After a lengthy debate which drew over a dozen speakers plus the introduction and subsequent defeat of two amendments, the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey approved a resolution at its Convention March 3 that "expresses its deepest regret for the pain and anguish suffered by our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, their families, and friends, due to the adoption of [General Convention] Resolution B033."
The resolution also called to "offer forgiveness to each other and to others in the world-wide Anglican Communion as we seek to enter into deeper levels of communion with one another."
The day prior, in his address to the 223rd Convention, Bishop George Councell reaffirmed his support for gays and lesbians, and discussed his policy on a new New Jersey same-gender civil union law.
He told the Convention that his support of the New Jersey law "is consistent with the Episcopal Church's long-standing commitment to support equal protection (Resolution 1994-C019) under the law for homosexual persons."
"I encourage clergy and congregations to offer their pastoral support to such couples, which may include prayers of celebration and thanksgiving for the grace and holiness of their unions," he said.
However, Councell will not allow clergy to sign New Jersey civil-union licenses because of the lack of authorization from General Convention.
And he said that he would not authorize any public liturgies for the blessing of same-sex unions. "We do not at the present time have a consensus about the biblical and theological rationale for such unions in The Episcopal Church or in the Communion," he said. "While I favor the continuing study that could form the foundation for the development of such rites, I will not act alone to authorize them. I do not believe that any one bishop or diocese should authorize that which has not been authorized by the governing body from which they derive their authority."
Pointing to the juxtaposition of the February 20 New York Times front page which featured both a report on the recent Primates meeting in Tanzania and a photo of a license application for same-sex civil unions n New Jersey, Councell noted it "speaks volumes about the tensions in which we find ourselves in this Church at this moment."
The bishop declared, "We are called to minister in New Jersey. New Jersey is not Tanzania, New Jersey is not Nigeria; New Jersey is not any of the 29 countries on the African continent where homosexuality is a criminal offense. We minister in a radically different context. In our churches are many gay and lesbian people who are living in faithful, committed unions who are asking for our acceptance, our support and our prayers. We have said that the Episcopal Church welcomes them and welcomes all. Gay and lesbian Christians are our brothers and sisters in Christ and our partners in mission and ministry, in work and worship, in fellowship and service."
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