Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Aug 03

Spiritual war over gay clergy escalates

By Kelly Burke, Religious Affairs Writer

The battle between pro and anti-gay forces in the Uniting Church intensified over the weekend, with conservatives rallying across the country to protest the recent approval of homosexual clergy.

In Sydney on Saturday, about 900 evangelical UCA members gathered at the Wesley Mission's Pitt Street headquarters, where they were told by their national president, Mary Hawkes, that the sexuality crisis had marked the beginning of a "spiritual war".

Fellow speaker, the Reverend Gordon Moyes, said yesterday he was aware of "separation ceremonies" being conducted by some parishes, for those who had decided to leave the church following last month's decision by the national assembly to formally approve the right for individual presbyteries to appoint a gay minister.

But the official evangelical line remains one of "stay-and-fight", with members now being urged to lobby the standing committee and push for a recall of the national assembly where the decision could be overturned.

Protests by the conservative lobby come on the back of a Catholic debate, prompted by the release last Thursday of a Vatican statement which described government proposals to recognise homosexual relationships as the legitimisation of "evil".

Pope John Paul II has ordered Catholic politicians worldwide to fight against any future legislation which he sees as condoning homosexuality.

But active Catholic politicians in NSW contacted by the Herald yesterday were not completely supportive of the Pontiff's order.

The Health Minister, Morris Iemma, and his ALP colleague, Eddie Obeid, along with National Party member Adrian Piccoli, all signified their opposition to gay marriage but said their opinions were based on their personal beliefs and not influenced by the Pope's statement.

Liberals Barry O'Farrell and Charlie Lynn, along with the Uniting Party's Peter Wong, all signalled that their first priority was to serve their constituencies and represent their electorate, regardless of their Catholic faith.

Independent Clover Moore and Reform the Legal System Party's Peter Breen, both active Catholics, along with self-confessed lapsed Catholic Carmel Tebbutt, were all fiercely opposed to the Pope's statement.

Ms Moore described it as narrow, reactionary and out of touch. "My position reflects Christ's teaching . . . fair, just, inclusive and practical," she said. "My conscience is clear."

Mr Breen has already sent a letter to the Pope, taking him to task for concentrating on the human sexual act instead of human relationships. "Hopefully I will be guided by an informed Christian conscience in my deliberations," he said.

The issue of legal recognition of gay relationships is also on tomorrow's agenda of the Episcopalian Church's general convention in Minneapolis, where representatives of America's 2.3 million Anglicans will debate a proposed liturgy to bless homosexual relationships.

And the convention's House of Deputies (lower house) is expected to vote today on the fate of practicing gay bishop-elect Canon Gene Robinson.

In a secret ballot on Saturday, the church's consecration committee voted to recommend that the convention ratify the bishop of New Hampshire appointment.

Canon Robinson, a divorced father of two, attended Saturday's debate with his partner of 14 years, Mark Andrew.

He justified his long-term relationship to the convention as "sacramental" and a reflection of God's love.

Sydney's Anglican Archbishop, Peter Jensen, has been one of the most vocal critics of the Robinson appointment, although the Australian Primate, Archbishop Peter Carnley, has signalled his disapproval of any Australian intrusion in what he believes is an internal US church matter.