Many denominations continue to experience internal strife and even splintering over the issues of same-sex blessing and ordination of homosexual leaders.
In May, the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest voted unanimously to withdraw from the 1.5-million-member American Baptist Churches USA because that denomination has not enforced a resolution that states “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
In Connecticut, six Episcopal priests blasted Anglican leaders for refusing to hear their petition against a liberal U.S. bishop. The conservative pastors, known as the “Connecticut Six,” say they have “extreme theological disputes” with their bishop, Rev. Andrew Smith. The dispute started when Smith supported the 2003 election of openly gay Bishop V. Eugene Robinson in New Hampshire, an event that has pushed the worldwide Anglican Communion to the edge of schism.
Meanwhile, Anglican leader Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has proposed a plan that could force the Episcopal Church in the United States to renounce gay bishops and same-sex marriage, or to give up full membership in the 77- million-member Communion. According to the New York Times, the Communion would develop a “shared theological covenant.” Churches that agree with that covenant would remain members of the Communion. If the Episcopal Church does not, it would become an associate member, without decision-making status.
The Puerto Rican branch of the United Church of Christ has voted to break from the American church because of “discomfort” over the denomination’s liberal stance on sexuality issues, according to a UCC news release.
The Iglesia Evangelica Unida de Puerto Rico voted during its annual assembly in June to formally dissolve the union between the two churches, which stretched back to 1961. “The news . . . is deeply and profoundly disappointing,” said Rev. John Thomas, general minister and president of the UCC. The UCC voted in 2005 to support civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples, which angered the church’s small conservative minority.
The issue was also on the agenda of the Reformed Church in America at its synod, held in Iowa in June. A group of West Michigan churches wanted to halt a three-year dialogue that was launched last summer, wanting clarification that the discussion will not lead to viewing the gay lifestyle as morally acceptable. “It’s suspected by many that the intent of the dialogue is to do that,” said Rev. Steve Hemmeke, pastor of North Blendon Reformed Church near Hudsonville, Mich.
Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, RCA general secretary, said, “It’s always possible to get nuances and new perspectives” through discussion, but changing the church’s position on the practice of homosexuality is not the intent of the dialogue. Delegates voted to continue the dialogue.
And the Presybterian Church (USA), at its recent General Assembly, adopted a compromise position, one that many see as contradictory. It kept in place national standards against ordaining non-celibate gay and lesbian persons. But at the same time, it gave more leeway to local presbyteries in how those standards would be applied.
According to Presbyterians for Renewal, an evangelical group within the PC (USA), the mandated requirements of ordination have been made optional. “Sessions and presbyteries have been allowed to treat the Seventh Commandment as ‘not essential,’” the group stated on its website. “The consequences of the decision of this General Assembly throw our denomination into crisis.”