Before the Episcopal Church suffers further fracture, the denomination might wisely take a cue from President Barack Obama by summoning its leading antagonists to a summit.
Recently, the president successfully reconciled a black professor and the white policeman who arrested him over beer in the White House rose garden. Sherry, rather than beer, might be preferred at a summit of Episcopalians.
The 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion. In recent years four Episcopal dioceses and many individual parishes have severed ties with the national body, maintaining that its approval of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and its wish to bless same-sex couples runs contrary to the Bible.
Despite pleas by the Archbishop of Canterbury and a majority of Anglican churches around the world, Episcopal delegates this summer ended a three-year moratorium on ordaining gay bishops and blessing gay couples.
The lines are drawn.
Christianity, saddled by disputes throughout its history, has tended to settle disputes successfully by bringing together the rivals in ecumenical councils. It was only by means of the fourth-century Council of Nicea that the whole church finally agreed to the same creed and on the books to be included in the Bible.
Even before the first Gospel was written, the universal church was beset by doctrinal quarrels. In 57 A.D., St. Paul appealed to the Christians at Corinth "to speak with one voice and not allow yourselves to be split up into parties." Paul complained "you are each making different claims. ... What are you saying? Is there more than one Christ?" (1 Cor. 1:10-13)
In an extraordinary attempt to reconcile the warring American Episcopalians, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and titular head of all Anglicans, has suggested that, rather than allow the church to be fractured, the warring parties should bury the hatchet, courteously agreeing to disagree.
Williams has promoted the idea of covenant — a kind of "good behavior" guide to which all Episcopalians might adhere. He wrote to the entire Anglican Communion that "we are faced with the possibility of ... two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude cooperation in mission and service..."
The archbishop, however, made "absolutely clear" that "the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions." As to active gay bishops, "a person living in such a sexual relationship cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle."
I'm reminded that after Rodney King, a black American, was dragged from his car and beaten by Los Angeles police, he mused aloud, "Why can't we all just get along?"
That's still a good question, and a Sherry Summit just might answer it positively for Episcopalians.
David Yount's latest book is "Celebrating the Single Life: Keys to Successful Living on Your Own" (Praeger).