It appears the stage is set for the next denominational showdown over homosexual clergy.
The Episcopal Church USA is still dealing with the decision by its leaders last year to consecrate that denomination's first openly homosexual bishop. Congregations that oppose the decision are using various tactics to fight the move, including leaving the denomination altogether.
Now comes word that officials in the United Methodist Church have set March 17 as the date for a church trial involving a female pastor in Washington state. Karen Dammann openly admits she is living in what she calls a "partnered, covenanted homosexual relationship." A trial of 13 clergy peers will hear the case; a vote of nine would convict her.
Dammann told United Methodist News Service last month that she is prepared for the trial. "The case has become much bigger than me now, and I hope it will give the church an opportunity to grow," she said. "The ultimate act of trying someone for being gay is bound to shake the tree -- I hope in the direction of inclusiveness."
In recommending the trial, the United Methodist Judicial Council noted the church's Book of Discipline prohibits "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" from being ordained or serving as pastors. Some United Methodists have been frustrated over the fact it has taken so long to bring this matter to a head in light of the fact that Dammann declared herself a lesbian in a letter to her bishop nearly three years ago.
Listening to the Bishop
Meanwhile, Virginia Episcopalians who oppose their denomination's stance on homosexuality are tacitly embracing their bishop's belief that it is better to live with heresy than split the denomination. Virginia Bishop Peter James Lee recently told delegates attending the diocese's annual meeting that if they had to make a choice between heresy and schism, "always choose heresy."
Despite his remark, traditionalist leaders in the diocese are still seeking unity with Lee and others who support homosexual behavior. Associate rector Richard Crocker with Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax believes Lee's comment was more of a "headline-getter" than a policy he was promoting.
"And he was making the point, in the context of our disagreement, that hanging together means that those who may be viewed as heretical can at least be worked on by the rest of the body, whereas if you split off, there's no hope," Crocker says. "And he did say [he didn't] want either heresy or schism. Of course from our point of view, that was a little unsatisfactory because we do disagree strongly with the decision he's made in this one particular area."
Crocker was among several traditionalist rectors who recently helped approve a "reconciliation commission" to examine ways to maintain unity in the diocese. "I think it's a proposal that came from our church and a number of other churches around the diocese to enable the diocese to step back from the kind of climate that we're in right now and think carefully -- not only about financial questions, but about theological questions and structural questions -- on how we are to go forward."
Crocker says he and other orthodox Episcopalians are not leaving the diocese because it is not they who have departed from scripture, but rather Bishop Lee and those who embrace homosexuality.
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