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Diocese considers gay issues

Tony LaRussa

Leaders from the 77 parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will consider six resolutions Saturday aimed at getting the national church to reverse its recent decisions approving a gay man as a bishop and blessing same-sex unions.

Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan calls the event “a defining moment,” because the special convention of clerical and lay deputies will be the first in the diocese’s 138-year history to deal with issues beyond the election of a bishop.

“It is a moment that doesn’t allow people to sit on the fence anymore,” Duncan said. “It’s tragic, but it’s necessary, because the present sexual and cultural agenda is so foreign to Christian tradition and the witness of holy Scripture.”

But the Rev. Harold T. Lewis, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside, said the bishop’s actions are counter-productive.

“It’s no longer an issue of human sexuality, but rather authority,” said Lewis, who supports the church’s progressive wing. “He should be about the business of building up the body of Christ and not dismantling it.”

Lewis said he believes Duncan’s actions are “tragic because the proposed convention is an event which is not only unnecessary, but mean-spirited and ill-conceived.”

Duncan and other officials in the diocese have drafted six resolutions asking local church leaders to reject the decisions made in August at the Episcopal Church USA’s 74th General Convention in Minneapolis.

During that convention, representatives of the nation’s 2.3 million Episcopalians approved the consecration of the Rev. Gene Robinson, a divorced priest living in a same-sex relationship, as bishop of New Hampshire. The convention’s delegates also approved a measure that allows blessing ceremonies for same-sex unions.

Lewis said the church provides room for dissent, and that Duncan simply could have limited his action to dissociating himself from the Diocese of New Hampshire in the same way he dissociated himself from the Diocese of Delaware last year when it voted unilaterally to approve same-sex blessings.

Officials with the Pittsburgh diocese said they hope the convention will help lay the groundwork for returning the national church’s official teachings to orthodoxy.

“The purpose of the special convention is to reject the un-biblical, anti-ecumenical and unconstitutional actions of the recent general convention,” Duncan wrote in a letter to local clergy.

Duncan also is calling for international church leaders to stop funding the national church for embracing what he calls an “extraordinary departure” from Scripture and tradition.

Measures approved at the local convention will be presented Oct. 7-9 at a national meeting of the American Anglican Council in Dallas. Duncan serves as first vice president of the council, which is leading the effort to return the church to orthodoxy.

That meeting will precede an international gathering of the Anglican Communion in London, Oct. 15 and 16, called by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to deal with the rift in the church over sexuality issues. Williams is the spiritual leader of the world’s nearly 80 million Anglicans.

Lewis questions whether the Pittsburgh convention has the right to pass — much less enforce — the resolutions that are being proposed.

“A bridge club may pass a resolution that diamonds outrank spades, but that doesn’t make it so,” he said. “A diocesan convention is not empowered to declare General Convention actions null and void. A diocese that is canonically bound to support the national church structure cannot arbitrarily refuse to do so.”

The Rev. Canon Mary Maggard-Hays, a spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh diocese, estimates that roughly 75 percent of the parishes in the 11 counties covered by the Pittsburgh diocese are in the conservative camp, and that outside the United States, theological orthodoxy is the dominant position among Episcopalians. The diocese has 20,000 members.

“This convention will help others know that this isn’t some little cranky group that just doesn’t like what happened at (the) convention,” Hays said. “This is a group made up of a substantial portion of stable Christians who are heartbroken over the direction their church is heading. These are people who believe that it is inappropriate to call something good that Scripture calls sinful.”

The resolutions


Following is a synopsis of the six resolutions to be considered Saturday during a special convention called in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh:

Resolution 1

  • Affirms that the General Convention departed from its constitution in approving the Rev. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire, and permitting same-sex blessings, and holds these acts to be “null and void, and of no effect, in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.”

    Resolution 2

  • Asks for intervention in the “pastoral emergency created by the apostasy” by the General Convention. The resolution asks that the international leaders of the church recognize the orthodox position as the “legitimate expression” of the Episcopal Church in the United States.

    Resolution 3

  • Seeks to establish a mechanism by which orthodox congregations and members of the clergy can be served across diocesan boundaries by a bishop who is “committed to historic faith and order.”

    Resolution 4

  • Recommits the church to its missionary activities in and outside the boundaries of the diocese, while exempting local churches from sending money to the national church. It instead would be diverted to church organizations that “uphold and propagate the historic faith.”

    Resolution 5

  • Allows congregations that do not agree with the actions of the special convention to withhold funding from the diocese and seek alternative episcopal oversight.

    Resolution 6

  • Shifts ownership of church buildings and other assets from the diocese to individual churches.


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