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Sunday, March 6, 2011

LGBT People of Faith See Some Light

By Kilian Melloy -

The issue of gay clergy has shaken up many religious denominations, because some interpretations of Scripture see the Bible as condemning gays and lesbians in the sight of God.

The deepest divisions may be those suffered by the Anglican Church, which is known as the Episcopalian Church in the U.S. The Anglican faith has been on the verge of a schism because some branches of the faith embrace gay and lesbian parishioners and pastors, while others remain intransigent in their anti-gay stances.

The more open and affirming branches of the faith tend to be those located in the United States and Canada. But the quickly growing Anglican community in Asian and African nations remains staunchly opposed to equal status for gay and lesbian members of the faith, particularly with regard to the clergy.

Even as the threat of schism in the Anglican tradition has loomed, the Catholic Church has offered anti-gay Anglicans a home within its membership, leading to a number of conversions--including a mass conversion of about 100 Episcopalian churches to Catholicism one year ago.

The divisions have even led to the establishment of a new, separate Anglican tradition in the United States, the Anglican Church in North America, which has been created as a parallel faith tradition for anti-gay Episcopalians unwilling to remain in a church where gays and lesbians are welcomed as equal.

But even in the midst of profound spiritual crisis, the Anglican Church has held on to hope for eventual resolution and reconciliation. A convocation of 19 Anglican bishops from Africa and North America came together for three days at the end of last month to speak to one another--and more importantly, to listen, Episcopal reported on March 3.

The meeting took place Feb. 24-27 in Dar es Salaam.

"We have been engaged in a process of patient and holy listening, as Anglicans, coming from a wide diversity of contexts and theological positions, who have chosen to listen to one another," a March 1 statement from the bishops, titled A Testimony of Grace, read.

"Bishops from Canada, the Sudan, Botswana, Malawi, Burundi, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, the United States, and England, attended the meeting, which was a follow-up to a smaller gathering last year in London," the article noted. The meeting was as much about cultural outreach as it was theological.

"We are aware that when we talk, the words we use may not be heard in the same way as we intend and we do not always understand language in the same way," the statement explained. "We are engaged in a quest for language that will bring us to common understanding and to better dialogue."

Moreover, "True dialogue is not about convincing the other of the righteousness of one’s position," the statement added, but rather entails "turning to one another with openness" and "trusting each other as brothers and sisters in Christ." The statement said that the deep conflicts over issues of sexual morality have led both sides to act "as though we are in court defending ourselves" as opposed to carrying out a dialogue in good faith.

"Across the globe, across the Communion, we actually really need one another," the statement went on. "We are stronger in relationship than when we are apart.... This, we believe, is a work of engaging in Communion building rather than Communion breaking."

There were signs of hope for LGBT people of faith elsewhere in the religious world, as well. Officials of the Presbyterian Church USA acquitted a gay minister who faced a church trial for having married his same-sex spouse in California during the six-month window in 2008 when marriage equality was available to gay and lesbian families.

Voters stripped family parity rights from same-sex couples in November of that year when they narrowly approved Proposition 8, an amendment to the California constitution that has since been struck down in federal court as unconstitutional. That ruling is now under appeal.

The 18,000 families that availed themselves of marriage rights in California during those six months were found by another court still to be legally married.

The Rev. Erwin Barron was accused of violating a different constitution by entering into marriage with his husband--the constitution of the Presbyterian Church USA. For that, he was put on trial. A panel found Barron not guilty after a trial lasting two and one-half hours. The trial took place in Bloomington, Minnesota, reported the Minneapolis Star Tribune on March 3.

The article said that the church had "sidestepped" the marriage equality question during its 2010 national convention in Minneapolis, even though one year ago the Presbyterian Church moved toward embracing fully equal participation by gays and lesbians in their faith when the faith’s largest governing body proposed changes to the church’s constitution that would have guaranteed a place of equality in the church for the GLBT faithful voting to ordain as a minister an openly gay candidate.

The vote was taken amongst the membership of the John Knox Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which also voted to ordain Scott Anderson, 54, an openly gay man.

"I could see [the vote] having national implications, for sure," said Rev. Alex Thornburg of Madison’s Westminster Presbyterian Church. "Some will proclaim this decision the best thing in the world and others will say the church is dying. It will have its drama around it." But the vote did not lead to a similar action at the national conference.

Barron is based in San Francisco, where he is a college professor. He has defended marriage parity for gay and lesbian families in his writings, the article said.

Deliberations following the trial took three hours and ended with a tie of 3-3. Barron could only have been found guilty if 2/3 of the panel or more agreed. The article noted that the outcome is subject to appeal.

"I’m relieved," Barron told the media. "I wish it was more definitive. The decision is not clear for the church."

Presbyterian clergy are required to "live either in fidelity with the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness," the article said. But Barron’s marriage was civil and legal, involving no religious ceremony.

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

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