No Room for Compromise

Christianity's integrity rides on how religious people deal with gay rights

In every Christian group in the world today, a deep, emotional debate about homosexuality threatens to tear faith communities apart.

The questions are provocative: Can openly gay men and lesbians be ordained? Can church leaders give official blessings to long-term homosexual relationships?

Religious people usually like to find common ground. But on this issue there can be no compromise: Those who believe homosexuality is sinful think they must battle what God abhors. Those who see an emerging definition of homosexuality as a normal, though minority, part of humanity believe they are fighting ignorance.

Whether the churches can live with this tension remains to be seen, since avoiding confrontation is the path their leaders usually choose to prevent schism. But as the battle continues, it's clear one side is winning--the side that believes homosexuality must be accepted in the church.

Clergy are publicly disobeying church hierarchies by ordaining homosexuals and blessing same-sex unions, while church studies reveal a new, progressive understanding of homosexuality.

The United Methodist Church is dealing with violent internal debate because some of its clergy--the Reverend Jimmy Creech in Nebraska, the Reverend Gregory Dell in Chicago, and the Reverend Donald Fado in Sacramento among them--have begun flouting the denomination's rules and blessing same-sex unions.

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Roman Catholics, whose church teaching is clearly opposed to homosexual activity, are discussing the issue openly--though not officially, for fear of reprisal by the hierarchy.

The Southern Baptist Convention--that most conservative of groups--responded to an attempt at liberalizing its viewpoint with a resolution calling homosexuality "sinful." But the fact that the convention took a stand at all means unanimity no longer exists in this group.

Even the Reverend Jerry Falwell met with a gay group in October and agreed to lower the decibel level of his hostile rhetoric.

My Episcopal Church began confronting this issue 20 years ago, when delegates to the General Convention voted down a progressive report dealing with homosexuality in the church. The next day, however, 21 Episcopal bishops announced they would not be bound by that rejection. And ever since, conservative attempts to discipline gay-friendly bishops have ended in failure. That suggests the Episcopal Church stands on the threshold of joining the Unitarian-Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ as the U.S. faith communities most open to gay and lesbian members.

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