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The Episcopal Church, USA and homosexuality

The 2006 General Convention: Part 1
Topics to be discussed. Selection of new primate.

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2006-JUN-13: General Convention:

The Church's 75th convention started on 2006-JUN-13 in Columbus, OH. The Very Rev. George Werner, president of the House of Deputies, commented in the Washington Window -- the Diocese of Washington's periodical -- that the Church today is like: "one person wanting to go back 50 years to a church that never was; another wanting to go forward 50 years to a Church that never will be." He expected that many potentially divisive topics might be discussed at the convention:

bulletCreation of a church ritual to bless same-sex unions. Currently, the Church formally recognizes loving, committed same-sex couples as mere roommates.

bulletElection of a female as the Presiding Bishop. A very large minority of Provinces of the Anglican Communion do not even allow women to be ordained as priests; only a few allow women to be consecrated as bishops. 1

bulletConfirmation of Rev. Canon Barry Beisner as bishop elect of Northern California. He has been married three times and divorced twice. As noted above, many Provinces in the Communion eject bishops after one divorce.

All three topics would probably distress conservatives both within the Episcopal Church and throughout much of the rest of the Anglican Communion.

To which might be added:

bulletA change in Canon III, which describe the ministry. It would abolish the right of the House of Deputies to give consent to episcopal elections within 120 days of a General Convention. It is this canon that forced the Convention to take a stand on the confirmation of Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003 -- a gay male in a committed relationship -- and will force the confirmation of bishop-elect Barry Beisner -- who has been twice divorced -- at this convention.

bulletApproval of resolution A-161 which offers regrets for the adverse effects that its policies of equality for homosexuals have had on the Anglican communion, and promises to "exercise very considerable caution" to avoid the selection of future bishops "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion." This resolution falls far short of the expectations and requests of much of the rest of the Anglican Communion's Windsor report.

bulletApproval of other resolutions based on implementing the recommendations of the Windsor Report.

There are normally only a single chaplain available in the House of Deputies during  conventions. This year, they will have four "who represent many different things." 1

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Presiding Bishop Griswold retiring:

Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold is retiring as the Primate of the Episcopal Church, USA. Reflecting on his term in office and the continuing crises over equal treatment for sexual minorities, Griswold said:

"Reconciliation won't come in trying to create one point of view but in common prayer. Our differences can coexist in the larger frame of our common focus on Christ.....Every convention has had hovering over it a catastrophic fantasy. And then you get to general convention and people listen to each other carefully. At the end of the day, you usually come out in a place that represents what I call the diverse center of the church." 2

An article by Neela Banerjee of the New York Times stated:

"Bishop Griswold, who says he has read the Bible twice a day for years, said the [bible's] passages about homosexuality referred to certain behaviors, not to what he called 'patterns of affection.'  He recounted that his understanding of homosexuality was affected in the 1960's by a couple in his Pennsylvania parish. One man had multiple sclerosis, and his companion's selflessness in caring for him convinced Bishop Griswold that such love did not contradict biblical teachings."

He said:

"In the Gospels, Jesus says, 'I have many more things to say to you but you cannot bear them now,' which suggests to me that God's truth is always unfolding. If we can accept that there are new truths that science brings us, or new discoveries in medicine, why is it when it comes to sexuality, there is no new truth'?"

"Bishop Griswold added:

"A number of those most upset about our seemingly ignoring Scripture, though they are solidly heterosexual, have enjoyed the mercy of the church in the case of their own divorce and remarriage, which is something Jesus commented [negatively] on." 2

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Presiding bishop-elect selected:

The Right Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop of the Diocese of Nevada, was elected the 26th Presiding Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church, USA on June 18. She obtained 95 votes on the fifth ballot. "Her term officially begins November 1; she will be invested and seated during a liturgy at Washington National Cathedral on November 4." 3

bulletThe Rev. Tamsen Whistler, rector of Trinity/St. Charles in Missouri said:

"Our jaws fell open and we had to put our hands over our mouths to keep from shouting."

