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Gay Row Threatens Episcopal Church Unity, Anglican Ties

( [email protected] ) Jun 15, 2006 10:52 AM EDT

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The threat of a split in the worldwide Anglican family hovered over a national meeting of the Episcopal Church, as delegates considered whether they should preserve unity by temporarily barring gays from becoming bishop.

New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, pleaded with the church General Convention not to enact a ban.

If Episcopalians "see Christ in the faithful lives of our gay and lesbian members," they should have the courage to say so, no matter the potential consequences, he said.

"Please, I beg you, let's say our prayers and stand up for right," he said, at a hearing Wednesday night on the issue that drew a capacity crowd of 1,500 people.

Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, head of a network of conservative Episcopal dioceses that opposed Robinson's consecration, told delegates the progressive and conservative wings of the church should acknowledge their differences and part.

"We've reached a moment where it is very difficult, indeed I think we've reached an impossible moment, in holding it together," Duncan said.

The convention is deciding the church's response to the 2004 Windsor Report.

That document sought ways to keep the global Anglican Communion together and asked Episcopalians for a moratorium on electing more gay bishops and repentance for the turmoil over Robinson's 2003 consecration. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. arm of the communion.

However, the main proposal before the convention does not include a moratorium. Instead, it asks dioceses to "exercise very considerable caution" in electing leaders. Delegates can revise or reject the legislation.

Archbishop of York John Sentamu, the second-highest ranking cleric in the Church of England, is attending the convention and said he did not think the proposals went far enough.

"Will it actually be sufficient to secure this impaired friendship? Personally, I'm doubtful," he said. "Windsor wanted space to be creative, and I'm not sure that these resolutions have created the space."

The majority of overseas Anglicans believe the Bible prohibits same-sex relationships, and they want the Americans to follow that teaching or leave the communion.

If Anglican leaders dislike the outcome of the convention, the loose association of churches that trace their roots to the Church of England could break apart.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader, has repeatedly expressed concern about the future of the fellowship.

"We cannot survive as a communion of churches without some common convictions about what it is to live and to make decisions as the Body of Christ," he wrote in a message to the General Convention, which runs through June 21.

The Rev. Bradley Wirth, a delegate from Montana, said apologizing for Robinson's consecration would violate the beliefs of many Episcopalians who supported his election. Backers of gay ordination contend Scripture does not prohibit monogamous same-gender relationships.

"When many of us are asked to regret, apologize or repent or be cautious," Wirth said, "we believe we're being asked to turn our back on the Holy Spirit."

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