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Anglicans to vote
on issues regarding gays and lesbians

Anglicans to vote
on issues regarding gays and lesbians

The Church of England's assembly on Wednesday affirmed existing teaching that a homosexual orientation is no bar to full participation in the church but avoided the fractious debate within the Anglican Communion about accepting gay sexual relationships.

A motion approved nearly unanimously by the church's governing General Synod disposed of language including a commitment to "respect the patterns of holy living to which lesbian and gay Christians aspire," but affirmed "that homosexual orientation in itself is no bar to a faithful Christian life or in full participation to lay and ordained ministry."

Bishop Michael Perham of Gloucester had urged the synod not to take a side in the debate about whether people in gay relationships can be good Christians or, as in the U.S. Episcopal Church, serve as bishops.

"This is not the moment--it is very clearly the wrong moment to shift our formal position and give any sense of winners and losers on an issue on which we are finding it hard to reach consensus," Perham said.

John Ward, a gay member of the synod who supported the amended version, had asked the assembly "to affirm the place of dialogue about lesbian and gay Christians in a safe place."

"Some people at the synod are afraid to sit next to me," said Ward, whose voice trembled at times during the debate.

The Reverend Mary Gilbert, who sponsored the original motion, said she was happy with the outcome as creating "an open, careful listening process about the issue of lesbian and gay Christians."

A second motion, taking a firm line against civil partnerships of gays, was on the afternoon agenda.

The morning vote followed two hours of emotional debate between liberal and evangelical members of the General Synod.

Liberals emphasized that Anglicans must support gay Christians, who they said are an important part of the Church of England, and oppose any homophobia they face.

Evangelicals unsuccessfully tried to halt the debate with two procedural motions that were voted down. Some said Scripture was clear that only sex between married, heterosexual couples is permissible; others argued that being gay should be defined as a choice, not a natural condition determined by genetic makeup.

In a statement two years ago the bishops said they would not inquire into the nature of the relationship between lay people in civil partnerships, and that priests were not excluded from such bonds.

Perham said the church is at a delicate moment, following the meeting of Anglican leaders earlier this month in Tanzania, which included Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

The leaders gave the U.S. Episcopal Church until September 30 to pledge unequivocally not to consecrate another gay bishop or approve an official prayer service for blessing same-sex couples. If that promise is not made, the Episcopal Church could face a much reduced role in the Anglican world.

The global Anglican Communion has 77 million members, and they have spent years debating how Scripture should be interpreted on salvation, truth, and sexuality.

In a speech to the General Synod in London on Monday, Williams said, "The public perception, as we've been reminded by several commentators in the last week or so, is that we are a church obsessed with sex. It feels as though we are caught in a battle very few want to be fighting." (Thomas Wagner, AP)

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