Episcopal Church leaders set to consider blessing rite for same-sex couples

By David O'Reilly

The Philadelphia Inquirer (Mct)

Published: Saturday, July 7 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

While acknowledging that Christianity and Judaism have long regarded homosexual relations as sinful, the commission report contends that some of those condemnations are rooted in ambiguous biblical passages.

Paul's condemnation of "unnatural" sex acts in the Book of Romans, they say, might have been a condemnation of temple prostitution. And Leviticus' command that homosexual acts be punished by stoning, while "difficult," can be discounted as a byproduct of the "strict gender hierarchy of the ancient Mediterranean world."

A longtime supporter of a same-sex blessing, Bennison said in a recent interview that he was not entirely certain the measure would win the necessary approval in the House of Bishops.

"Some bishops I've talked to say it's going to be much easier for the deputies" — the laity and clergy who make up the convention's "lower" chamber — "because they don't have to face the fallout," he said. "It's the bishops' desks where the mail is going to land" in dioceses where gay marriage is largely perceived as an assault on Christianity.

However, Bishop Sean Rowe of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, based in Erie, said passage appeared assured "and unlikely to prove destructive."

Reaction within his "middle-of-the-road" diocese will be "mixed" if it passes, Rowe predicted. "For some it will be a cause to celebrate, and for others a source of disappointment. But we've been having conversations on human sexuality for some time, and learned to disagree in ways that are charitable."

Bennison, who as a seminary professor in the 1990s organized some of the Episcopal Church's earliest seminars on same-sex marriage, said he did not expect passage of the rite to be nearly as controversial as the 2003 ordination of the Rev. Gene V. Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

After the New Hampshire diocese elected the openly gay Robinson by a wide margin, the House of Bishops approved the appointment, and the denomination's presiding bishop joined in his consecration.

Robinson's ordination outraged Anglican bishops in Africa, Asia and South America, however, and provoked nearly half the parishes in the Pittsburgh diocese to quit the Episcopal Church in 2008. They have since formed the Anglican Church in North America, which claim 1,000 conservative congregations and 100,000 members in the United States and Canada.

For Bennison and many other Episcopalians who advocate for gay ordination and marriage rights, however, the biblical injunctions against homosexuality are important — but not the final word.

"We have (biblical) texts that endorsed slavery, but nobody today believes that slavery is the will of God," he said. "So there's continuing revelation" about notions of right and wrong.

"That doesn't mean we can make up anything we want to," he said, "but the authority to accept what scripture means lies in the community of believers."

©2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer; Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com ; Distributed by MCT Information Services

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