NEW YORK – The head of the Episcopal Church asked church members for patience Tuesday after fellow Anglican leaders demanded the U.S. denomination step back from its support of gays or risk losing its full membership in the world Anglican fellowship.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in a statement that Anglican leaders are asking all sides in the fight over the Bible and sexuality to "forbear for a season" until the 77 million-member Anglican Communion can forge a compromise.
"Each party in this conflict is asked to consider the good faith of the other," Jefferts Schori said. "Each is asked to discipline itself for the sake of the greater whole."
At the end of a summit Monday in Tanzania, which Jefferts Schori attended, Anglican leaders demanded that the Episcopal Church unequivocally bar official prayers for gay couples and the consecration of more gay bishops by Sept. 30 or risk its status in the communion.
Tension over sexuality has been simmering for years among the Anglican churches, but the Episcopal Church caused an uproar in 2003 in the communion by consecrating the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
Supporters of ordaining gays believe biblical teachings on justice and inclusion should take precedence. Advocates for gay Christians say the demands amount to bigotry: Some have suggested the church should simply leave the communion.
The San Francisco-based Diocese of California, which blesses same-gender couples, said Tuesday that the church should not "compromise the essentials of our theology or our polity."
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual head of the Anglican family, has been struggling ever since Robinson's consecration to keep Anglicans unified.
Anglican leaders also suggested creating a special vicar for the minority of Episcopalians who reject the authority of Jefferts Schori, who supports gay relationships.
Jefferts Schori noted in her statement that the U.S. church has tended to focus on the suffering of gays and lesbians, which has been considered a rejection of traditional understanding of sexual morality in "other parts of the global church."
"Both parties hold positions that can be defended by appeal to our Anglican sources of authority — Scripture, tradition and reason," she said.
But she cautioned that a "single-minded" focus from either side will ultimately hurt the church.
Already, the rift has taken a toll.
An estimated 45 U.S. parishes out of nearly 7,200 have broken away and affiliated with conservative Anglican churches overseas. Two prominent Virginia parishes, along with several smaller churches, have gone much further — joining the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a rival U.S. church network created by Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola. Six U.S. dioceses have rejected Jefferts Schori's leadership.