Gay bishops more likely after US passes ‘nuanced’ motion

by
16 July 2009

by Pat Ashworth

First of many? The Rt Revd Gene Robinson presiding at the Integrity eucharist on Friday TEC

First of many? The Rt Revd Gene Robinson presiding at the Integrity eucharist on Friday TEC

THE General Convention of the US Episcopal Church this week appeared to signal an end to its moratorium on the consecration of people in same-sex relationships.

All eyes had been on the Convention, meeting in Anaheim, California, to see what it would do with Resolution B033, which in 2006 urged restraint in ordaining any more gay bishops in the immediate future. This was a central plank of the Windsor process, relieving tensions in the Anglican Communion between the Episcopal Church and its critics, and was tied to a moratorium on cross-border interventions.

Later in the week, the House of Bishops passed a resolution on same-sex blessings. On Wednesday  they voted by a margin of 3 to 1 "to acknowledge changing circumstances" that call forth a renewed pastoral response from the church for considering same-gender blessings. The resolution noted that bishops, "particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church."

All eyes had been on the Convention, meeting in Anaheim, California, to see what it would do with Resolution B033, which in 2006 urged restraint in ordaining any more gay bishops in the immediate future. This was a central plank of the Windsor process, relieving tensions in the Anglican Communion between the Episcopal Church and its critics, and was tied to a moratorium on cross-border interventions.

Later in the week, the House of Bishops passed a resolution on same-sex blessings. On Wednesday  they voted by a margin of 3 to 1 "to acknowledge changing circumstances" that call forth a renewed pastoral response from the church for considering same-gender blessings. The resolution noted that bishops, "particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church."

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Before the vote, more than 1000 people crowded into the Pacific Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel to hear the testimony of 51 people, all but ten of whom wanted the Church to move beyond B033. It could have been repealed or re­affirmed, but neither happened. Instead, 13 resolutions relating to B033 were combined into D025, a multi-part resolution “on Commit­ment and Witness to Anglican Communion”, intended to describe the mind of the Church on the issue.

Like B033, it has no canonical force, and the moratorium will technically be broken only if the Episcopal Church ordains another gay bishop. The final wording of the motion was described as “descriptive, not prescriptive”.

Resolution D025 reaffirms the Episcopal Church’s continued participation as a constituent mem­ber of the Anglican Communion; the active involvement of dioceses and congregations; its financial involvement in the Communion; and its commitment to the listening process on human sexuality.

It then states that the Convention recognises “that gay and lesbian persons who are part of [commit­ted] relationships have responded to God’s call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst;” and further affirms “that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church, and that God’s call to the ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church is a mystery which the Church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Consti­tution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.”

Resolution D025 concludes with the acknowledgement that Epis­copa­lians “are not of one mind, and Christians of good conscience dis­agree about some of these matters”.

The Presiding Bishop, Dr Kath­arine Jefferts Schori, concluded: “We have been asked to exercise restraint and we have done so.” Bonnie Ander­son, leader of the House of Deputies, said it was “not an at­tempt to fly in the face of the Anglican Communion”.

The Bishops voted by 99 to 45 in favour of the resolution; the Deputies by 77-31 (lay) and 74-25 (clergy). Supporters believed the motion to be an open and honest statement of the present position in the Episcopal Church. Those opposed were worried about how it would be in­ter­preted in the Anglican Com­munion and among the remaining conservatives and moderates in the Episcopal Church.

Some, such as the Bishop of Alabama, believed that the subtleties and nuances in the language of the motion would be ignored. Certainly, The New York Times reported that Episcopalians had “voted over­whelm­ingly to open the door to con­secrate more bishops who were openly gay”.

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Some, such as the Bishop of Alabama, believed that the subtleties and nuances in the language of the motion would be ignored. Certainly, The New York Times reported that Episcopalians had “voted over­whelm­ingly to open the door to con­secrate more bishops who were openly gay”.

At the General Synod in York on Monday morning, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “I regret the fact that there is no will to observe the moratorium in such a significant part of the Church in North America.”

Dr Williams was a guest in the opening days of the Convention. He told them: “I hope and pray that there won’t be decisions in the com­ing days that could push us further apart.”

Anglican Mainstream issued a statement on Wednesday, urging the Archbishop of Canterbury “to consult with those Primates able to sign the Ridley Covenant Draft together with the Communion Partners in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in North America to address the way forward from here.”

The Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, wrote in The Times on Wednesday: “The Amer­icans know this will end in schism.” He acknowledged the stated desire to remain in the Communion. “But saying ‘we want to stay in, but we in­sist on rewriting the rules’ is cynical double-think. We should not be fooled.”

The Committees on Prayer Book, Liturgy, and Church Music have adopted Resolution C065, calling for theological resources and litur­gies of blessing for same-gender holy unions to be formally pre­sented to 77th General Convention in 2013.

The House of Bishops' resolution on same-sex blessings is here

Resolution D025 is here

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Updates on the General Convention can be read on Dave Walker's blog

Updates on the General Convention can be read on Dave Walker's blog

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