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Episcopalians Cautioned on Electing Gay Bishops

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) As Episcopalians in San Francisco consider two gay men and a lesbian to serve as their next bishop, a special churchwide panel is urging “very considerable caution” before electing another gay bishop. A 14-member panel declined Friday (April 7) to recommend an outright ban on gay bishops, but said […]

c. 2006 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) As Episcopalians in San Francisco consider two gay men and a lesbian to serve as their next bishop, a special churchwide panel is urging “very considerable caution” before electing another gay bishop.

A 14-member panel declined Friday (April 7) to recommend an outright ban on gay bishops, but said dioceses should proceed with caution when choosing bishops whose “manner of life presents a challenge” to the wider church.

The go-slow approach recommended by the panel is not a red light urging no action, nor a green light that gives approval for actions that would likely split the church, panel members say. In many ways, the panel’s cautionary thrust reflects the nervousness and indecision of the larger church.

“No one is attempting to do a once-and-for-all solution,” said the Rev. Ian Douglas, co-chair of the panel and a professor at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. “It’s not a simple up or down.”

The panel issued 11 resolutions that will be considered by the church’s convention in June, including one that urges U.S. bishops not to authorize blessing ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.

The Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion was formed last November to help the church navigate the controversy surrounding the election of openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson in 2003.

The panel’s 61-page report made it clear that Episcopalians want to remain the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, even though their actions and go-it-alone attitude have isolated the U.S. church from some other Anglican churches.

“I hope if we’ve learned anything over the last three years years, it’s that … we’re also part of a worldwide body of Christ and we can’t function as if we’re an island unto ourselves,” Douglas said.

However, in a nod to the American church’s democratic process, the panel was clear that they could not dictate policy, change the rules for electing bishops or force the church to “repent” or rescind previous actions.

“One of the great sticking points is our way of governing ourselves, of hearing the Holy Spirit in a democratic process,” said the Rev. Rosemari Sullivan, a member of the panel from Virginia Theological Seminary.

“It is very distinct from other parts of the communion.”

The panel’s own members acknowledged their divisions over electing gay bishops, and said they were split on the language over whether dioceses should “refrain from” or “exercise very considerable caution” when considering gay bishops.

On May 6, the San Francisco-based Diocese of California will elect a new bishop from among seven candidates, including two gay men and one lesbian. Conservatives have said electing another gay or lesbian bishop would likely send the church into permanent schism.

The panel decided to let the church’s General Convention meeting in Columbus, Ohio, make the final call. The Columbus meeting would also need to approve whoever is elected as bishop of San Francisco.

“I think Columbus is a serious meeting of the church,” Sullivan said. “However, having said that, I do believe that the process of our convention will continue to serve us and help us to be the unique manifestation of Christianity that we are.”

The 11 resolutions that will be considered this summer break little new ground and mainly echo previous church statements on its role in the Anglican Communion, the place of gays and lesbians in church life, and ministering to conservative minorities who feel at odds with liberal bishops.

The resolutions urge bishops to seek “the highest degree of communion and reconciliation” possible, but stop short of allowing dissident parishes to seek their own guidance from sympathetic bishops outside their diocese.

The resolutions also reaffirm that gays and lesbians have a “full and equal claim” on the church _ first pronounced in 1976 _ and resurrected the church’s 1997 apology for “years of rejection and maltreatment by the church.”

MO/JL END ECKSTROM