The Episcopal Church should recognize and bless committed non-marital sexual relationships between homosexuals, young adults, the divorced and widowed, a report from the church's Newark diocese urges.
"I find it difficult to believe that a church that blesses dogs in a Virginia fox hunt can't find a way to bless life-giving, lasting relationships between human beings," Newark Bishop John Spong said Thursday.
The report by the diocese's Task Force on Changing Patterns of Sexuality and Family Life aims to ignite a new debate on sexual ethics among leaders of the nation's 3 million Episcopalians in the hope that they will amend church doctrine to embrace all believers.
The report was ordered two years ago by the diocese's governing body, which will consider it at a convention that begins today.
Like Roman Catholic doctrine, Episcopal teachings approve only of sex between men and women who are married. In 1979, the U.S. church's governing body voted down a resolution to approve other sexual activity.
Social Customs Discounted
"The church's teaching is centered on God, not changing social customs," said an opponent of the recommendations, the Rev. Fleming Rutledge of Grace Episcopal Church in New York City.
Spong, an advocate of the recommendations whose 55,000-member diocese is among the nation's most liberal, said his views are a minority position in the church.
The Episcopal Church is one of 28 branches of the world's 70-million-member Anglican Communion.
That communion's mother church, the Church of England, "makes no provision for any other association outside marriage," said the Rt. Rev. Hugh Montefiore, Anglican bishop of Birmingham and chairman of the church's Board for Social Responsibility.
"It has never discussed it and would not as far as I know--it is not likely to do so," he said.
The 15-page report says that, because attitudes toward marriage have changed as more women defer it or reject it for careers, the church should accept cohabitation and premarital sex.
And, because homosexuals have as much right to worship God as heterosexuals, their rights to church recognition and ministry should not be ignored, it says.