Intolerance of gays divides Episcopal Church

On the eve of Lent, leaders of the Anglican Church issued a stern edict to the Episcopal branch of the church: stop blessing same-sex unions and ordaining homosexual bishops or face the consequences. Now the Episcopal Church must decide whether the unity of the Anglican Communion or the rights of gays and lesbians is more important.

To me this would be a no-brainer, but I'm not an Episcopalian. I do empathize with the need to preserve the family ties, so to speak -- to do something that you don't want to do because in order to maintain some sort of artificial peace, you must. It's a bit like staying silent over a holiday dinner when your bigoted uncle says something incredibly sexist because your mother is giving you the look that says, "I want to punch him, too, but for the sake of our sanity, please ..."

But this isn't an offhand remark by the Anglican Communion about the evils of homosexuality. The Anglican Church's communiqué ranks at about the point in the holiday dinner when you've ignored your mother's warning glance, challenged your uncle's views, and, unless you admit that you are wrong and promise to amend your ways, he is about to kick you and your immediate family out of his house. Oh, and disinherit you and never speak to you again, naturally.

When is standing up for what you believe in worth the price? Episcopalians must ask themselves this question and think hard and deeply about it. Although, according to the communiqué, the decision is up to the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops, the way that the Episcopal Church works gives more say to the smaller segments of the Church. So this becomes a much more individual process and choice.

Whatever decision the House of Bishops submits to the Anglican Communion will likely result in further fractures within the Episcopal Church, because they are by no means unified in their beliefs on homosexuality. Congregations in the U.S. have already tried splitting off because of disagreement. Church members are facing the conflict and having to make their own choices.

This struggle probably won't have a happy ending, whatever the Episcopal Church decides. But if the church truly supports gay rights, then they will pay the price.

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