Election of lesbian bishop stirs up controversy

09 December 2009

by Pat Ashworth

Double first: Canon Mary Glasspool (left), and Canon Diane Bruce, bishops-elect with the Bishop of Los Angeles, the Rt Revd Jon Bruno, at the Los Angeles diocesan con­vention last week DON ANDERSON/ELO

Double first: Canon Mary Glasspool (left), and Canon Diane Bruce, bishops-elect with the Bishop of Los Angeles, the Rt Revd Jon Bruno, at the Los Ange...

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has made clear his opposition to the election last Friday of an openly gay and partnered lesbian priest, Canon Mary Glasspool, as Suffragan Bishop of Los Angeles.

Her election “raises very serious questions not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Commun­ion as a whole”, Dr Williams said in a statement after the announce­ment. “The process of selection, however, is only part complete.

The election has to be confirmed, or could be rejected, by diocesan bishops and diocesan standing com­mittees. That decision will have very important implications.

“The bishops of the Communion have collectively acknowledged that a period of gracious restraint in respect of actions which are con­trary to the mind of the Commun­ion is necessary if our bonds of mutual affection are to hold.”

Canon Glasspool, whose late father was an Episcopal priest op­posed to women’s ordination, won on the seventh ballot, with 153 clergy votes and 203 lay votes. She had enough clergy votes to win by the end of the third ballot, but many Spanish-speaking delegatesat the diocesan convention had sup­ported her closest rival, the Revd Irineo Vasquez.

A majority of bishops and stand­ing committees of all the dioceses is required to give consent to a bishop’s election within 120 days. The Bishop of Los Angeles, the Rt Revd Jon Bruno, acknowledged at a press conference rumours of “a concerted effort not to give consent”.

He said: “At our last General Convention we said we were not discriminatory. They just as well might have withheld their consents from me because I was a divorced man, and, in my case, it would have been more justified than withhold­ing them from someone who had been approved through all levels of ministry and is a good and creative minister of the gospel.”


The General Convention of the Episcopal Church removed any bar to the consecration of gay and lesbian candidates by passing a resolution in July that affirmed that ordained ministry was open to gay and lesbian people who were part of committed relationships (News, 24 July). Technically, the moratorium requested by the Windsor report will only be broken when the Epis­copal Church ordains another gay bishop.

The Los Angeles diocesan conven­tion had already made history on the previous day by electing Canon Diane Bruce to the first of the two vacant suffragan posts. She is the first woman in the diocese to be elected bishop, and the 16th in the Episcopal Church. A former Roman Catholic, and a vice-president of Wells Fargo Bank, she specialises in interfaith, ecumenical, and multi­cultural work, and speaks Spanish, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

The Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt Revd Gene Robinson, saidin a press statement, “The people of the diocese of Los Angeles have elected two extraordinarily gifted priests to serve them as Suffragan Bishops. . . Rightly so, the people of Los Angeles have not let current arguments over homosexuality or threats to ‘unity’ impair their choosing the best persons for these ministries.”

He told The Wall Street Journal that he doubted whether conserva­tive critics could muster the two-thirds majority needed to stop the election. “Asian and African bishops have said to me, ‘Look, we don’t agree with you on this issue. We don’t ordain gays. But we’re worried about people dying of AIDS, malaria and abject poverty, and this comes way down on our list of priorities.’” He insisted, “It’s not a Communion-breaker.”

Canon Glasspool received a stand­ing ovation when she appeared on stage at the Riverside Convention Center with her partner, Dr Becki Sander, at her side. She has empha­sised, “I am not a ‘single issue’ person, and I preach passionately about peace-making, reconciliation, the need to battle against the evils of racism, and overcome extreme poverty.”

Anglican Mainstream said that it was “saddened but not surprised” by the announcement, and warned: “Unless their diocesan bishops and their standing committees decline to endorse the election, it will confirm that the Episcopal Church have no intention of respecting the mind of the Communion and halting their current trajectory.”

The American Anglican Council said that if the rest of the Episcopal Church consented to the election, “there can be no more pretending that [it] holds to Angli­can Com­munion doctrine and 2000 years of biblically based Christian teaching.” The Revd Rod Thomas, chairman of Reform, the conserva­tive Evangelical net­work, said that schism was now “absolutely inevit­able”.


A headline in the Ugandan Monitor, “Orombi angry over new lesbian bishop”, referred to a com­ment made by Alison Barfoot, Bishop Orombi’s assistant for inter­national relations. She described the choice of Canon Glasspool as “funny and unbiblical”.

The influential Chicago Consul­tation, a group of Episcopal and Anglican bishops, clergy, and lay people who are pressing for an “in­clusive Church”, accused Dr Williams of damaging the Com­munion’s ministry among gay and lesbian people. They called on him to recon­sider his statement on Canon Glass­pool and his silence on anti-gay legislation in Uganda.

The Presiding Bishop of the Epis­copal Church, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, condemned the proposed Ugandan legislation this week. “Much of the current climate of fear, rejection, and antagonism to­ward gay and lesbian persons in African nations has been stirred by members and former members of our own Church,” she said.

THE Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, has urged Dr Williams to “dissociate” from the Episcopal Church in the United States in res­ponse to the election of a part­nered lesbian as Suffragan Bishop of Los Angeles, writes Muriel Porter.

The election gave Dr Williams “every reason” to recognise the Anglican Church of North America, Dr Jensen said in a statement re­leased on Monday. The election “confirms the rightness of GAFCON in producing the Jerusalem Declara­tion and establishing the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans”, he said.



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