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Diocese Votes To Accept Relationships Between Homosexuals, Unmarried

February 1, 1988

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ The Episcopal Diocese of Newark’s decision to accept relationships of homosexuals and unmarried couples reflects the view of a small but growing minority in the church, the diocesean leader says.

Representatives of northern New Jersey’s 125 Episcopal parishes voted Saturday to give their blessings to relationships traditionally not recognized by the church.

Under a resolution passed by clergy and lay people at the annual convention, the diocese upheld ″those pastors and congregations who minister and seek to include persons living out alternate patterns of sexuality and family life.″

″The church is behind the times,″ Bishop John Spong said after the vote. ″I think we need to be more embracing of the pluralism of our times.″

Spong said the diocese’s resolution was ″a step in consciousness-raising″ and represented the sentiments of ″a small minority in the church, but a growing minority.″

The clergy vote was 115-35; the laity vote was 234-128.

A spokesman at the church’s national office in New York City said the Newark Diocese, which includes about 46,000 church members, has widened the debate on the issue within the church, which has 3 million members nationwide.

″They may have offended people but they have helped the church clarify its own decisions,″ said the Rev. William Dearnaley.

The resolution, Dearnaley said, appeared to be ″no more than an affirmation that the Episcopal Church has held to for 10 (to) 12 years.″

The church, he said, was working on a study of ″its openness in terms of pastoral ministry and human sexuality issues.″ The church’s general convention in Detroit in July may take up those issues, Dearnaley said.

In 1979, the church’s General Convention rejected, by a 100-23 vote, a resolution to adopt similar recommendations. But Spong said the church’s leader, Presiding Bishop Edmond Lee Browning, who was among the 23 dissenters, was receptive to reforms.

Last year, in a report ordered by the Newark Diocesean Conference in 1985, a clergy-laity task force recommended the changes.

The task force said that attitudes toward marriage have changed as more women defer or reject weddings for careers and that the church should accept cohabitation and premarital sex.

The report also said homosexuals have as much right to worship God as heterosexuals and that their rights to church recognition and ministry should not be ignored.

Before Saturday’s vote, convention members debated the issue for nearly two hours; opponents of the resolution said the Bible rejects homosexuality.

The Rev. Dr. Walter Lewis of Montclair said that ″it has been asserted that homosexuality is genetically caused.″ But homosexuality, he said, is ″a destructive lifestyle.″

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