bulletThe Rev. Dr. Lydia Agnew Speller, rector of St. Markís/St. Louis, also in Missouri said:

 "On the floor you could feel sharp intakes of breath and tears springing to the eyes unbidden....The amazing thing about this election is that even people who thought she was the best candidate thought 'but that will never happen' because of her gender and because of some fear that a female primate would just exacerbate the tensions in the Anglican Communion."

bulletThe Rev. Michael Kinman, a priest of the Missouri Diocese, former director of Campus Ministry, and who is now executive director for Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation noted that Bishop Schori is the first primate-elect of a province in the Anglican Communion. He said:

"Thatís what will get the headlines, and it is wonderful. But what you should know is we have a brilliant new Presiding Bishop with an incredible heart for mission and amazingly calm presence."

bulletThe spectators in the House of Deputies gallery erupted with approval. The chair admonished them for their emotional display, because it is considered a violation of the behavior rules of the House. 4

Her election was overwhelmingly confirmed by the House of Deputies, as required by church canons. She will serve a term of nine years that are almost guaranteed to be among the most tumultuous in the history of the denomination, rivaling and perhaps exceeding past conflicts over human slavery, contraception, female ordination to the priesthood, and female consecration as bishop. 5

The American Anglican Council, a conservative movement within the Episcopal Church, USA did not appear to be pleased with the selection. They noted that, in their opinion:

"At the 2003 General Convention, Jefferts Schori voted against Resolution B001, which sought to affirm basic tenets of faith, including the authority of Holy Scripture; voted for the consecration of V. Gene Robinson; and is on record for her support of the blessings of same-sex unions. Jefferts Schoriís election will obviously present problems for those who do not recognize the ordination of women priests."
 
"In addition, she is the least experienced of all the nominees, having been ordained a priest in 1994 and consecrated as bishop of Nevada in 2001."

"In her tenure as Bishop of Nevada, Jefferts Schori encouraged passage of a diocesan resolution to approve ceremonies to 'celebrate relationships of mutuality and fidelity between same-sex couples.' She served as a member of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, which produced inadequate resolutions in response to the Windsor Report. In a press conference following her election and confirmation, she noted her support of same-sex blessings. Her election sends a clear message to the Anglican Communion that her leadership will continue the revisionist agenda of the Episcopal Church."

"While key resolutions on regret and moratoria remain unresolved, the election of Jefferts Schori illustrates the fact that two churches exist under one roof with irreconcilable differences." 6

Although most provinces in the Anglican Communion do recognize female priests, few allow female bishops. None before have ever elected a woman as Primate -- the most senior posting in an Anglican province. Her election is bound to send waves of discontent among almost all of the other provinces.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, sent greetings to Bishop Katharine, and commented:

"Her election will undoubtedly have an impact on the collegial life of the Anglican Primates; and it also brings into focus some continuing issues in several of our ecumenical dialogues."

One can anticipate major discomfort on the part of some of the other Primates to have a woman in their midst. Dr. Williams concluded:

"We are continuing to pray for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church [,USA] as it confronts a series of exceptionally difficult choices." 7

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This topic continues in Part 2

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Convention Organizers Prepare for Sensitive Issues," The Living Church, 2006-MAY-16, at: http://www.livingchurch.org/
  2. Neela Banerjee, "Episcopal Leader Retiring Amid Divisive Debate on Sexuality of Bishops." New York Times," 2006-JUN-11.
  3. "From Columbus: Convention sees history unfold as church elected new Presiding Bishop," Episcopal News Service, 2006-JUN-18, at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/
  4. "Announcement of new Presiding Bishop surprises many," at: http://www.missouri.anglican.org/060619.doc This is a Microsoft Word file.
  5. Episcopal News Service, 2006-JUN-18.
  6. "A Statement from the American Anglican Council on the Election of the Episcopal Church’s 26th Presiding Bishop," Press Release, American Anglican Council, 2006-JUN-18.
  7. "Archbishop of Canterbury - 'Prayers' for new Presiding Bishop," Anglican Communion News Service, 2006-JUN-19.

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Copyright © 2005 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-JUN-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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