Saturday, January 10, 2004

More than 3,000 conservative Episcopalians met Friday and yesterday in Woodbridge to pledge solidarity against their denomination’s decision last summer to consecrate a homosexual priest as bishop.

The gathering was larger than the 2,700 Episcopalians who met last fall in Plano, Texas, in what became known as the “Plano Conference” to oppose the Aug. 5 consecration of Canon V. Gene Robinson at the Episcopal General Convention as the new bishop of New Hampshire. The meeting this weekend at the Hylton Memorial Chapel, termed “Plano East,” was held for those who couldn’t go to Texas.

Conservative Episcopalians are angry over church decisions last year to approve Bishop Robinson and to allow blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

“Homosexuals are due their civil rights, and I am in no way challenging that,” said Fred Haeberer of Stafford County, Va. “However, this is a spiritual realm, and our church is founded on Scriptures that define homosexuality as a sin.”

The crowd, mainly church members from the Dioceses of Virginia and Washington, heard nothing negative about their two bishops — the Rt. Revs. Peter Lee and John Chane — who both voted for Bishop Robinson. One of Bishop Lee’s chaplains, the Rev. Kathleen Christopher, took part in the communion service Friday night.

However, the theme of the speeches was unmistakable: That the Episcopal Church is in deep trouble by allowing the consecration of Bishop Robinson and thereby incurring the wrath of many of the 70 million members of the Anglican Communion.

“This is our mess,” said Hugo Blankingship, a Fairfax lawyer who spoke about how to avoid lawsuits by hostile bishops, “and we must deal with it.”

Other speakers predicted a similar gloomy scenario. The Rev. John Yates, rector of the Falls Church Episcopal in the city of Falls Church, spent at least 20 minutes explaining how Scripture cannot be reinterpreted to allow homosexual relationships..

“If it’s our claim to submit to Christ, we must submit to scriptural authority as well,” he said. “We dare not say, as one of our bishops said, ‘Well, we wrote them, we can rewrite them.’ Or, as another bishop said, ‘We need a new Christianity for a new world.’”

Since the 1960s, he said, Episcopal “leaders and teachers have jettisoned the historic distinctives of the church. Many believers left in August. We have stayed. … We have to say: ‘Enough is enough.’”

The Rev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina, said church liberals often cite the apostles’ decision in the New Testament to allow Gentiles to become Christians, as a landmark decision similar to the Episcopal Church’s decision to allow homosexual bishops.

“People say we’re doing a ‘new thing,’ as in Acts 15,” Mr. Harmon said, “God doesn’t do ‘new things’ that are opposed to Scripture. The idea of God doing a ‘new thing’ is a Mormon idea, not a Christian one.”

• This story is based in part on wire service reports

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