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Issue divides Episcopalian

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Oak Harbor has gone public in its opposition to the election of a sexually active gay bishop at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church earlier this month in Minneapolis.

“We need to clearly inform people where we stand,” said the Rev. Carol Harlacher, rector of St. Stephen’s, on Wednesday.

Oak Harbor Episcopalians stand firmly against the Aug. 5 decision by national Episcopalian leaders to elect their first openly gay bishop, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, who will preside over the Diocese of New Hampshire.

Since that decision, Harlacher said members of her church have been questioned about it by others in the Oak Harbor community. In response, she describes the gay bishop decision as “a clear departure from biblical faith and the historic teachings of the Christian Church.”

St. Stephen’s will send a delegation to a meeting of the American Anglican Council Oct. 7-9 in Plano, Texas, where conservative churches will discuss what to do. “The Episcopal Church has been moving farther and farther away from biblical truth and we can no longer be seen as upholding actions that clearly have no biblical basis,” Harlacher said.

“To use the words of St. Paul, ‘God will not be mocked’. It is a grave time for the Episcopal Church.”

In Harlacher’s view, a gay orientation doesn’t preclude a person from church leadership positions, as long as he or she remains celibate. Robinson was once married to a woman with whom he had children. He left her for a man he has been living with since 1989, according to news reports.

Also at the Minneapolis convention, Episcopal church leaders approved a measure on blessing same-sex couples, but they rejected creating an official liturgy for gay ceremonies. Harlacher disagrees with any move toward approving gay marriage. Marriage, she said, “is a life-long commitment between a man and a woman.”

“The single person is called to be celibate,” Harlacher said. Gay unions are “not a lifestyle God has ordained.”

A quarter century ago, The Episcopal Church struggled with the issue of female priests, finally allowing them in 1976. Had that not happened, Harlacher could not be in her present position.

But Harlacher rejects any comparison between the plight of women and gays. “In Christ there is neither male nor female,” she said, again quoting St. Paul. “But Paul called homosexuality sin. The moral law didn’t change.”

Ironically, a man who voted for Episcopal women priests in 1976 now lives on Whidbey Island, where he is retired but still fills in for vacationing priests. When not busy elsewhere, Fletcher Davis attends St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Freeland.

“I have no authority to speak for St. Augustine’s,” Davis emphasized this week. But he gave his own opinion on the issues, based on his long career as a priest in this area at Medina, and before that in California.

Having filled in at a number of area Episcopal churches this summer, Fletcher said the general opinion among parishioners “is pretty different than what you’re getting from Carol (Harlacher),” who he described as a friend.

“Most are proud of their church for stepping up to bat on an issue that would be far easier to duck,” Davis said. The “big picture,” he said, is that “the kingdom of God is open to all people, rather than having to do certain things to qualify.” He doesn’t think it’s right to “draw the line at just being gay.”

Davis said the leaders at the Minneapolis convention did the right thing in approving the gay priest and blessing gay unions, but stopping short of approving gay marriage. “The balance impressed me,” he said. “Gay marriage is happening locally, but not with the full authority of the church.” He quoted a friend as saying, “We bless cars, boats and houses, why can’t we bless people?”

Davis recalled the divisive issue of women priests in 1976 when the side he favored prevailed over conservative opposition. “That was going to break the church, but it hasn’t done that,” he said.

Davis personally knows Robinson, and said the new bishop is in “an openly gay committed relationship.” This long-term commitment is important, Davis emphasized: “The church frowns on promiscuity wherever it happens.”

Harlacher said the upcoming convention in Texas could result in a split in the Episcopal church, either through a “dramatic realignment” or “constructive disengagement,” barring some reversal of the decision made in Minneapolis.

Fletcher hopes that the church survives this controversy intact, as it did in 1976 after women were approved as priests. While he admits a split is possible, he added, “It would be tragic if that happened.”

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