- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2000

DENVER A good example of why the Episcopal Church is losing traditional members came at yesterday's opening press conference at its General Convention.

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold was asked his opinion of a proposed initiative that would condemn the "sins of heterosexism," such as male-female "marriage."

Rather than issue a biblical defense of traditional marriage, or roll his eyes at the question, Bishop Griswold explained somberly that the proposal was under review and that he would "await the committee's discernment."

Say this about the Episcopalians: They aren't shy about their politically correct bent. The hottest topics at the 10-day convention, held every three years, are ordaining active homosexuals and blessing same-sex unions.

Formal conversations include discussions of "gay hate," "eco-political colonialism," and "cultural imperialism."

For all its liberal leanings, however, predictions are that the church's governing body will stop short of voting to approve the ordination of active homosexuals as ministers and same-sex unions.

Instead, the church will likely continue its de facto policy of "local option," in which regional dioceses are given some latitude over such decisions.

By doing nothing, church leaders acknowledge they will please no one: Pro-homosexual Episcopalians continue to demand "full acceptance," while conservatives want the church to take a firm stand against homosexual "marriage" and ordination.

The leadership hopes keeping the status quo may let the church avoid a mass exodus of traditionalist members and clergy, who are increasingly disgruntled with the church's liberal direction.

Bishop Griswold acknowledged that approving gay "marriage" and homosexual ordination would broaden the rift between Anglican churches worldwide.

"For churches in the Anglican communion to move in different directions would indeed strain the communion," he said.

As many as 10,000 are expected to attend the convention, which runs through July 14. The convention, which meets every three years, includes the 300-member House of Bishops and 800-member House of Deputies, which set church doctrine and policy.

For the past 30 years, the Episcopal Church has watched its numbers dwindle in Canada, the United States and Britain, while membership grows in Africa and Asia. The church counts more than 60 million members worldwide, but just 2.4 million in North America.

Taking a back seat to the fractious debate over homosexuality is the likely approval of a historic concordat with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The unprecedented agreement would allow the mingling of Lutheran and Episcopal clergy, worship and mission programs.

Known as the Call to Common Mission, the agreement is seen as a way to bolster the flagging membership of both liberal-leaning churches. Episcopal leaders said yesterday they expect the plan to win quick approval after some technical issues are addressed.

"By putting Lutherans and Episcopalians together, we could do a great deal more. That's the good news," said Colorado Bishop Jerry Winterrowd. "The bad news is if it doesn't pass, it would create a sense of demoralization among the church in the Rocky Mountain region, where we all work well together."

Bishop Griswold called on Episcopalians to put aside their differences with the Lutherans to make the anticipated compact a success.

"I've seen struggling Episcopalian missions 5 feet away from struggling Lutheran missions, and how good it would be to share resources," he said.

"The Call to Common Mission calls us to yield some of our sense of ourselves and our uniqueness," he said. "If approved, it would be a very positive sign to the Christian community at large."

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