the land on which it sits, property which members of the congregation said belonged to them when they left the church.

This decision upheld the 2007 reversal of a 2005 judicial decision granting the property to the local congregation. 2007 was a sad year for the church; also in that year Rev. Praveen Bunyan, the priest who led the disaffiliation, resigned his duties over inappropriate attention paid to a female parishioner.

This unanimous Supreme Court decision is, no doubt, discouraging to the parish that lost its marbles. But it is definitely encouraging to the Episcopal Church, especially as it may direct that the multi-million dollar assets of the San Juaquin Diocese in Fresno remain under the control of the denomination, and are not at the discretion of the break-away Bishop.

Although the deeds showed that the local church owned the property, the parish had agreed to be part of the greater Episcopal Church of the United States and to be bound by that church’s rules, the court said. Those rules said local churches hold property in trust for the greater denomination.

“The local church agreed and intended to be part of a larger entity and to be bound by the rules and governing documents of that greater entity,” Chin wrote.

So it now seems, at least in California, that it may actually cost chuches something to stand by their convictions.

Episcopal Church Loses Another Diocese

Timothy Kincaid

November 8th, 2008

The AP:

A third theologically conservative diocese has broken away from the liberal Episcopal Church in a long-running dispute over the Bible, gay relationships and other issues.

The Diocese of Quincy, Ill., took the vote at its annual meeting that ends Saturday.

Two other dioceses — San Joaquin, based in Fresno, Calif., and Pittsburgh — have already split off. Next weekend, the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, will vote whether to follow suit.

While homosexuality is one of the main issues impelling the separation, these diocese have a number of theological differences from the rest of the church. For example, Quincy, San Joaquin, and Fort Worth were the only three diocese that did not ordain women.

After Fort Worth, it appears that the break-aways may stop for a while. And four of the hundred diocese are not a significant number. It may well prove that some of the tempest within the church will abate now that those most likely to disagree have finally removed theirselves.

Episcopal Bishops Endorse Marriage and Oppose Prop 8

Timothy Kincaid

September 10th, 2008

As expected, the top six Episcopal Bishops in California announced their opposition to Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage amendment.

The bishops argued that preserving the right of gays and lesbians to marry would enhance the “Christian values” of monogamy, love and commitment.

“We believe that continued access to civil marriage for all, regardless of sexual orientation, is consistent with the best principles of our constitutional rights,” said the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

Episcopal Bishops to Oppose Proposition 8

Timothy Kincaid

September 9th, 2008

The AP is reporting that the authority of the Episcopal Church in California will be announcing their opposition to Proposition 8 tomorrow.

The Right Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, Episcopal bishop of California, and the Right Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Episcopal bishop of Los Angeles, are scheduled to join other faith leaders and gay couples Wednesday in speaking out against Proposition 8.

Anti-gay Lifesite News expands:

All six bishops in the state will officially protest the traditional marriage amendment, according to the Sacramento Bee. The Right Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, Episcopal Bishop of California, will hold a press conference at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral on Wednesday to represent the church’s position, “calling for compassion, love and equal protections” for homosexual couples.

The AP closed their article with a comment I found interesting:

Their work is designed to counter the huge organizational and financial push the amendment is receiving from leaders of the Roman Catholic and Mormon faiths.

It is my impression that Proposition 8 has taken on a peculiar image, one which its supporters would do well to avoid. There is a growing perception that the proposition is a joint endeavor by the Catholic Church and the Mormon Church and is opposed by other branches of Christianity. This may become even more pronounced as the public becomes aware of opposition by United Methodists and Episcopalians.

That percerption, I believe, will not be advantageous to the supporters of the proposition.

Irish Anglicans are United

Timothy Kincaid

July 26th, 2008

According to the Irish Times

Ireland’s 12 Church of Ireland bishops may differ as to whether gay clergy should be consecrated bishops, but each respected the other’s opinion, the Archbishop of Dublin said yesterday.

Considering the turmoil that some parts of the Anglican family have been stirring up, it is good to see a measured spiritual response from this body of believers.

