Liberal Chosen to Lead Episcopalians

Times Religion Writer

Episcopal Bishop Edmond Lee Browning of Honolulu--known for his liberal stand on South Africa, gay rights and women priests--was elected Tuesday as the new long-term spiritual leader of the 2.8-million-member Episcopal Church.

As the denomination’s presiding bishop, Browning, 56, will serve a 12-year term. He was quickly selected from a field of four candidates by the church’s bicameral legislative body, which is holding an eight-day meeting in the Anaheim Convention Center.

Moments after a brief acceptance speech, Browning told a news conference that he supported Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning black clergyman of Johannesburg, South Africa, “in every way possible.” He called President Reagan’s sanctions against South Africa inadequate.

“I thought he could have done much more and hoped he would have done much more,” Browning said.

Earlier, in an emotional acceptance greeting, Browning, a bright red lei draped around his neck, pledged himself to a “ministry of servanthood for the life of the whole church.”


A priest for 31 years, Browning is also considered liberal on matters of interfaith cooperation, and is a sharp critic of the nuclear arms race.

The church, he said, faces “tremendous global issues” and must “be prophetic . . . in all of its influence” to help the poor and the hungry.

A native of Corpus Christi, Tex., Browning has served the church in Texas and in Okinawa, and has been bishop to the American Episcopal churches in Europe as well as in Hawaii, where he has been bishop since 1976.

Favored Reconciliation

During his tenure in Europe, he actively supported reconciliation moves with anti-Vietnam draft resisters and deserters. In recent years, his addresses in Hawaii have focused on peacemaking, racism, and the role of the laity in the church.

Contrary to the expressed position of the Episcopal General Convention in 1979, Browning said he would not bar homosexuals from the priesthood. “I don’t think you should legislate against people,” he said.

Browning also said he was “tremendously committed to enhancing the ministry of women,” and favored their ordination. The Episcopal Church approved the full ordination of women in 1979, but the issue has been a stumbling block in the church’s relations with other Christian bodies in Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox traditions which do not ordain women.

In the Episcopal Church, the office of presiding bishop is defined as “chief pastor and primate,” and is its main spiritual guide and administrator. But the presiding bishop exercises his authority by persuasion rather than by edict or command.

Base in New York

Browning will assume office on Jan. 1, succeeding Bishop John M. Allin, who is completing a 12-year term of office. Unless he dies or is disabled, Browning will also fill the $100,000-a-year post for 12 years, making his headquarters in New York.

Sources said the runner-up was Bishop John T. Walker, 60, of Washington, the first black ever nominated for the post. The other nominees were Bishops William C. Frey, 55, of Colorado, and Furman Charles Stough, 57, of Alabama.

The Episcopal Church, which is observing its 200th anniversary at the convention here, is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion of 70 million members in 28 national branches. It is considered to be a bridge between the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, incorporating elements of both.