Episcopalians Curb Policy on Gays
In a stunning reversal, Episcopal church leaders seeking common ground with the worldwide Anglican Communion on Wednesday agreed to “exercise restraint” in selecting openly gay bishops.
The decision came just one day after the House of Deputies, one of two legislative bodies for the church, rejected a temporary ban on gay bishops. Although the new policy does not explicitly ban gay bishops, it makes it more difficult for gay clergy to achieve that office.
The resolution was overwhelmingly approved at a joint session of the deputies and the House of Bishops on the final legislative day of a weeklong convention in Columbus, Ohio.
After much debate, the resolution gained credibility when Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori supported it, saying it would ease strained relations within the church and allow further discussion of the issue.
“I am fully committed to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in this church,” she told deputies. “I don’t find this an easy thing to say to you, but I think that is the best we are going to manage at this point in our church’s history.”
The Episcopal Church, which has 2.3 million members in the U.S. and is part of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion worldwide, has been torn by the issue of homosexuality.
After the 2003 election of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, Anglican officials asked the U.S. church to approve a temporary ban on gay bishops. Many conservatives, who represent a minority in the U.S. church but dominate some Anglican congregations overseas, were incensed by his election.
A panel appointed by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams recommended a moratorium on consecrating other gay bishops in a document called the Windsor Report. Some who support gay bishops have expressed a desire to break away from the Anglican Communion.
Robinson, who attended the convention, said he trusted Jefferts Schori’s judgment. “While I was disappointed at the outcome, I don’t see this as a huge setback,” Robinson said in a telephone interview. “I think this gives us a way to move forward and deepen the conversation.
“I’m taking the long view on this,” he added. “There’s always going to be bumps in the road, and this is one of them.”
Some delegates wept when the resolution was adopted, and even some who voted for it tearfully apologized to Robinson. “It came at a great price to many people,” he said.
But some saw it as a price worth paying.
“It’s a resolution of unity in which the Episcopal Church has gone further than I ever expected it would go in accepting the Windsor Report,” said the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. “I think we’ve taken an action to let the Anglican Church see how serious we are.”
Bruno, speaking from Columbus, added that he fully supported gay and lesbian bishops and compared the issue to women’s struggle to become priests and bishops. “If you look at this in the same light as women’s ordination,” he said, “everything is a progression.”
Not everyone agrees.
The Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena, who attended the convention, believes the resolution will have a “chilling effect.”
“It was a very tragic moment,” he said of its passage.
He noted that the Newark diocese was close to unveiling its short list of candidates for bishop. “It’s going to be interesting to see,” he said, “if there are any gay or lesbian candidates.”