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Four prominent theologians, including the pastor of Birmingham, Ala.'s largest Episcopal church, have nationally distributed a letter opposing rituals for same-sex unions, an issue that Episcopalians may vote on this year. The Reverend Paul Zahl, dean of the 3,800-member Cathedral Church of the Advent, signed the position paper, saying the Episcopal Church General Convention has no authority to approve blessings for same-sex couples. "We would recognize such an exceptional action as being unconstitutional," Zahl said. The theological statement lobbies against the idea of adopting same-sex union rituals. "It flies in the face of the univocal teaching of Hebrew and Christian scripture," Zahl said. "It would involve disagreeing fundamentally with the vast majority of Anglican Christians worldwide." The document also devotes a long passage to persuading Episcopalians to stay in the church even if such rituals are adopted. "We're working with the church; we very much want to be part of the mainstream church," Zahl said. "The purpose is to convince people to hang in there and not to panic. We want to convince people to stay in the church. The big river of history and the holy Bible is on this side and not the other." The Episcopal Church General Convention, a governing body of bishops, priests, and lay delegates that meets every three years, will likely consider the issue of same-sex unions when it meets July 30-August 8 in Minneapolis. Zahl, R.R. Reno of Creighton University, Christopher Seitz of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and retired Yale Divinity dean Philip Turner, all of the group Scholarly Engagement With Anglican Doctrine, sent out the letter, dated January 6. The theologians worked on the treatise for about a year, Zahl said. He said the letter has been sent to every delegate to the convention as well as to the archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which includes the U.S. Episcopal Church. At its convention in 2000, the Episcopal Church narrowly rejected a call to develop a ritual that could be used for same-sex unions. The lay and clerical delegates from the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama voted against such rites. Nationally, the vote had a majority among clergy but less than a majority among lay delegations; it required a majority from both to pass. Three years later it's widely expected that the church will vote again on such rites.