Episcopal Church undecided on key sexuality issues going into last day

By on June 21, 2006

Columbus, Ohio As the Episcopal Church in the USA’s (ECUSA) nine-day General Convention swung into its last day, the two most controversial issues – gay bishops and blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples – remained unresolved, reflecting the continuing divide in the American arm of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold called both legislative houses – bishops and deputies (laity and clergy) – into a special joint session on the last day, June 21, since there was the idea, expressed several times in both houses, that the convention should not conclude without some statement on the issues to the wider church. The House of Deputies did, however, approve two resolutions June 20 dealing with the church’s response to the Windsor Report, which the convention has struggled with for days. Prepared by an international Anglican panel, that report requests a moratorium on electing homosexuals to the episcopate and on permitting blessing ceremonies for gay couples; it also called on the U.S. church to express regret for electing Bishop Robinson in 2003. The U.S. and Canadian churches’ more-liberal attitudes toward homosexuality have angered national churches where it is generally taboo. Deputies concurred with a resolution from the House of Bishops supporting the process of developing an Anglican Covenant process. They also approved a second resolution that pledged a commitment to interdependence in the Anglican Communion. After days of open hearings, committee deliberation and debate on the convention floor, the chamber of deputies on the second-last day did not muster the two-thirds vote needed to approve a resolution that would see the church refrain from electing non-celibate homosexuals as bishops (the wording of the resolution refers to candidates “whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”) Speaking against that moratorium the church’s first openly-gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, told the bishops that he desperately wants to preserve the communion but not “at the expense of my own integrity.” While expressing his love and commitment to Anglicans around the world, and to the church, he added: “What I know is that I can’t vote for any resolution that by category excludes parts of our church.” An earlier version of the statement had asked the church “to exercise very considerable caution,” but was changed to the stronger “refrain from.” The resolution went on to ask that the convention “not proceed to develop or authorize rites for the blessing of same-sex unions at this time.” It also recognized a need “to maintain a breadth of responses to situations of pastoral care for gay and lesbian Christians” and apologized “to those gay and lesbian Episcopalians and their supporters hurt by these decisions.” Both conservative and liberal dioceses voted against the resolution, including Fort Worth (Tex.), a diocese so conservative it does not ordain women, and New Hampshire, which elected ECUSA’s first openly-gay bishop. “Both conservatives and liberals wanted honesty and clarity. It was a ‘marriage’ between justice-oriented liberals and clarity-oriented conservatives,” said Canon Kendall Harmon, a deputy from South Carolina and a well-known conservative theologian. Delegates also voted down a motion to consider the resolution in its original form, effectively killing the matter and subsequently causing consternation in the house of bishops, which would have considered the motion next. Bishop Gary Lillibridge of west Texas said the convention needs to give the new presiding bishop-elect, Katharine Jefferts Schori, “a chance at the table” by giving her a message to take to her fellow primates, or national bishops, when they meet. The deputies were able to pass an expression of regret for the strain caused by the church’s action, but changed the wording from regret for “breaching the proper constraints of” to “straining” the bonds of affection among churches in the Anglican Communion. Speaking in favour of the changed wording, Diane Pollard of New York said ironically that, “I did not receive the memo about the proper constraints and bonds of affection so I don’t know what they are.” Others said the relationship is strained but not broken. Delegates also passed a resolution reaffirming the church’s commitment to the Anglican Communion. The question of candidates for the episcopate whose lifestyle presents a challenge arose in an unexpected quarter when Canon Barry Beisner was presented for confirmation as the next bishop of northern California. He is twice divorced and three-times married, and some deputies expressed reservations as to the example this would set, although the Episcopal Church accepts divorce and re-marriage. People from his diocese spoke highly of his pastoral gifts and one delegate said it was “wrong to apply a standard of admission after the fact.” However, David Grizzle of Texas said he had opposed the election of Bishop Robinson and “it would be hypocrisy to agree to consent to the consecration of Barry Beisner.” After the deputies voted to accept him, the house of bishops voted 68-38 to accept his election. With files from ENS.

Author

  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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