Bishops Move to Ease Concerns on Homosexuality Bishops in the Episcopal Church have crafted a document they hope will ease conservatives' concerns in the United States and abroad. In Africa and South America, which have the most active members in the worldwide Anglican Communion, bishops wanted a statement from the Americans about the direction of the church — and specifically on its views on homosexuality.
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Bishops Move to Ease Concerns on Homosexuality

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Bishops Move to Ease Concerns on Homosexuality

Bishops Move to Ease Concerns on Homosexuality

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Bishops in the Episcopal Church are working on a document that they hope will ease the concerns of conservatives in the U.S. and abroad. In Africa and South America, bishops want a statement from the Americans about the direction of the church, specifically its views on homosexuality.

NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty is in New Orleans, where the American bishops are meeting.

And Barbara, tell us what the bishops are working on.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Well, at this point, we don't know precisely. They're still voting on this document. But a lot of it has been leaked. Essentially, they're trying to thread the needle and hold onto their stand on homosexuality.

They're expected to say a couple of things. First, they'll urge the House of Bishops not to consecrate an openly gay bishop until the next big meeting in 2009. And that's not big news, by the way. Second, they won't create any rights or official language for same-sex blessings, even though many Episcopal priests across the country perform these blessings informally. There are some other parts, but those are the big two.

SIEGEL: And would that be enough to avoid a schism in the Episcopal Church?

HAGERTY: Well, Robert, we're really not going to know that for a while. It's going to depend, really, on how the African leaders react.

The person to watch is Peter Akinola, the archbishop of Nigeria. That's the largest church in the Anglican Communion with 17 million members. Now, if he is unhappy with this document, that may strengthen his resolve not to go to the 2008 Lambeth Conference - that's this big Anglican bishops meeting that occurs every 10 years. And he wouldn't go because the Americans would be there.

And we're going to have to see whether any other bishops do the same thing. If they do - if that happens, then what we're going to see is this fighting that's ripping apart the American church. It's going to begin to rip apart the worldwide church. In other words, the U.S. schism could be exported.

SIEGEL: In fact, haven't we seen a lot of reverse missionary action of conservative white churches aligning themselves with conservative foreign bishops?

HAGERTY: Yeah, we have. We've seen a lot of that. Africans and Latin Americans say they are bringing back the true faith to America. Obviously, the Episcopal leaders dismiss that. But I got to tell you, they are hopping mad about this situation. They say that these foreign bishops are staging an incursion and invading their territory.

And you know, there was a really fascinating scene today that kind of captured the situation. This morning, the bishops were invited to say which congregations in their diocese had left the American church and aligned themselves with the foreign bishop. And one bishop after another walked to the microphone and said, you know, we have a church that's going over to Nigeria or Uganda, or Kenya, or Rwanda, or Latin America.

Easily, 15 of them came to the microphone. And I know for a fact that other bishops - like Virginia, which has lost more than 15 congregations, they didn't see anything. So, this is a really big deal.

SIEGEL: But is that really a very large percentage of the American Episcopal Church or is it just a very noisy minority?

HAGERTY: Well, it is a noisy minority. And that's an excellent point. The unhappy conservatives probably only comes to two to about 10 percent of active members of the Episcopal Church. But the new trend is that more and more large, wealthy Evangelical churches are bailing - the ones that are growing. And they're agitating to have their own conservative province within the Episcopal Church. That could be, you know, that really could be a pipedream.

But today, a group of priests and bishops from 10 dioceses in the U.S. and Canada are meeting up in Pittsburgh, trying to figure out a way to form, essentially, a conservative Anglican church in America. One that may not have ties to the Episcopal Church but would still be in the larger worldwide communion. So, there is really a lot going on in the world of Christianity.

SIEGEL: On the one hand, this is an intramural Episcopal issue. On the other hand, it's not unique to the Episcopal Church that it's going on and all sorts of denominations, no?

HAGERTY: Absolutely. Pretty much all the main line denominations are wrestling with the homosexuality issue, you know, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Lutherans, you name it. So, they're all watching the Episcopal Church very, very carefully.

SIEGEL: Okay. Barbara, thank you.

HAGERTY: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty in New Orleans.

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