The Episcopal Church--often described as the American Establishment at prayer--is holding its General Convention in Minneapolis for the next 10 days. The biggest debates will be about sex. Indeed, the disagreements over sex threaten to shatter not only the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church, but the 75 million-member Anglican Communion.

What's really odd is that many of the bishops and deputies at the convention seem to be doing everything to avoid actually talking about sex. For the largely comfortable elites that comprise the Episcopal Church, talking about sex isn't, well, proper.

The debate will take two forms. First will be the vote on whether or not to confirm the election of an openly homosexual bishop. Second will be a vote on whether or not to develop liturgies for same-sex unions. Yet the resolution to authorize development of liturgies for same-sex unions doesn't mention homosexuality, gay or lesbian, or, in fact, sex at all. It calls for liturgies to "support all couples living in life-long committed relationships of mutuality and fidelity outside the relationship of marriage."

The pro-homosexual activists want a debate over identity, not behavior. Sexuality is treated simplistically, as something you are born with. If a woman is attracted to another woman, "that's the way God made her." What is ignored is the obvious reality that sexuality is more complicated--a product of nature and nurture, influenced by family, social factors, and even personal habits and choices.

In fact, the left's anthropology reduces humanity to pre-programmed robots. In their view, it is unthinkable that men and women could display self-discipline to control their sexual urges--and cruel for the church to teach that it is possible.

Take, for example, Canon Gene Robinson, an apparently genial priest whom the Episcopalians of New Hampshire want to be their bishop. Robinson married and fathered two daughters. Then, according to his supporters' story line, he realized his "true" identity. So "integrity" led him to leave his marriage and take a male partner.

This isn't an unfamiliar tale in our society. A man marries and has children. At some point, he realizes that he isn't satisfied with that marriage--with his life, or his wife, or even with this sex life. So, he breaks his marriage vows, walks away from his family, and finds his sexual satisfaction elsewhere. At this point, does it matter if he found himself a trophy wife or a boyfriend? Either way, I find myself wondering, "Why should this man be a bishop? Is this a godly example that bishops are supposed to offer?"

Episcopalians may want to ignore the nitty-gritty of sex, but it's next to impossible to be so oblivious in our society. We are surrounded by sexual images, from our entertainment to advertising to e-mail spam. These images tell us that everyone has a right to sexual satisfaction, that you can't really be human without it. Fidelity in a life-long marriage or celibacy outside of marriage are not just difficult, but impossible, for most people.

The Church's action on this issue has direct impact on America's disintegrating family life. My teenage godchildren attend the Episcopal Church. Their parents work hard to help these young people in their moral development. They want their children to be capable of self-discipline, to be physically and emotionally healthy, and to embrace purity and holiness. Most of all, they want them to grasp the ideal of Christian marriage.

Why can't the Church be the one institution in this society that will stand with parents? No one else will. Parents certainly can't turn to the government or politicians, to the schools, the entertainment media, the fashion world, corporate advertisers or anyone else. Is it really too much to ask for the Church to stand with families in upholding and defending marriage?

I'll admit that sex debates in the Episcopal Church are about more than sex. They are about the Christian gospel message and the unity of the Church.

Christians have always understood human frailty. We are all sinners, "born that way." But the truly good news of the gospel is that Christ redeems us from sin. By the power of the Holy Spirit we can live transformed lives, liberated from the bondage of sin. This gospel affirms human dignity--the freedom to be what we were truly created to be.

But how do we know what we are created to be? The Creator has told us. How does God tell us? Through Holy Scripture. And how do we rightly understand Scripture? One crucial way is by listening to the witness of the whole Church--throughout history and today.

The message of the universal Christian Church on marriage and human sexuality is crystal clear. It's not simply the teaching of the largest churches--Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical. It's also the other more liberal "mainline" Protestant churches--most of whom have laws prohibiting what the Episcopal Church is considering.

As important to Episcopalians is the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church represents less than 4% of the global Anglican Communion. Yet liberal revisionists in the Episcopal Church are set to thumb their noses at the rest of the Church.

The really nasty little secret of the Episcopal left is the thinly veiled contempt that the hard-line pro-homosexual activists have for the people of color in the Church in the Global South. Just before the last world-wide gathering of Anglican Bishops in 1998, Bishop John Spong dismissed African Christians as "just one step up from witchcraft, people who have moved out of animism into a very superstitious form of Christianity."

Today, some of Spong's American colleagues are confiding to reporters that the views of the 17 million-member Church of Nigeria are irrelevant to the American church. Some of these neo-isolationists are telling Archbishops from Africa and Asia to mind their own business. Ironically, it used to be the religious left who rightly urged American Christians to think globally and listen to our brothers and sisters abroad. But they want more compliant voices, not the uppity African archbishops they are getting.

Today in the Episcopal Church, it is conservatives and moderates who are listening to, and working with, their colleagues from the southern hemisphere. And it's conservatives who are willing to go beyond euphemistic platitudes about loving relationships or unions and talk about sex. They are willing to talk about what body parts go where, as well as about the appalling physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences of misusing the human body.

We are also willing to talk about sexual intercourse between a man and a woman--the very physical act that is at the heart of marriage, its "consummation." Sexual intercourse is intended as the expression of the very powerful physical force that bonds a man and a woman into the most essential, basic, and universal unit of human society. It ensures the propagation of the human race--and joins parents to the common task of rearing children. Ultimately, it creates a mystical one-flesh union between a man and a woman, a union in which two bodies, exquisitely designed precisely for one another, are joined in self-giving love and generous pleasure.

Is it too much to ask that the Church hold fast to that ideal and, by holding fast, preserve it for our children?

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