Episcopalians in Cape gauge gay bishop's impact

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

Whether or not members of the local Episcopal Church agree with the ordination of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire, the church's rector says the matter is bound to have some effect on their congregation.

"It's a political issue for our country, and for our government and for our president and for the church in this country," said the Rev. Bob Towner, rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Cape Girardeau.

All the major nominations are dealing with the issue of gays in the church, he said, and it's not going away.

In recent weeks, the Episcopal Church has gained national attention for its ordination of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, who is a divorced father of two and has been living with his same-sex partner for 13 years.

Robinson was elected as bishop of the New Hampshire diocese in June and got the approval of delegates at the Episcopal General Convention Tuesday. The vote by the House of Bishops, the last step in his ordination process, was delayed Monday after allegations of misconduct and abuse were made. The allegations were investigated but unfounded, church officials said Tuesday.

Passing judgment

Sue Balsamo, a member of the local Episcopal congregation, said it's hard for her to pass judgment on a man who is called to be a bishop.

"We're talking about someone I don't know," she said.

But Balsamo said she does know this: Homosexuality is in all denominations, and churchgoers can't move from one to another to avoid the issue.

During a meeting in mid-June, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution urging its members to begin "speaking the truth about homosexuality" and to minister to homosexuals. Baptists believe that homosexuality as a lifestyle choice is sinful, according to biblical teachings.

"We are not at liberty to renegotiate the teaching of Scripture," said Bill Merrell, vice president for convention relations for the SBC executive committee, during a June press conference in Phoenix.

United Methodists and Presbyterians also have debated the issue and whether or not to bless same-sex unions. Neither denomination will ordain a practicing homosexual.

When the Metropolitan Community Church was founded in the late 1960s, it was supposed to be a temporary home for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals.

"The idea was that eventually the churches would accept people of different sexualities," said Neal Zeilinger, pastor of the Cape Girardeau congregation.

That didn't happen.

"I'm hoping that people will eventually accept gay and lesbians theologically," Zeilinger said. "God made diversity in the human condition, and it's a good thing."

Decade of debate

The Episcopal Church has been wrestling with the issue of homosexual ordination for an entire decade, Towner said. He has attended four previous Episcopal General Conventions.

Robinson's ordination is expected to have little direct effect on Missouri. The General Convention has the final say on issues of policy and doctrine for the church.

"We've been openly discussing this for the biblical, theological, pastoral and practical aspects," Towner said of the Episcopal Church at large.

In Cape Girardeau's congregation, which has about 100 members, there are a variety of responses about what is appropriate. The Episcopal Church in eastern Missouri includes 49 congregations in 54 counties of the state.

Towner said people on both sides of the issue are trying to remain faithful Christians.

"We feel there are more pressing and more urgent messages for us found in the Bible," he said. "Jesus never mentioned this subject. What he did talk about was prayer and healing and money and sin and forgiveness."


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