Bishops promise ‘restraint’
Episcopal leaders, who are struggling to hold together their increasingly divided church and maintain its place in the global Anglican Communion, pledged anew Tuesday to “exercise restraint” in consecrating another openly gay bishop.
In the final hours of a crucial meeting in New Orleans, Episcopal bishops promised not to authorize official rites for the blessings of same-sex couples and asserted that a majority of bishops do not allow priests to bless such unions.
The statement, which largely affirmed earlier pledges by Episcopal leaders, came at a time when the church, the American branch of Anglicanism, is under intense pressure from conservatives in the worldwide communion to reconsider the U.S. church’s relatively liberal stance on homosexuality and scriptural authority.
The Episcopal Church challenged the prevailing conservative views in the communion in 2003 when it consecrated V. Gene Robinson, a gay man living with his longtime partner, as bishop of New Hampshire.
Anglican leaders had asked the Episcopal Church by Sunday to state unequivocally that it would stop consecrating openly gay bishops and bar official blessings of same-sex unions, or risk playing a diminished role in the communion, the world’s third-largest Christian denomination.
Some theological conservatives immediately rejected the bishops’ response.
“This simply is not what was asked for,” Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan said in a statement. Duncan’s diocese is among several, including Fresno-based San Joaquin, that are taking steps to break with the national church.
But others pointed out that conservative, moderate and liberal bishops had passed the document all but unanimously on a voice vote, with only a single voice heard in dissent.
An official response from the communion may take months.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the communion’s spiritual leader, attended the first two days of the six-day meeting, urging the bishops to do whatever they could to help hold the 77-million-member global fellowship together.
Before leaving New Orleans, Williams, who has no power to impose a solution, told reporters that he would take time to evaluate the bishops’ statement with other Anglican leaders who attended the meeting. Williams also emphasized that the communion’s directive to the Episcopal Church, with its Sept. 30 deadline, was not an ultimatum to the U.S. church, but would “inevitably [be] a matter of compromise.”
In the statement released Tuesday, the bishops affirmed a resolution passed in 2006 by the church’s General Convention. That called upon those choosing candidates for bishop to “exercise restraint” by not consenting to anyone whose “manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”
The New Orleans statement also went beyond that earlier document to say that the bishops acknowledged that “non-celibate gay and lesbian persons” were included among those to whom the resolution applies.
But they did not promise to ban the consecration of gay or lesbian bishops. A lesbian priest is among five candidates for bishop of Chicago.
Regarding same-sex blessings, the bishops reiterated a promise not to authorize official rites of blessing “until a broader consensus emerges in the communion,” or until approval by church’s General Convention. They did not pledge to ban the blessings altogether, however.
In a news conference, the church’s presiding bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, said the bishops had tried to clarify their earlier language.
“Not everyone was 100% happy with every word in this document . . . but we believe that we have found a place that everyone can stand together,” she said.
The Episcopal bishop of Los Angeles, the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, said he was very pleased with the meeting’s discussions and outcome.
“We’ve come to a place of working together and understanding the difficulty for all of us,” he said. “We’re beginning to understand one another in a clearer fashion.”
Rev. Ian Douglas, a mission and world Christianity professor at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., who participated in the meeting until its final day, said: “The fact of the matter is that this isn’t easy. We’re trying to live with integrity in an incredibly diverse church and world.”