Saturday, October 30, 2004



The marriage debate

Hawaii Episcopalians seek to clarify
their policies concerning homosexuals

An issue before Hawaii's Episcopalians is literally "ripped from the headlines," and there is a threat that it could rip apart their international denomination.

People in other Christian churches have wrestled with it in various guises in recent years, and so will the Hawaii Episcopal Convention under way today:

» Do we ordain or prohibit homosexuals as clergy?

» Do we allow or ban or bless same-sex unions?

» What does the Bible say about this situation, which has existed throughout the centuries, hidden in a "don't ask, don't tell" social climate until the ecclesiastical closet door was swept open in light of modern ideas of democracy, minority rights and self-esteem?

A few countries or states have legalized same-sex unions. Congress this year debated the idea in terms of a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage. Eleven states have ballot questions seeking to define marriage as "one man, one woman."

Hawaii Episcopal Bishop Richard Chang told the Hawaii Episcopal Convention last night that he has already set a local task force in motion to study the issue of blessing same-sex relationships. The members are to come up with a process using "the theology and history of marriage, blessing, covenant and the life of commitments in a Christian community" by which the topic can be debated in smaller parish groups.

Also, delegates were told that a Thursday meeting at Holy Nativity Episcopal Church in Aina Haina will kick off a round of sessions around the state to discuss the Oct. 18 Windsor Report, in which the international Anglican Communion tries to rein in the American branch.

The report released in England responds to the action last year by Episcopal Church USA that approved elevation of a gay priest, who lives openly with his male partner, to the position of bishop. Also a concern of conservatives in the 77-million-member denomination was the decision of a Canadian diocese to bless same-sex unions.

Other national branches and several U.S. parishes have threatened to separate from the Anglican Communion because of the Americans' actions.

"I am among a majority of Christians worldwide who want to discuss the question," said Boyd Ready, a delegate from the North Shore Holy Cross parish, who entered a resolution on the subject, then sent letters to all delegates giving his view of the Windsor report.

"It's a vexed question," Ready said. "I'm not a rabble-rouser, but I believe when a debate is needed, face it." Ready said he voted yes at the 1999 local convention, which made an emotional affirmation that homosexuals were welcome and included in the church. He believes the debate needs to move forward beyond accepting a person no matter what sexual orientation to consideration of what lifestyle that implies and what the Bible has to say about it.

V. Gene Robinson officially became the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop after his investiture in New Hampshire in March.

Ready's resolution reflects his view: "Whereas the confirmation (of a gay bishop) is not pono (righteous) considering our long-held tradition that either marriage, or chastity, and no other, is the moral state of our natural physical desires for union with another human being, and that bishops are to be exemplary in this regard." He called for a task force, with membership balanced between differing points of view, to study the theology, scripture and writings of scholars and bring back a recommendation.

"I'm saying it's a church, not a social club," said Richard Dole, a delegate from Calvary Episcopal Church in Kaneohe, author of another resolution. "You would think, as part of the universal church, we would line up with Scripture. It's a very fundamental thing."

Dole's resolution calls for all resolutions and decisions made by the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii to "be consistent with Scripture and the Book of Common Prayer."

He wrote in his proposal: "The first goal of the proposed five-year plan is to 'convert our hearts to accept Jesus' Gospel message and to live in a deep relationship with God.' If we love God, we need to follow Jesus and his teachings. In other words, in order to create unity in the Church, we need to encourage conversion and transformation, based on Scripture."

Dole said he believes Jesus' words in the Gospel of Matthew are a definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.

When the argument over "what is Scripturally correct" is engaged, another view is that the gospels' broader themes of love, forgiveness and reconciliation override a few selected Bible passages.

The inclusive and conciliatory view was evident in Chang's address last night at St. Andrew's Cathedral, when he called for "transparency, open communication and respect of the other."

It was the theme in a letter last week from the Rev. Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of Episcopal Church USA:

"It is important to note here that in the Episcopal Church we are seeking to live the gospel in a society where homosexuality is openly discussed and increasingly acknowledged in all areas of our public life.

"There are those among us who perceive the fruit of the Spirit deeply present in the lives of gay and lesbian Christians, both within the church and in their relationships. However, other equally faithful persons among us regard same-gender relationships as contrary to Scripture.

"The report calls our Communion to reconciliation, which does not mean reduction of differences to a single point of view," Griswold told American Episcopalians.

The talk that goes on this weekend among 300 delegates at the island conference representing 6,000 Episcopalians will be echoed for a long time to come throughout the 77-million-member Anglican Communion.


Isle Episcopal convention
urges changes in church

Two measures about sexuality and Scriptures were among 20 resolutions on the agenda for action by the 300 delegates to the Hawaii Episcopal Convention.

A main topic was expected to be a five-year strategic plan for the diocese that tries to redirect resources and energy of the very structured church. Stimulating the interest and participation of youths is a key focus. Investing in the recruitment and education of clergy was another.

"There are a lot of groups that evolved over the years. ... It makes for a cumbersome structure," said the Rev. Elizabeth Zivanov, whose resolution called for changes that "streamline structure and enhance accountability."

"The current form of church organization is static ... (and) fails to consider 21st century issues of congregation development. This resolution is a nudge; it calls for using resources more wisely," said Zivanov, pastor of St. Clement's Episcopal Church.

Hawaii Episcopal Bishop Richard Chang told the convention, "We have been so busy making sure that we have enough for maintenance that we have been blind to the pains of our neighbors."

"A theology of scarcity has us believing that we don't have the resources necessary for doing the mission," Chang said in an opening address last night at St. Andrew's Cathedral.

Chang challenged delegates to make major changes, not just in restructuring the organization, but in personal spiritual development.

A resolution called for dedication to "holy habits" such as regular attendance at worship services and development of a disciplined spiritual life through private prayer and Bible study.

The church has considered itself "in transition" since 1969, when it went from mission territory with outside support to a domestic diocese, Chang said. "Thirty years of transition is long enough. It is time for accountability and responsibility.

"This is the year to raise the roof and blow down the walls so that a new diocese of Hawaii can be built."

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