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Episcopal leader asks church members to make concessions on gays

NEW YORK --Appearing on a live webcast, the Episcopal Church's presiding bishop began the painful task Wednesday of persuading members to roll back their support for gays -- at least for now -- so the denomination can keep its place in the world Anglican fellowship.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, who personally supports ordaining partnered gays, told a studio audience, callers and those who submitted questions by e-mail that they should make concessions that Anglican leaders are seeking to buy time for reconciliation.

"To live together in Christian community means each member takes seriously the concerns and needs of other members," Jefferts Schori said. "If we can lower the emotional reactivity in the midst of this current controversy, we just might be able to find a way to live together."

Asked whether she was abandoning gay and lesbian Christians, Jefferts Schori said, "My view hasn't changed, but I'm called to be pastor to the whole church."

Anglican leaders emerged from a closed-door meeting in Tanzania last week with an ultimatum for the U.S. denomination: They gave Episcopalians until Sept. 30 to unequivocally pledge not to consecrate another partnered gay bishop or authorize official prayers for same-sex couples. If it doesn't, the church risks a much-reduced role in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion.

The Episcopal Church, which represents Anglicanism in the United States, caused an uproar in 2003 by consecrating its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson. The decision put the liberal Christian focus on social justice directly at odds with the traditional biblical view of sexuality.

On Tuesday, Robinson made his first public comments on Anglican demands, saying the church should reject the ultimatum and instead "get on with the work of the Gospel" no matter how communion leaders react. Several other Episcopal bishops have issued similar statements.

Most of the calls and questions submitted during the webcast were equally fraught.

One woman said her daughter is a lesbian seeking to become an Episcopal priest who was "brokenhearted" by the restrictions on gays. Another asked whether Anglican leaders were actually promoting division instead of healing.

Jefferts Schori answered each in the same calm, measured tone, saying "an ethic of justice and inclusion would seemingly also urge us to include the dissenter." Theological conservatives are a minority in the 2.3 million-member church, but are the majority among Anglicans overseas.

The presiding bishop cautioned that a rush to break from other Anglicans would hurt Episcopal humanitarian work, disconnecting the U.S. church from sister churches overseas. She said she understood the fear created by the crisis, but a split would not solve the problem.

"We are being pushed toward a decision by impatient forces within and outside this church who hunger for clarity. That hunger for clarity at all costs is an anxious response to discomfort in the face of change which characterizes all of life," she said. "The impatience we're now experiencing is an idol -- a false hope that is unwilling to wait on God for clarity."

The Episcopal House of Bishops will take up the proposal for the first time at a closed-door meeting in March. Jefferts Schori said she was also trying to find a way that the House of Deputies, which represents clergy and lay people, could weigh in on the decision without calling a special convention, which would be expensive and time-consuming.

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