U community members fear religious schism

Patricia Drey

The debate over whether to confirm the election of an openly gay bishop at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention last week had people inside and outside of the convention talking.

But one University student who volunteered at the convention in Minneapolis avoided some of those discussions.

History senior Nick Crawford said because he is gay, he was careful about with whom he discussed the issue.

“You don’t want to hear people calling you names,” Crawford said. “You just never know what they’re going to say.”

Crawford has been involved with the Episcopal Church since his sophomore year. He said he feels welcome at Episcopal churches in the metro area, but is wary of how he would be received at churches in other areas.

Besides confirming the Rev. V. Gene Robinson’s election as New Hampshire’s bishop, the convention also voted to support individual churches blessing same-sex unions.

Whether for or against Tuesday’s decision to confirm Robinson, University religious leaders and church members agree that the United States’ segmented Christian sphere could become more divided as a result.

The debate reflects a larger cultural war in society that results from different views on large issues such as sexuality, said Robert Osburn, executive director for the University’s MacLaurin Institute, a Christian study center.

The argument brought the division between liberal and conservative Episcopalians to light – a split that will inevitably be mirrored in other denominations, Osburn said.

The Episcopal Church is a member of the Anglican Communion, which originally stems from the Church of England. The church’s decision to permit ordination of women in 1976 and the consecration of the first female bishop in 1989 created similar controversy within the church.

Engineering senior Andy Karsky said he hopes this decision will not further separate Christian churches. Karsky, who attends a Baptist General Conference church, said the debate has inappropriately taken focus away from God and placed it on human church leaders. This decision will not change the face of Christianity, he said.

“God is still God whether or not different people are leaders in the church,” Karsky said.

Even though this issue seems to be dividing Christians further, denominations should accept gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, said Alison Blomster, executive director of the Queer Student Cultural Center. Christianity demands accepting others, she said, and she hopes other church groups will follow the lead of the Episcopal Church.

The center holds a “Christian and Queer” discussion twice a year, drawing several people who were raised Christian but now feel a conflict between their current thoughts and what they were taught growing up, Blomster said.

Doug Donley, pastor of the University Baptist Church, was also happy with the decision, but said he fears some denominations will respond by further restricting inclusion of GLBT members. Regardless of backlash, he said the Episcopal Church’s decision is part of a positive trend.

“The long arc of history bends toward justice,” Donley said. “I think there are growing numbers of church people who realize that homosexuality is not only not a sickness – but not a sin.”

The Roman Catholic Church is less autonomous than Donley’s, but that has not stopped University student Jen Tomes from working within the church to make it more open to GLBT members and leaders. She said sexual orientation should not factor into evaluating church leaders.

The Catholic Church’s official position is that preferring the same sex is OK, but acting on that preference by having sex is a sin, Tomes said.

Young Catholics’ opinions are split on whether this position needs to change, she said.

“There’s also a new wave of conservative students,” Tomes said. “Things have gotten so questionable with Sept. 11 (2001) that people are really starting to go back to the church and its traditions.”

For Episcopal Church members such as University senior Catie Almirall, this decision will have broad and lasting effects. She said the world looks to the United States as an example, and so the effects of this decision might be felt far away.

“We’re all waiting,” Almirall said. “We all want to know what’s going to happen next.”

Patricia Drey welcomes comments at [email protected]