The head of the Episcopal Church issued a plea for unity to his fellow bishops Tuesday as the denomination prepares for a confrontation over gay issues that threatens to fracture the church. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold urged conservatives to remain part of the church whatever the outcome of the Episcopal General Convention, which starts July 30 in Minneapolis. "We cannot say to one another, 'I have no need of you,' " he wrote in his letter to church leaders. Delegates will decide whether to approve blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples and whether to ratify the election of the church's first openly gay bishop--the Reverend V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. In 1998, the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the U.S. member, approved a resolution calling gay sex "incompatible with Scripture."
Last Friday, 24 conservative bishops issued a letter warning that accepting same-sex ceremonies and confirming Robinson's election "would be unparalleled departures" from church teaching. The bishops said they were aligning themselves with Anglican leaders from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean who have been the most outspoken in condemning homosexuality--in some cases threatening to break with dioceses that elect gay bishops. Griswold said he realized how "disturbing" Robinson's election was to them but said Anglicans have a "sacred obligation" to stay together despite their disagreements.