More Anglican Heads of Churches Speak Supportively

Timothy Kincaid

July 14th, 2008

Much attention has been given to the tempest and fury coming from anti-gay elements within the Anglican Communion. The meeting of conservative primates and their declarations and demands have, at times, nearly drowned out the welcome that has been the voice of Anglicanism in many nations.

So it is reassuring to hear words of inclusion from two bodies within the Anglican worldwide family.

Last week the Belfast Telegraph brought report of statements made by the head of the Church of Ireland. While not yet calling for full recognition of gay couples within the church, Archbishop Alan Harper acknowledged that such a day may come:

“It has not yet been conclusively shown that for some males and some females homosexuality and homosexual acts are natural rather than unnatural,” the Archbishop told the conference.

“If such comes to be shown, it will be necessary to acknowledge the full implications of that new aspect of the truth, and that insight applied to establish and acknowledge what may be a new status for homosexual relationships within the life of the Church.”

And today’s Telegraph is reporting that the primate of the Church in Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, expressed support for gay bishops:

“If they said they want to do that well so be it. If a priest had a partner and someone nominated them that wouldn’t be a bar to them becoming a bishop,” he said.

The Archbishop, who is an old friend of Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said that the Church should select people on their ability rather than discriminating against them because of their sexuality.

I appreciate the willingness of these men to let their voices counter the bigotry and hatred spewing from some elements within the Church.

Is the Church Listening?

Michael King

July 11th, 2008

The following guest post is a book review by Michael King, Professor of Primary Care Psychiatry at University College London Medical School. He is the author of several studies on sexual orientation and mental health. In 2004, his report “Treatments of homosexuality in Britain in the 1950s — an oral history: the experience of professionals” appeared in the British Medical Journal, where it is available online for free.

The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality. A resource to enable listening and dialogue
Editor Phil Groves
June 2008
SPCK, London
pp xiii plus 322.

This edited volume has been published just in time for the 2008 Lambeth Conference, its stated purpose to “listen to the experience of homosexual persons”. The Anglican Communion’s listening exercise began at the last Lambeth Conference in 1998 and will inform its decisions on homosexuality in the laity and clergy alike.

As the editor himself notes, this book is a curious hotchpotch of chapters on scriptural interpretation, the role of religious tradition, how to listen and conduct a dialogue, the cultural dimension, the voices of gay and lesbian people and finally what is referred to as the witness of science. It is densely written and a challenge for anyone trying to get to grips with the Anglican Communion’s approach to listening.

A large part of the book is devoted to scriptural interpretation and the place of tradition, little of which is particularly new. Although the obviously sexual elements of scripture, such as the Song of Solomon, are discussed, generally the conclusions are banal. Most of the contributors shrink from accepting the fully erotic nature of many of these texts and are fairly unequivocal that homosexuality, or least same-sex behaviour, is not accepted by scripture. In classical heterosexist fashion, they make little of the suggestions that (just possibly) the intimate friendships between figures such as David and Jonathon or Ruth and Naomi might have contained a sexual element. The default assumption is heterosexual unless declared otherwise. We are told that although gay and lesbian people are “welcomed” by the Church, they are not “affirmed” in the sense that their partnerships might be valued. The choice offered is to be in the church and live by the rules of the Church. This means no possibility of same sex relationships. Concern is even expressed that “current political pressures” (read here gay lobby) will mean that gay and lesbian people will be denied their “human right” to seek therapy for their “unwanted same-sex attraction”. If God loves homosexuals, it seems that clues to his love won’t be found in scripture.

In contrast, God seems to love polygamists. Polygamy, we are told, was part of the tradition of ancient Israel and no Old Testament passage actually proscribes it. Polygamy in modern Kenya is even regarded benignly as arising from the “great strains on the practice of monogamy” in that society. Strains for men I presume. One is left with the distinct feeling that anything heterosexual, although not entirely welcome, is not entirely banned either. The stress is on heterosexual. Opposite sex in – same sex out. A recipe for exclusion.

