ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Episcopal Church on Tuesday (July 14) overwhelmingly voted to lift a three-year-old moratorium on consecrating gay and lesbian bishops, despite warnings that the ban was necessary to preserve unity in the wider Anglican Communion.
A large majority of Episcopal bishops, priests and lay delegates gathered here for the church’s triennial General Convention asserted that “God has called and may call” gays and lesbians in lifelong committed relationships “to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church.”
More than 70 percent of lay and clergy delegates in the church’s House of Deputies approved lifting the moratorium on Tuesday; the church’s House of Bishops had approved it Monday by a 2-to-1 margin.
While the resolution clears the way for gay and lesbian bishops, it does not mandate that dioceses must consider them, nor does it guarantee that, if elected, they will receive the necessary ratification votes to serve.
“This is a day to rejoice for the Church — no, let me be more specific, this is a day to rejoice in the Episcopal Church, which once again has stood for the full inclusion of all,” openly gay Bishop V.
Gene Robinson of New Hampshire wrote on his blog late Monday.
Robinson also wrote that bishops who voted to lift the ban “will pay a price for opening their hearts, much as gay and lesbian people in this Church have paid a price for their exclusion. I applaud them for their courage and will stand with them in the consequences of their vote.”
Also late Tuesday, Episcopal bishops debated a resolution that would begin the development of liturgical rites to bless same-sex unions, and enable bishops in states where gay marriage is legal to change marriage rites in the Book of Common Prayer to be gender neutral.
The resolution, if passed by the bishops, would also need the approval of lay and clergy delegates before it could become church law.
Robinson’s consecration in 2003 caused a furor in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, which counts the 2.1 million-member Episcopal Church as its U.S. branch. Many Anglicans, particularly in the rapidly growing Global South, say homosexuality is sinful and unbiblical.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of Anglicans worldwide, warned last summer at a meeting of more than 600 bishops from around the world that the communion would be in “grave peril” should the moratorium on gay bishops be lifted.
Addressing the General Convention as it opened last week, Williams said, “Along with many in the communion, I hope and pray that there won’t be decisions in the coming days that will push us further apart.”
Since Robinson’s election in 2003, every key intra-Anglican body — from leading archbishops to international councils — has warned the Episcopal Church not to consecrate or elect any more gay bishops.
Already, several archbishops, particularly those in the Global South, have severed ties with the Episcopal Church over its gay-friendly policies. In the U.S., four conservative dioceses and dozens of parishes have seceded from the denomination and formed the rival Anglican Church in North America.
The Anglican Communion Institute, a conservative think tank, said that “The Episcopal Church is already out of communion with the majority of the world’s Anglicans,” and predicted that more dioceses would leave the church.
Bishop Henry Parsley of Alabama, who voted against lifting the moratorium, said, “I long for us to be an inclusive church, but not a polarized church,” according to Episcopal Life, the denomination’s official news outlet. “We need to be part of the larger Anglican Communion in what we do in this matter.”
Urging fellow delegates to reject the resolution, Zack Brown, a lay youth delegate, said, “Please don’t vote in a way that makes more conservatives feel the way I do now: like I’m the only one left.”
The resolution on gay bishops also encourages Episcopalians to “participate to the fullest extent possible” in the Anglican Communion, and reminds the global church that the Episcopal Church contributed more than $660,000 — almost one-third of the budget — to funding the communion’s bureaucracy in 2007.
While some Episcopalians argue that their church never enacted an official moratorium on gay bishops, it voted at its last meeting, in 2006, to urge dioceses to “exercise restraint” by not electing bishops “whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”
No gay bishops have been elected since that resolution was passed at the urging of the church’s then-newly elected Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, though several dioceses have considered gay and lesbian candidates. Jefferts Schori voted on Monday to lift the moratorium.
The Rev. Susan Russell, president of the pro-gay Episcopal group Integrity USA, said the resolution “was another step in the Episcopal Church’s `coming out’ process — and it sends a strong `come and see’
message to anyone looking for a faith community where God’s inclusive love is not just proclaimed but practiced.”
By Daniel Burke
c. 2009 Religion News Service
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