The New York Times, June 22, 2006
Episcopal Church Urges Its Dioceses Not to Elect Gay Bishops
By NEELA BANERJEE
The Episcopal Church called on its bishops and dioceses yesterday to avoid backing the election of openly gay bishops, marking a retreat, if only temporarily, from its previous embrace of gays and lesbians at all levels of denominational life.
The move was a hard-won compromise intended to repair relations with congregations in the United States and with provinces in the global Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the American arm.
At a general convention in 2003, the Episcopal Church consented to the election of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as bishop of New Hampshire. That decision deeply offended some American congregations and Anglican provinces. They contended that the consecration of Bishop Robinson had violated biblical teachings on homosexuality, and some provinces went so far as to threaten schism.
Yesterday, at the end of the Episcopal Church's triennial convention in Columbus, Ohio, bishops and clergy and lay representatives voted overwhelmingly for a resolution calling upon bishops and diocesan standing committees, which are akin to boards of trustees, not to give their consent to the election "of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."
The passage was widely understood to refer mainly to openly gay and lesbian priests. Although bishops are elected by their dioceses, their election must be approved by other bishops and diocesan representatives.
"Although many of us fully support Bishop Robinson, this is the price we unfortunately had to pay to keep the church together and keep it at the table with the Anglican Communion," said Bishop Kirk S. Smith of Arizona, who voted for the resolution but said he supported gay men and lesbians in the episcopate. "It was the price of a ticket to admission for further work with the Anglican Communion."
The resolution was fashioned in response to a 2004 report commissioned by the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, to defuse the tensions over homosexuality. That document, known as the Windsor Report, recommended that the Episcopal Church apologize for the consecration of Bishop Robinson, that it stop blessing same-sex couples and that it place a moratorium on the election of gay bishops.
In a statement yesterday, Archbishop Williams commended the Episcopal Church for the work it had put into this and other resolutions, but he did not predict the effect it would have on the Anglican Communion.
"It is not yet clear how far the resolutions passed this week and today represent the adoption by the Episcopal Church of all the proposals set out in the Windsor Report," he said in a written statement. "The wider Communion will therefore need to reflect carefully on the significance of what has been decided before we respond more fully."
The resolution is not binding, a function in great part of the autonomy that the church gives dioceses. Eleven bishops who have criticized the church for its consecration of Bishop Robinson signed a letter calling the resolution "inadequate." Critics of the church have argued that anything short of a moratorium on the ordination of gay bishops goes against the Windsor Report.
But Bishop Smith predicted that the bishops who had backed the convention's resolution would probably refuse to give their consent to the election of an openly gay bishop. The resolution would then serve as "a de facto moratorium," said the Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, an advocacy group for gay and lesbian Episcopalians.
A vocal supporter of gay people, Bishop John B. Chane of Washington did not vote for the resolution, and announced yesterday that he would defy it. But Bishop J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles, who voted for the consecration of Bishop Robinson in 2003, said he backed the resolution. The resolution also drew the support of the presiding bishop, Frank T. Griswold, and his newly elected successor, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
Ms. Russell said that she was disappointed with the vote, but that gay men and lesbians would not abandon the Episcopal Church over it.
"It's absolutely not the end of anything," she said. "It's part of a long conversation. Those who wanted an up-or-down vote on gays in the episcopacy didn't get any clarity, and they're not happy. Liberals aren't happy. And gays? Well, we're being treated like bargaining chips in the game of Anglican politics."