Trailing at the end is the “witness of science” on the biological basis of sexuality. As scientists, we might welcome such an approach but before the Church changed its mind on slavery or women priests did it debate the biological basis for race and gender? I suspect not. It appears here because of homosexuality’s persisting image as a deviation from nature’s heterosexual plan. But never mind. Just what have these chapters to tell us? The first by David de Pomerai and Glyn Harrison is a reasonable enough summary of what neuroscience and genetics can tell us about homosexuality and is fair to the literature. The second by Glyn Harrison is of much lower quality. Here we have an academic psychiatrist bending over backwards to suggest, on the basis of the weakest sort of evidence, that sexual orientation can be changed. I suspect if he were reviewing evidence of similar quality for the efficacy of a new medication he would dismiss it out of hand. And so unsurprisingly, he finds what he sets out to find – namely that given enough willingness there are treatments out there to make homosexual people into heterosexuals, or at the very least stop them wanting sex.

But not all is valueless. Hidden away in all this dross are two chapters of gold (6 & 7) that make it worth taking a second look. They are crucial contributions because they are the only sections to contain the narratives of gay and lesbian people, Christian and non-Christian alike. These accounts resonate with the pain and struggle that lesbian and gay people have always experienced at the hands of the Church and wider society and the ways in which they have prevailed over them. If the whole book were dedicated to such stories then the Church might hear what it so badly needs to hear; the views and experiences of gays and lesbians and their families and friends – their stories, their faiths. Those bishops who are here at Lambeth this July need to read and ponder these accounts. They can safely disregard the rest.

Michael King
Professor of Primary Care Psychiatry
Department of Mental Health Sciences
University College London Medical School
Royal Free Campus
Rowland Hill Street
London NW3 2PF

Anti-Gay Anglicans Refuse to Condemn Violence

Timothy Kincaid

June 23rd, 2008

In a rather disturbing report, Ekklesia tells us about Anglicans at the breakaway conference in Jerusalem, GAFCON, electing to condemn gay persons and not those engaged in inhumanities towards them.

When given the example of a lesbian women from Uganda who had applied for asylum in the UK after being jailed, raped in the police station, and marched for two miles naked through the streets of Uganda, Archbishop Akinola said: “That’s one example. The laws in your countries say that homosexual acts, actions are punishable by various rules. I don’t need to argue.”

“If the practice (homosexuality) is now found to be in our society” he continued, “it is of service to be against it. Alright, and to that extent what my understanding is, is that those that are responsible for law and order will want to prevent wholesale importation of foreign practices and traditions, that are not consistent with native standards, native way of life.”

Anglicans Close to Split

This article is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of others authors at Box Turtle Bulletin

Timothy Kincaid

June 19th, 2008

The worldwide Anglican Church has come close to a splitting point. Those branches that reside in industrialized nations are considered far to liberal to be seen as within communion by those who hold sway in the developing world. Led primarily by a handful of conservative bishops in Africa, as much as half of the Anglican communion may sever from the body headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and set out to become a new church.

Although it is quite likely that vastly different cultures play into the friction that may lead to scism, so too does a sharply divergent view of Scripture. Western Anglicans (Britain, Canada, and the Episcopal Church in the United States) view Christianity as a guide to know God and find kinship in social justice, humanitarian efforts, and guidance for living. The Global South are more inclined to see Christianity as the manifestation of God’s divine commandments for a sinful world.

And the issue over which this comes to a head is homosexuality.

Westerners find gay people to be valued children of God who are to be treated with love and equality. The Global South finds gay people to be sinners and to be denounced. Even accepting gay people as equal is considered to be a sinful act and requiring of repentance, not only from God but from those who are offended by equality.

Westerners are not likely to apologize for acting out of social justice. They may have been able to be convinced to slow efforts towards justice but they are not about to repudiate their compassion and love and apologize for it to those who find only judgment and condemnation in the faith.

So there’s a bit of an impasse.

Now it appears to be serious. Led by Peter Akinola, a man who has no use for civil liberties or social equality, the Global South is threatening to break away.

The Primate of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, states in one section: “There is no longer any hope, therefore, for a unified Communion.

“Now we confront a moment of decision.

“If we fail to act, we risk leading millions of people away from the faith revealed in the Holy Scriptures and also, even more seriously, we face the real possibility of denying Our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

“We want unity, but not at the cost of relegating Christ to the position of another ‘wise teacher’ who can be obeyed or disobeyed.

