Wednesday, April 5, 2006

U.S. Episcopal leaders will try to safeguard their membership in the worldwide Anglican Communion by holding back, at least until 2008, on electing new homosexual bishops and on allowing same-sex unions, according to two Episcopal bishops.

Church leaders are even considering “repentance” for the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, an active homosexual, according to Arizona Bishop Kirk S. Smith.

He and Rio Grande Bishop Jeffrey Steenson divulged these details in e-mails to their dioceses describing a March 17-22 summit of Episcopal bishops in western North Carolina.

“Very considerable caution” will be used in electing more homosexual bishops, Bishop Smith said in his March 24 e-mail, “until a wider consensus emerges.” Bishop Smith is identified with the church’s liberal wing; Bishop Steenson is a conservative.

There is no consensus in the 70-million-member Anglican Communion, where 22 Anglican provinces have partially or totally severed relations with the Episcopal Church over its 2003 consecration of Bishop Robinson, a divorced man living with his homosexual lover.

Until now, the 2.2-million-member Episcopal Church has only used the word “regret” for its actions. But with its legal standing as the U.S. representative of worldwide Anglicanism at peril and dozens of parishes fleeing the denomination each year, its leaders are having second thoughts.

An official statement on the matter is due out around April 10 from a church “special commission,” but Bishop Smith predicts authorization of same-sex unions would likewise be frozen and bishops who have allowed such unions will apologize.

Bishop Steenson told his diocese March 28 that talk was of freezing both same-sex blessings and “discouraging” the election of homosexual bishops at least until the 2008 Lambeth Conference of the world’s Anglican bishops in Canterbury, England.

“Our continued membership in the Anglican Communion can no longer be taken for granted,” he wrote. “There is now evidence that a majority of bishops are beginning to rethink the position staked out by the General Convention 2003, when it approved the election of the bishop of New Hampshire.

However, on May 6, the Episcopal Diocese of California will elect a bishop and three of its seven candidates are open homosexuals. A majority of bishops and delegates meeting in June at the Episcopal General Convention in Columbus, Ohio, would have to approve such an election.

But it’s questionable now whether the General Convention will allow another homosexual bishop. Bishops Steenson and Smith said a warning given March 22 to the bishops in North Carolina by the visiting Anglican Bishop Michael Langrish of Exeter, England, was clear that punishment would result.

“Any further consecration of those in a same-sex relationship; any authorization of any person to undertake same-sex blessings … will be read very widely as a declaration not to stay with the Communion as it is,” Bishop Langrish said.

If the Episcopal Church were disenfranchised as a member of the Anglican Communion, Episcopal churches around the country could leave the denomination with their property without the fear of lawsuits.

“That must have served as a wake-up call to many: the Anglican Communion will not permit the Episcopal Church to have it both ways,” Bishop Steenson wrote. It cannot be “blessing the homosexual lifestyle and enjoying the benefits of full communion.”

On Monday, Integrity, the Episcopal Church’s homosexual caucus, posted a blog entry calling the Arizona bishop’s statements “purely speculative in nature” and “‘spin’ designed to heighten anxiety and fear.”

“The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops has demonstrated no stomach for any ‘moratoria’ that impacts only [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] vocations, and I expect the recommendations of the special commission will affirm that position,” said the Rev. Susan Russell, Integrity president, in an e-mail to The Washington Times.

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