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August 11, 2006

Priest resigns over church's 'pervasive

Delaware, Ohio--A central Ohio Episcopal priest has resigned his ordination to protest what he calls �pervasive homophobia� coming mostly from the church leadership in the third world.

Former Rev. Paul Nicely issued a written statement July 25 saying, �I no longer in conscience can honor my vow as a priest to be subject to the authority of a church which persists in sanctioning bigotry and exclusion.�

�There�s not much an individual can do,� Nicely said in a later interview. �There�s not much political influence for an individual, but I wanted to be expressive in my views on this.�

Nicely, 80, retired 17 years ago from the faculty of the Methodist Theological School of Ohio in Delaware, where he spent most of his career.

His resignation means he is now only able to preach as laity, and can no longer perform priestly functions.

The resignation does not affect his pension, as that is coming from the seminary, not the church.

But Nicely�s language to church leaders is poignant.

�At my age, having tried for 30 years to educate my little corner of the church about the normalcy of homosexual orientation, and having battled a witless biblical literalism much longer than that, I am unwilling for my church any longer to choose false unity instead of elementary justice,� he wrote.

That attempt at unity, according to Nicely, is reflected in a measure passed by the church�s 75th annual convention in Columbus in June, as a response to the lingering backlash to the 2003 election of V. Gene Robinson to the position of Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. Robinson, who is also in a committed relationship, is the denomination�s first gay bishop. His election nearly caused the worldwide Anglican Communion to spin off its U.S. Episcopal churches.

The convention first rejected a resolution introduced in the House of Deputies, which includes lay leaders and clergy other than bishops, declaring regret for the �strains on communion� and �deep offense� caused by �consecration of a bishop living openly in a same-gender union� and the urging of no further �consecration of bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.�

The rejected measure also called for no rites to be developed or authorized for the blessing of same-sex unions, then issued an apology �to those gay and lesbian Episcopalians and their supporters hurt by these decisions.�

But in the last hours of the convention, a similar, but more restrictive resolution dealing only with the consecration of bishops was introduced in the House of Bishops by the Rt. Rev. Dorsey F. Henderson Jr. of South Carolina.

That resolution issued no apology, and orders �restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.�

The House of Deputies later narrowly concurred with that resolution, though both bodies remain highly divided on the matter.

Nicely wrote that �manner of life� is �obviously code� for gays and lesbians, and �will lead to further strains� is code for �offending those who would exclude such persons.�

�In adopting this resolution, the church in convention has chosen an illusory �place at the [Anglican] table� . . . instead of standing clearly for justice and inclusiveness,� wrote Nicely. �The church has tacitly sanctioned bigotry and discrimination against a whole category of people.�

Nicely also condemned passage of the resolution as �appeasement.�

�There are those in the Anglican communion who would have us permanently block gay and lesbian persons from positions of leadership in the church,� wrote Nicely. �Such Anglicans do not want conversation. They want compliance. To appease them only encourages them to continue to dominate.�

�The �unity� on whose altar our church�s latest equivocation is laid, is false and paper thin,� Nicely wrote.

�There can be no unity with bigots, unless we settle for an unequal relationship of dominance and appeasement.�

However, Nicely says he resigned his ordination because he can, and that if he were younger, he might have voted for the resolution, too.

Nicely said that full inclusion is inevitable in the Episcopal church, �and it will be years, not decades.�

He added that at the next convention in three years he expects the matter will be resolved favorably, even if it means breaking from the Anglican Communion.

�Three years from now we will do what we should have done this year, and that�s full inclusion,� said Nicely. He pointed to some positive steps taken that direction, including the election of another pro-inclusion bishop and the adoption of pro-inclusion operational goals.

�Some of my friends held their noses and voted for this because they thought it was the best we could do at this point,� said Nicely, adding that the resolution was an attempt to head off the break-up now.

�This will fail,� said Nicely, adding that in the meantime, though, it is an opportunity to win more Episcopalians to their side.

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