MOULTRIE -- In a move disconcerting to many in America's religious community, New Hampshire Episcopalians elected their first openly gay bishop in early June.

Bishop-elect Rev. V. Gene Robinson's selection, however, is still up for confirmation at this month's national General Convention.

In 1998, the Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church in the United States and is the third largest Christian denomination in the world, approved a resolution that said gay sex was "incompatible with Scripture."

Since then, the issue has begun to divide the church's more conservative and liberal members.

The Rev. Jim Parker, rector at Moultrie's relatively new St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, is, like many Moultrie Episcopalians, takes the side of love and acceptance of gays.

"As a priest, I'm not called to judge," Parker said. "I am called to love and care for whomever God puts in front of me."

But he also said, "I would not raise anyone up (to the clergy) who had problems whatever they may be. Scripture says a great deal about homosexuality. It also says a great deal about other human conditions."

Even with all the national dispute recently regarding gays and religion, Parker, who spoke with The Observer between trips to southeast Georgia to build churches, was quick to point out that homosexuality isn't the only sin Christians should be concerned about.

"Are we Pharisitical when we point out one human condition and make an issue of it?," he asked. "We are all sinners and I'm the biggest one, saved by God's grace."

Steve Moore, a member at Moultrie's St. John's Episcopal Church, is "relatively conservative" in his words, and, like Parker, is not in favor of gay clergy, but he still thinks Robinson will be confirmed next month.

"I'm against it just on a religious point-of-view," Moore said, adding that from a personal perspective, he believes in equal rights for all people.

"It's pretty implicit in the Bible that the homosexual act is sin," Moore said. The people who voted for Robinson, Moore said, "are trying not to make (homosexuality) a sin, but it's not our job. It's not for us to change the rules of His Kingdom."

Nonetheless, he, like many other Christians from all denominations, subscribes to the "love the sinner, hate the sin" philosophy. To Moore, that means he would welcome a homosexual into the church, but would not condone the homosexual's lifestyle.

Nancy Paine, another member at St. John's, said she's "strongly opposed to (homosexual clergy) from a Biblical standpoint."

She also said she feels, though, that the Episcopal Church is "at the forefront," perhaps unfairly, on this point of debate -- that other denominations are simultaneously struggling with.

While she wouldn't say what her reaction would be if Robinson is indeed confirmed, she would say she's "very disappointed with the Episcopal Church."

The Rt. Rev. Henry I. Louttit, Bishop of Georgia, said in a June statement, "No consensus exists among (bishops) in our understanding of homosexuality, how best to care pastorally for homosexual persons, and what is or should be required, permitted, or prohibited by the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church concerning the same."

Van Platter, one of Parker's parishioners at St. Margaret's, said he prefers to take a "wait and see" attitude about the matter.

"The real time to consider it is when the national convention comes up next month," adding, "Frankly, one way or the other, I'm not concerned about it. It's a matter of opinion of the people who are involved."

He did say, though, he expects national reaction from the bishops' decision next month.

So does Moore.

He said the decision "is going to have ramifications not just on what we do, but on what the rest of the world thinks of us. This may end up causing a rift in the worldwide Anglican Communion."

Deacon Stephen Norris, rector at St. John's Episcopal Church, was not available for comment.

To contact intern Mitch Kimbrell, please call 985-4545 ext. 223.

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