“We earnestly desire the healing of our beloved Communion, but not at the cost of re-writing the Bible to accommodate the latest cultural trend.

“We have arrived at a crossroads; it is, for us, the moment of truth.’’

He said schism could only be avoided in the unlikely event that churches which tolerate homosexual clergy and same-sex blessings change their ways.

“Repentance and reversal by these North American provinces may yet save our Communion,’’ the archbishop wrote.

He referred to the Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade gathering of Anglican bishops which takes place next month, as effectively a lame duck event because he and other “orthodox” bishops will not attend.

I suspect that this schism is inevitable. The conservatives are meeting to plan their next steps.

And, though sadly, I believe that it is best in the long (very long) run.

It is my reading that the conservative nations will leave. And that there will be a corresponding split in the United States wherein a handful of churches will leave the Episcopal Church to join with the Global South.

And considering the political history of the Global South bishops, we can expect that this scism will result in rampant corruption and a likely scenario is one in which the power of the church will be used to prop up and support totalitarian or fascist regimes throughout Africa. I, of course, hope that I’m guessing incorrectly.

But once free of consideration for angry foreign Anglicans threatening division, I think that this will allow the Episcopal Church to follow their conscience and champion social justice causes, including the full equality of gay persons in society and the church. And I believe that a freer Anglican Church would change the language around the morality of discrimination.

This potential break is likely to be devastating to those in Christian Africa that are gay, democratically inclined, or theologically liberal. Further, considering the extent to which charity towards the continent is provided by Western Anglicans, this will also undoubtedly bring harm to the sick, poor, and hungry.

But I am hopeful that ultimately it will result in a freer society in the West and in the gradual recovery of lost brotherhood, but this time a brotherhood unhindered by demands of a return to legalism and dogmatism.

Visalia Episcopalians Come Home

Timothy Kincaid

March 31st, 2008

A few weeks ago we told you about John-David Schofield, Bishop of Fresno, who led his diocese in breaking from the Episcopal Church and seeking to align himself with conservative Anglicans in South America. Now he’s discovering that rebellion is contagious. Some of his parishioners have decided that they would break from him and return to the Episcopal Church.

About 40 former members of Visalia’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church have decided to break away from the current Anglican church and reform their congregation as the Continuing Congregation of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church of Visalia, Calif.

Fresno Episcopal Bishop Removed

Timothy Kincaid

March 12th, 2008

fresno.jpgIn December the diocese of Fresno, under the direction of Bishop John-David Schofield, voted to dissolve its ties to the Episcopal Church due primarily to the national church’s policies on gays and women.

Today Schofield has been removed:

Leaders of the Episcopal Church ousted the bishop from the Diocese of San Joaquin Wednesday after he pushed his congregation to secede from the U.S. denomination in a fight over the Bible and homosexuality.

Bishop John-David Schofield is stripped of his role as bishop and barred from performing any religious duties, said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

New Zealand may get Pro-Gay Episcopal Bishop

Timothy Kincaid

February 25th, 2008

nz.jpgIf the Lord of the Rings movies are anything to go by, New Zealand is a lovely country. And as an ally of the United States, English speaking, and having had civil unions since 2004, (not to mention giving us Lucy Lawless), the Kiwis would seem to be a people that would make me feel welcome.

Now it seems like they may be taking a further step in welcoming gay and gay-friendly travelers. Stuff.co is reporting that the Anglican Church (New Zealand’s largest church) may be selecting a pro-gay Canadian as Bishop of Christchurch.

A Canadian woman bishop who has signaled support for blessing gay marriages is being confirmed as Christchurch’s new Anglican bishop.

Maybe those who were considering vacationing in Jamaica can instead think of a less hostile destination.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Jim Burroway

February 11th, 2008

If one were to write an anti-gay book for the conservative Anglicans in Britain, I would suggest that they might want to pay closer attention to the cover art. Is it just me, or does this look like an odd choice to you?

“God, Gays, and the Church”

By the way, two of the books editors are involved with the web site Anglican Mainstream, which happens to be on our list of Cameron Collaborators. I can only guess what kind of lunacy lurks inside this tome.

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