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House of Bishops' statement draws mixed reactions: updated 09/28/07

[Episcopal News Service] Organizations and individuals representing differing viewpoints in the Episcopal Church have begun to respond to actions taken by the House of Bishops on the final day of their September 20-25 meeting in New Orleans.

Most of the responses are being made to the House of Bishops' statement, "A Response to Questions and Concerns Raised by Our Anglican Communion Partners."

House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, who attended the first four days of the House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans at the bishops' invitation, commended the statement as "rich and nuanced."

Diocesan bishops have also begun communicating with their laity and clergy about their reactions to the house's work. Most of those letters have been posted on individual diocesan websites. The range of responses includes bishops Mark Beckwith of Newark, Michael Curry of North Carolina, John-David Schofield of San Joaquin, and James Stanton of Dallas.

Integrity USA, an organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Episcopalians and their allies, said September 25 that it is "gratified that the final response from the House of Bishops declined to succumb to the pressure to go backwards, but rather took some significant steps forward."

Integrity President, the Rev. Susan Russell, said "the Episcopal Church is moving forward in faith" and that the response "will be received as a sign of great hope that we are committed to working through the hard ground of our differences."

She said that Integrity will work ahead of the 76th General Convention in 2009 for the repeal of General Convention Resolution B033 and the authorization of the development of a rite for blessing same-gender relationships.

The full statement is here.

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola rejected the bishops' response in a September 25 statement saying that the pleas of the Primates "have once again been ignored."

"The unequivocal assurances that we sought have not been given," Akinola said. "What we have is a carefully calculated attempt to win support to ensure attendance at the Lambeth Conference and continued involvement in the life of the Communion."

Akinola is one of the Anglican Communion's leading critics of the Episcopal Church. He has maintained that homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture and repeatedly called for the Episcopal Church to repent for its recent actions. He is among four Primates who have indicated their bishops may not attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

The Primate of Australia, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, said he felt the bishops had responded positively "to all the requests put to them by the Primates in our Dar es Salaam communiqué. Certainly they have responded to the substance of those requests.

Aspinall attended part of the House of Bishops meeting as a member of the Anglican Consultative Council and Primates Joint Standing Committee "to take part in conversation and discernment," a news release from the Anglican Church of Australia said.

He said he would now take time to "undertake careful analysis of the House of Bishops response" but acknowledged that his "initial reaction based both on my preliminary reading of the document itself and on my first-hand conversations with many of the bishops involved is that the House has responded positively to the substance of all the requests made by the Primates."

Three groups opposed to the direction of the Episcopal Church -- the American Anglican Council, the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, and Forward in Faith North America -- issued a joint statement September 26.

"Unfortunately, the [House of Bishops] has failed the Communion; their continued ambiguity, questioning of basic Christian beliefs, and rejection of obvious Scriptural teaching has widened the gap between them and biblical Christianity," they said.

Their statement compares the Primates' requests and the bishops' response, calling it "a carefully crafted response that appears to comply but actually maintains the status quo."

The complete statement is available here.

Changing Attitude Nigeria, a group representing LGBT persons, September 26 thanked the House of Bishops for their "positive response to the commitment made by Lambeth Resolution 1.10 and repeated by the Primates of the Communion in 2005 and 2007 to listen to the experience of GLBT people in every Province."

The complete statement is here.

"We understand how difficult it has been for the bishops to compromise over their weekend of discussions which have been conducted in the spirit of working to mend the tear in the fabric of the Anglican Communion which conservatives claim happened when bishop Gene Robinson was elected and consecrated," Davis Mac-Iyalla, director of Changing Attitude Nigeria, said in the statement.

He said the bishops' response also calls Akinola "to emulate the bishops of the Episcopal Church and start the listening process in the province of Nigeria which all the bishops have committed themselves to undertake."

"There is good news in the House of Bishops' response as well as some disappointment for LGBT Anglicans," the Rev, Colin Coward, director of Changing Attitude England, said in a September 26 statement.

"The House has reconfirmed the call on bishops to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and have pledged as a body not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions. The bishops have fulfilled the request made by the Primates in Dar es Salaam. If conservatives continue to press for the exclusion of the Episcopal Church, transgress Provincial boundaries and decide not to attend the Lambeth Conference in 2008, they will take responsibility for provoking a tear in the Anglican Communion and will have withdrawn from our fellowship."

The full statement is available here.

Oasis California, the LGBT ministry of the Diocese of California, September 25 through its president, Thomas Jackson, said that "on balance, we lost little ground in the bishops' actions."

"We gained the bishop's 'unequivocal support for civil rights for lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons;' support for including the church's only openly gay bishop in an upcoming Anglican council; and affirming LGBT people are part of this church," Jackson said. "These are important steps forward."

Jackson said the group is "disappointed the bishops made more explicit their intention to refuse to approve any 'non-celibate gay and lesbian persons' who are selected by a diocese to become a bishop,"

"By making their discrimination against gay or lesbian bishops more blatant, the bishops have simply set the stage for a reversal of this action at the Church's next General Convention in 2009."

The complete statement is available here.

Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP), a group of clergy and laity that opposes the efforts of Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan to lead the diocese away from the Episcopal Church, issued September 28 headlined "Bishops' response adequate, in inconsistent."

"Overall, the bishops resisted the temptation to assume more authority or power than granted by the constitution and canons of our church," observed Joan Gundersen, PEP president. "Not only did they affirm General Convention's expressed position in resolution B033, but their statements on same-sex blessings and affirmations of inclusion and rights for all people are consonant with the current status of these matters in General Convention."
 
The statement said that the episcopal visitors plan makes no provision for connecting to the wider Episcopal Church loyal Episcopalians in dioceses (such as Pittsburgh) where the leadership has requested a relationship with a primate other than Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

"Should our bishop accept an episcopal visitor, those of us who have been most vocal in support of our church would be isolated from it and subject to even less respect within our diocese than we are now," said PEP board member Lionel Deimel.
 
The full text of the statement is available here.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. Matthew Davies, editor of Episcopal Life Online, contributed to this story.

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