The world's Anglican bishops voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to endorse a resolution declaring homosexual activity to be "incompatible with Scripture" and advising against the ordination of homosexuals.
The resolution, adopted by a vote of 526-70, represented a victory for an international group of conservative bishops, particularly those from the fast-growing Anglican churches in Africa and Asia. The resolution was passed at the Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade gathering of the leaders of Anglican churches representing 73 million Anglicans in 160 nations.In their resolution, the leaders of the Anglican Communion said they believed marriage was a lifelong union of a man and a woman and opposed priests' blessing of same-sex unions. But they also said that Anglican leaders wanted to assure homosexuals "that they are loved by God." The resolution also condemned an "irrational fear" of homosexuals.
The strength of the vote shows that the leadership of the Anglican Communion stands to the right of the American branch, the 2.4 million-member Episcopal Church, on issues relating to homsexuality.
Although the resolution is non-binding, it lends support to conservative Episcopal bishops, who have failed for a decade to block their more liberal colleagues from ordaining gay men and lesbians. Of long-term importance to the Anglican Communion, the resolution signals the rise in influence of bishops from Africa and Asia, where churches have grown exponentially during the past decade.
Most mainline Protestant churches in the United States continue to struggle with how to handle the issue of homosexuality - whether to endorse same-sex unions and ordain homosexuals to leadership positions.
But there are exceptions. Both the Catholic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have long been on record opposing same-sex unions. And during their recent convention in Salt Lake City, Southern Baptists affirmed a family statement as part of their Baptist Faith and Message that specifically who have eschewed homosexual unions.
Anglicans aren't the only ones grappling with the issue in formal leadership meetings this week.
Methodists across the country are watching and praying this week as their church's highest judicial body meets in Dallas to consider the question of homosexual marriage.
Some pray that tradition will hold. Others pray for change.
All agree the direction of the United Methodist Church is on the line when its Judicial Council meets to consider whether church guidelines prohibiting same-sex marriages are legally binding.
"If they rule that this is a chargeable offense under the Social Principles, that will reflect a blow to those who support the rights of gay and lesbian persons," said Kathryn Johnson, executive director of the Methodist Federation for Social Justice. "It is a very important decision."
A section of the church guidelines, known as the Social Principles, states: "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."
Last year, the Rev. Jimmy Creech of Omaha, Neb., performed a ceremony uniting a lesbian couple. He said he didn't think he was breaking church law because he interpreted the principles only as guidelines, but was charged with disobedience and tried before church peers.
Creech was acquitted in March; however, he was not renewed as pastor at his church. He plans to argue before the Judicial Council that the guidelines are not legally binding.
Meanwhile, many African and Asian bishops at the Lambeth Conference have also taken positions on sexual issues that have made allies of the more conservative bishops in England, Australia and the United States.
Several African and Asian bishops have called for a clear statement against homosexuality if they are to continue effective evangelical work in their socially conservative societies.