Episcopalians Not Ready to Swallow 'Bitter Pill'

Conversations over the issue of homosexuality are not going away within the Anglican churches, said the U.S. Episcopal head on Friday. But all the while, the U.S. church body believes it has a gift that it does not want to let go of.

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori spoke to church leaders at the Episcopal Church Center in New York saying that the Anglican Communion has given them a "hard and bitter pill" for them to swallow as to whether to remain in full communion with the worldwide denomination or become autonomous in its stance of fully supporting homosexual ordination and the blessing of same-sex unions.

"It's an enormous cost and price that's being asked of us," Schori told Episcopal leaders, "and I don't think we can or should pay that price." Schori supports the full inclusion of homosexuals.

In a communiqué released at the conclusion of a global Anglican meeting on Monday, the Episcopal Church was given until Sept. 30 to pledge unequivocally not to consecrate another gay bishop or approve an official prayer service for blessing same-sex couples. The majority of the Anglican bishops believe the Episcopal Church has violated the official teaching of the Communion when it consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2003. And although the American arm of Anglicanism expressed regret for "straining the bonds of affection," it did not apologize for the ordination that many say "damaged" relationships in the Communion.

Debates over homosexuality have gone on for decades, as Schori pointed out, and "God keeps bringing it back to us," she said. But she hopes conversations will continue as they have served as "a container" for the Communion. "My encouragement is that we might be able to see it as a container – that the structures that are proposed are really an invitation to hold this conversation and continue to hold it with people who don't want to talk to each other."

When the Anglican Communion came out with its communiqué this week, giving the Episcopal Church an ultimatum, conservative Anglicans praised the "clear" declaration that came out of decades of conversation. The document upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage, Bishop Martyn Minns, head of a conservative Anglican group in North America mentioned.

Some Episcopal leaders have already expressed that they would sever ties with the Anglican Communion over "abandoning" homosexuals, as the Rt. Rev. Mark Sisk, bishop of New York, said.

And the Episcopal head recognized that many people in the U.S. body, going along with American culture, say, "Who are they (Anglican Communion) to tell us what to do?"

"We were born in revolution and we retain a lot of that sentiment," said Schori. But if they leave the Communion, Schori believes they would be losing the "advantage" of being able to "challenge" views expressed by other Anglican primates in regards to homosexuals.

It is one of the Episcopal Church's "gifts," Schori said, to help change other people's understanding about gay and lesbian Christians.

Although affirming that homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture, the Anglican Communion has at the same time called for the pastoral care to all people, regardless of sexual orientation, and has also committed to "listen to the experience of homosexual persons."

Still, the majority of Anglicans worldwide say they are "determined to stand on the truth of the Holy Scriptures and is not willing to abandon such a stand despite enormous pressure from The Episcopal Church," said Minns, missionary bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.

Schori announced Friday that the Executive Council will have a conversation in March and Episcopal dioceses across the nation will convene over the summer on the identity of Anglicanism.

For now, this is a "fully heavy time" for the Episcopalians, Schori recognized, but "what better way to start Lent."