Episcopal bishops are in key meetings this week that will bring the strongest test yet for many of the denomination’s more liberal stances, including the nomination of openly gay bishops. Anglican leaders are demanding the denomination retract its support of homosexuality or potentially lose full membership in the Anglican Communion.
Based on differing beliefs over homosexuality, among other controversial interpretations of Scripture, conflict in the Episcopal Church is nothing new. After decades of debate, controversy came to a head for the denomination on June 7, 2003, when the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire became the first openly homosexual bishop to be consecrated. Since then, a considerable shift has been underway in the Episcopal Church–from more conservative biblical interpretations to a more liberal perspective, even authorizing official same-sex blessings.
The Episcopal Church is the world’s third-largest Christian denomination, and as their semiannual gathering approaches in the coming week, the bishops face an interesting dilemma. For now, the Episcopal Church dissuades from electing openly gay and lesbian bishops, but does not ban the practice outright.
On September 20–25, the bishops will meet in New Orleans to discuss the issues of consecrating gay and lesbian bishops and prohibiting the blessings of same-sex unions in an effort to raise their status in the Church. By September 30, the Episcopal Church must have a definitive response to the issues. If they don’t, the Episcopal leaders risk being severed from the communion.
Over the years, several parishes have left the Church in favor of the more conservative Anglican teachings, and more are threatening to leave the Anglican Communion, a 77 million-member group of churches, altogether. Recently, in August, two American priests were consecrated as Anglican bishops in Kenya, and many more are also moving to foreign provinces in Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and other countries in Africa.
Directly related to this issue, three conservative congregations severed ties with the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles over disputes involving biblical authority, scriptural interpretation and Rev. Robinson’s ordination in 2003. After announcing their separation from the diocese, the parishes placed themselves under the jurisdiction of an Anglican Church in Uganda. Nearly one week ago, it was decided that the California Supreme Court would step in to review a former ruling on the situation.
During the upcoming semiannual meeting, Episcopal bishops in support of homosexual priests plan to engage Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in a private discussion on the matter in hopes of restoring the Church and seeking resolution. Dr. Williams will also give an address titled “Present Realities and Future Possibilities for Lesbians and Gay Men in the Church.”
With a history of controversy and conflict within the Episcopal Church, the clergymen remain hopeful about the September meeting and their expectations for the Church’s future. “These are complicated days for our church internationally, and it’s all the more important to keep up personal relationships and conversations,” Dr Williams said. “My aim is to try and keep people around the table as long as possible.” The Archbishop’s attendance and his commitment to these issues looks encouraging, and the Church waits in anticipation for decisions to be made.