Delegates to the church's triennial General Convention, meeting herethrough Thursday, rejected a resolution on Friday night askingfor guidance on the "sin of heterosexism"--the preference and powergiven to straight people at the expense of gays and lesbians.
The measure failed in the church's House of Deputies, comprised ofmore than 800 church lay members and clergy, and will not go for a votein the 200-member House of Bishops.
The Rev. Gayle Harris, pastor of St. Luke and St. Cimon CyreneEpiscopal Church in Rochester, N.Y., said the church is already dividedinto too many factions, and delegates were hesitant to create morelabels.
"I think people are afraid of labels and don't want to be put intocategories that are negative," Harris said. "The reality is that thereis racism and racists, and elitism and elitists, but I think there wassome fear that this would further divide the church by labeling."
Admitting to the sin of heterosexism would have been a first for amajor Christian denomination. Almost every Christian body is polarizedby the issue of homosexuality and the role of gays and lesbians in thechurch, but few--including the liberal-leaning Episcopal Church--arewilling to admit they are guilty of favoring heterosexuals over gays andlesbians.
In a special committee formed to handle all sexuality-relatedissues, delegates drafted a resolution that asked for guidance onheterosexism when the church meets again in 2003. Heterosexism isdefined as "a systematic form of injustice in which heterosexual personsare advantaged economically, societally...at the expense of homosexualpersons."
The admission would have placed heterosexism on the same level asinstitutional and personal discrimination based on race, gender orclass. Before it was defeated, delegates first rejected the idea ofheterosexism as a "sin."
Supporters cast the measure as a major, mostly symbolic step, evenfor a church that has long been open to gays and lesbians and in someareas ordains them as ministers and blesses same-sex unions.
"Anything that divides us from one another, and thus from God, issinful," said Bishop Chester Talton, a suffragan bishop in Los Angeles.
While sweeping in its theological implications, the measure was alsoparticularly significant as the church prepares to debate whether tocreate special services that will bless same-sex unions. Currently, thatdecision is left up to local bishops and dioceses, and a church reportlargely recommends to maintain the status quo. Changes to the report,however, could be made by the end of the convention.
There was major concern, however, that calling "heterosexism" a sinwould unfairly label heterosexuals as biased against gays and lesbians.Supporters said there was a distinction between individual heterosexistsand the predominant culture that excludes gays and lesbians.
"Being heterosexual in and of itself is not a sin, but its theexercise of inordinate power of one group over another that is sinful,"Talton said. "And all of this is about unearned power."
While the church refused to create an additional category ofwrongdoing--and by extension, wrong-doers--Harris said the churchstill needs to face its problems.
"It's not going to go away just because we refuse to use the word,"she said.