Episcopalians Welcome Gays, but Tie Sex to Marriage Bishops' Draft Document Emphasizes Lifelong Unions

Article excerpt

U.S. Episcopal bishops have drafted a pastoral statement that welcomes homosexuals, but at the same time says sex is reserved for heterosexual marriages.

In a fourth draft of a proposed document on sexuality, the bishops ask the church to uphold the ideal of lifelong faithful unions for both heterosexual and homosexual couples, and to greet gays and lesbians with hospitality rather than hostility.

"As it can be for heterosexual persons, the experience of steadfast love can be for homosexual persons an experience of God," the draft says. At the same time, the document stops short of advocating changes in church law on the issues of gay ordinations or the blessing of same-sex unions.

The dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, Bishop William Frey, says: "The nicest thing I can say is that parts of it remind me of theology by Oprah and Donahue. In its present form, it would be the most embarrassing document the bishops have ever produced."

A fifth draft by a committee of eight bishops and six members of the House of Deputies is expected to be circulated to all the bishops in a few weeks. Committee members would not comment on the contents of the final draft but said it would not shake up the church.

"It's not going to be a particularly radical document," said Bishop Frank Allan of Atlanta. "If people want to get titillated by it, they can get titillated by something else."

Last fall, when an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America committee on sexuality released a draft statement urging members to challenge traditional biblical condemnations of homosexuality, a backlash erupted. The denomination appointed an advisory panel and assured church members that any official policy would stand on biblical foundations and the confessional tradition of the church.

To try to avoid the Lutherans' fate, the Episcopal bishops had decided to keep the document confidential until the denomination's General Convention beginning Aug. 24 in Indianapolis. But the fourth draft of the report was released by Episcopalians United, a conservative group.

The Rev. Todd Wetzel, the group's executive director, said: "Several bishops and laity from the theological left and right have questioned this clandestine process. It seems the only people pleased with this secrecy are those who have the most to gain from it."

In the Episcopal Church, the denomination's legislative body has declared both that homosexuals are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other people on the church and that physical sexual expression is appropriate only within the lifelong, monogamous union of husband and wife. …