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They once again are dealing with the knotty issue that won't go away: What does the church do about homosexuals?
Some Christians want to include gays more fully in the life of the church, allowing them to be ministers, and want same-sex, marriage-like unions made available to homosexuals. Others say the Bible clearly prohibits that.
Next up in the debate: the Episcopalians. The Episcopal Church began its 10-day General Convention July 5 in Denver. Members of the 2.4 million-member denomination call the annual get-together a "cross between a political convention and a family picnic."
Episcopalians have grappled with the gay issue officially since 1979, issuing a long list of position statements but failing to come close to resolving the underlying issues, the Episcopal News Service reported. The 1979 resolution said it was "not appropriate" to ordain noncelibate gays and lesbians.
The conference two years ago declared that openly gay living was "incompatible with Scripture." But a number of dioceses have challenged this, according to the church's news service. In Vermont, where same-sex couples began forming legal civil unions this month, Bishop Mary Adelia McLeod issued an "emancipation proclamation" for gays and lesbians, saying "God's great gift of love and the expression of that love cannot and should not be denied to those among us who happen to be homosexual."
The Episcopal Church's unofficial position is to leave the matter up to each diocese. That may remain the case, the church's news service noted, because many bishops believe that a vote on same-sex unions may be too divisive.
That isn't good enough for gay activist Mel White. "For 30 years they've been discussing this. We're asking them now to resolve it," White, a founder of the gay rights group Soulforce and a minister in the Metropolitan Community Churches, told The Associated Press.
It also isn't good enough for a group of conservative Episcopalians who say the "anything goes" policy threatens to divide the church. The American Anglican Council insists it speaks for the church's mainstream and that its members will remain in the denomination to change it from the inside. Its leaders held a news conference July 1 to spotlight testimonies of people it said were transformed by God from "areas of brokenness such as homosexuality, racism, abortion, and drug, alcohol, and pornography abuse."
Those who spoke included Bob Ragan, a former homosexual, who described how "he was transformed when he surrendered his life and sexuality to God," according to the American Anglican Council.
The Episcopal Church's parent group, the worldwide Anglican Communion, is clear on the subject. It called homosexuality "incompatible with Scripture" two years ago, and the rift with the U.S. church widened in January when two American priests who oppose homosexuality were consecrated as bishops without church approval.
Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Church (USA) leaders dealt with the emotional issue last week. Meeting in Long Beach, Calif., they voted to create a church constitutional amendment banning ministers from blessing gay unions in any form. They found such unions contrary to "God's intention" for men and women, even if the ceremonies are not considered marriages.
The 268-251 vote by the church's General Assembly followed a week of debate and prayer, and the arrest of 80 pro-gay activists. Supporters of the amendment say it upholds a traditional Christian view of marriage. Paula Metherell, a member of the presbytery in Long Beach, said the church must serve as "a moral beacon," calling people to a life of holiness. Opponents, such George McCall of Missouri, argued that the amendment would limit the ability of pastors to minister effectively to all members of their congregation, according to The New York Times. "Do not bind our conscience and tie our hands as pastors," McCall said.
If the amendment is ratified by a majority of the denomination's 173 regional governing bodies, known as presbyteries, it would represent a sharp departure from the denomination's tolerant attitude toward same-sex unions, the Los Angeles Times reported. The church is the largest Presbyterian body in the United States.
Presbyterian Church delegates overwhelmingly re-elected Clifton Kirkpatrick to another four-year term as stated clerk of the General Assembly. Kirkpatrick defeated a conservative minister from Texas, Winfield "Casey" Jones, who criticized what he saw as the church's liberal drift on issues of human sexuality. The vote was 427-74.
The Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church both unambiguously declared in May that homosexual acts are contrary to Scripture, and reaffirmed their opposition to homosexuality, the ordination of sexually active gays, and consecrating same-sex unions.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America discourages any blessings of gay couples, although there are no official rules prohibiting such unions, and some pastors have said they intend to perform ceremonies for gays.
The 1,100 Episcopal bishop and delegates are also expected to decide on entering "full communion" with the ELCA, which would allow clergy of both denominations to lead services at either church and let members to take communion at either church. The Lutherans have approved the affiliation.