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Alexandria seminary official to defend gay clergy

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The vice president of Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria will be among a team of seven Episcopal bishops and clergy in England today, making the case for homosexual clergy in the 70-million-member Anglican Communion.

The Rev. Michael Battle, also the associate academic dean, will help present a document "To Set Our Hope on Christ" during a 90-minute presentation to 78 members of the Anglican Consultative Council, which governs day-to-day Anglican affairs.

Mr. Battle and professors Timothy Sedgwick and the Rev. Katherine Grieb were three of the six theologians who wrote the document.

The involvement of three faculty members from the seminary -- the only Episcopal seminary cited -- stems from faculty involvement with national and international issues, said seminary spokeswoman Susan Shillinglaw.

"We just have a dynamic faculty here," she said.

The seminary, founded in 1823, is considered middle-of-the-road theologically, she said. But it has been criticized by conservatives for having openly practicing homosexuals as teachers and students in recent years.

It received a nod of appreciation from Presiding Episcopal Bishop Frank Griswold, who thanked the writers for producing the document, which will explain "how a person living in a same-gender union may be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ."

The meeting in Nottingham, England, will help decide whether the U.S. Episcopal and Canadian Anglican churches can remain in the Anglican Communion. In February, the denomination's archbishops said the Americans and Canadians could attend the meeting only to defend their views on homosexuality.

Mr. Battle, a specialist in black church studies and spirituality, came to the seminary in January from Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C. He was trained and ordained in 1993 by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has said Anglicans should be "inclusive" on homosexuality.

Miss Grieb, an associate New Testament professor, serves on a theology committee for the Episcopal House of Bishops. She is on staff of St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in the District.

"I hope our work is helpful," she said of the document. "All of us have been involved in this for a very long time."

Mr. Sedgwick is an ethics professor who has been on a variety of national and diocesan committees and task forces since the late 1970s. The Anglican Theological Review has called Mr. Sedgwick's style "irenic, inclusive and pious."

The Rev. Matthew Kennedy, a Binghamton, N.Y., priest who studied under both professors before graduating from the seminary in 2002, says the two scholars are in the "moderate to leftist" side of the Episcopal Church.

"Dr. Grieb is a serious New Testament scholar," he said. "She was quite tough but fair in her grading and even assigned [theological conservative] Richard Hays' 'Moral Vision of the New Testament' as required reading, which speaks well of her."

"She did have a tendency to metaphorize the Gospel narratives, especially in passages intended to be both historical narrative as well as metaphor," he said. For example, "the raising of Lazarus was either a real miracle or a literary metaphor. She didn't seem to think it could be both and came down hard on the metaphorical side of things."

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