(CNSNews.com) - The Episcopal Diocese of California on Saturday approved religious blessings of homosexual couples, opening the way for same-sex couples to receive the same recognition the church gives to heterosexual couples.
In a statement on the Web site of Oasis California, the homosexual ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of California (EDC), Bishop Marc Andrus pledged to make "lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders" (LGBT) feel welcome in the church.
"I will continue to represent the Diocese in the ongoing Church and Communion-wide conversations on the full inclusion of LGBT people," Andrus said. "I think the resolution properly augments my pastoral goal of caring alike for all of the people of the diocese, not reinforcing damaging distinctions."
Andrus did not respond to requests for comment by press time Monday.
One of the diocese's approved prayers instructs the minister to say that God "befriend[s] those who wander in loneliness and shame, those oppressed because of difference, those who do not know the value of their unique and sacred gift."
Another prayer asks God to "look mercifully upon these two women/men who come to you seeking your blessing, and assist them with your grace, that with true fidelity and steadfast love they may honor and keep the promises and vows they make."
Earlier this month, clergy and lay people in the Anglican churches of Ottawa and Montreal voted to allow bishops to bless homosexual unions. But the bishops of those dioceses said they would need time to consider the request before allowing rites to be issued.
Religious groups in the United States have also questioned the efforts to further incorporate homosexuals into the Episcopal Church, which first ignited controversy with the selection of an openly homosexual bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003.
Robert Lundy, a spokesman for the American Anglican Council (AAC), told Cybercast News Service that the AAC is "disappointed" in the decision, because it is "clearly against what the Bible says."
The Episcopal Church is the American arm of the Anglican Communion, a worldwide Protestant denomination with an estimated 75 million members. The AAC is a theologically conservative organization that believes the Episcopal Church has distanced itself too much from its foundational beliefs.
"Our position is that we've got to hold to the teachings of the Bible," Lundy said. "We've got to be accountable to one another, and if someone falls away from what Jesus taught, we ought to restore them in love."
Lundy was skeptical that oversight from a higher-ranking Anglican governing body would reverse the decision by the California diocese, considering a statement over the weekend from the Archbishop of Canterbury - the head of the Anglican Communion -that "the Bishop and the Diocese [is] the primary locus of ecclesial identity rather than the abstract reality of the 'National Church.'"
"Our checks and our balances consist of the good faith other Christians will hold to what the Bible tells them to do," Lundy said. "When they sort of toss that out the window, your checks and balances don't add up."
Matt Barber, policy director for cultural issues at the conservative Concerned Women for America, said in a statement to Cybercast News Service that, "Scripture tells us, 'Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.' With this decision, the Episcopal Diocese of California has done exactly that."
"The denomination's leadership seems Hell-bent on sowing its doctrinal seeds in the barren soil of apostasy which can bear no fruit," Barber said.
"When any corporate Christian body casts aside God's Word and 'blesses' as good and holy that which Scripture clearly defines as sin, it ceases to be truly Christian and becomes a New Age imposter with a quasi-Christian veneer," Barber added.
Lundy said that while homosexuality is the public centerpiece of the inner turmoil of the Episcopal Church, it is a symptom of a bigger problem.
"A lot of people want to make this whole issue about homosexuality and the way we see it, homosexuality is not the issue, it's a symptom," Lundy said.
"The sickness of this church ... is do you believe the Bible is the word of God or do you believe it's just some document that you can rewrite or some document that was applicable 1,000 years ago but not as applicable today?" Lundy added.
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