ANAHEIM, Calif. — Russell Randle and J.P. Causey are both lawyers, both Virginians, and both longtime Episcopalians.
They have visited each other’s homes, served on church committees together, and when Randle wrote a book on environmental law, he sent a signed copy to Causey, his friend of 15 years.
But the two men, gathered here this week for their denomination’s General Convention, have sharp disagreements on some of the most prominent issues facing the Episcopal Church, particularly those related to human sexuality.
For instance, Causey voted for a resolution that allows gay men and lesbians to become bishops; Randle voted against it. “And we are still friends,” one of them wrote in a note sent from the floor of the House of Deputies, where they are among the 830 lay and clergy delegates voting on church policy.
The resolution that lifted a de facto ban on gay bishops passed by a nearly 3-to-1 margin on Tuesday (July 14), despite warnings that it would threaten unity with sister churches in the wider Anglican Communion.
But the resolution’s overwhelming margin of victory served clear notice that liberal Episcopalians are gaining ever more ground, especially since four dioceses and dozens of parishes seceded in recent years to form a conservative alternative to the Episcopal Church.
(Episcopal bishops are expected to take up a resolution on developing rites to bless same-sex unions, another move expected to anger other Anglicans, many of whom believe homosexuality is sinful and
The shift has been most keenly felt in the two men’s Virginia diocese, which has long been known as a place where liberals and conservatives can disagree without “marching off and denouncing each other,” said the Rev. Robert Prichard, a professor at Virginia Theological Seminary and a convention delegate.
Yet that elasticity has been tested, as 11 conservative parishes — including two large, historic churches — have seceded and joined the rival Anglican Church in North America. Like the Episcopal Church at large, the diocese has tilted to the left after the defections, according to some members.
Causey, 66, who has been a delegate to the last nine General Conventions, said that after decades of debate over homosexuality, it was time for the Episcopal Church to “get off the fence and move on.”
“It’s difficult for me to justify delaying further in moving forward in accepting the consecration of gay bishops who are suitably moral in their relationships,” said Causey, who lives in West Point, Va..
As for scriptural arguments against homosexuality, Causey said, “I am persuaded that that current understanding of homosexuality, and how it occurs and how relationships exist, is not descriptive of what the understanding was in Jesus’ time.”
Randle, who lives in Arlington, about 150 miles north of Causey, said he worries about the “serious strains” between Anglicans ever since openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson was elected in New Hampshire in 2003.
The 53-year-old Randle is an honorary lay canon in the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, where he has helped build the cathedral, organized relief efforts and used his legal acumen to review sanctions levied against Sudan’s secular leaders.
The Episcopal Church in the Sudan is critical to fighting government persecution and getting international aid to needy families — efforts that may be at risk as Episcopalians adopt evermore progressive policies on homosexuality, Randle said.
“They are under great pressure from the other African provinces to cut ties with the Episcopal Church over issues of sexuality,” Randle said. After Robinson’s consecration, several African provinces declared themselves out of communion with Episcopalians, refusing to even take relief aid from the U.S. church.
“If we care what our baptism means, we have to stand up for people in persecution,” Randle said. “For us to abandon them is the highest form of cowardice.”
Episcopalians were the driving force behind forming the Anglican Communion in the mid 1800s, said Prichard. But now, some are saying the communion has changed so much, particularly with the ascendance of conservative, powerful archbishops in Africa, they question whether to remain members.
Causey said he does not want to “compromise my beliefs on sexuality to be a part of a group that I’m not sure I want to be a part of.”
“They have beliefs and a polity and structure — namely, authoritarian bishops — that do not fit with my view of what an Episcopalian and Christian ought to be in the 21st century,” he said.
By DANIEL BURKE
c. 2009 Religion News Service
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