Wednesday, June 21, 2006

It was too good to last: The Episcopal Church backs down

By Nancy Jane Moore

Alas, I posted too soon. In an unusual joint session this morning, the Episcopal House of Bishops and House of Deputies (which includes both lay and clergy members) adopted a resolution that agrees to "exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration 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."

That is, they are agreeing to hold back on appointing any more gay bishops. Although the statement they approved is milder than the one that was voted down earlier in the convention, it amounts to the same thing. I, for one, am very disappointed.

I realize that the church is trying to make peace with the rest of the Anglican Communion; in fact, the reports on the convention by the Episcopal News Service on the church website indicate that the primary reason the current presiding bishop, Frank Griswold, called the special session was that he thought the church had to go farther in answering complaints from the rest of the Anglican churches. And perhaps they are hoping to forestall efforts by individual Episcopal churches to split off.

Newly appointed Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told the deputies.

I am fully committed to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in this church. . . . I certainly don't understand adopting this resolution as slamming the door. I think if you do pass this resolution you have to be willing to keep working with all your might at finding a common mind in this church. I don't find this an easy thing to say to you, but I think that is the best we are going to manage at this point in our church's history.

That is, it's a compromise. And that's a mistake. They're not going to get that common mind the bishop is asking for by backing down. History shows us that it's pointless to wait for those who aren't ready when dealing with issues of human rights. They're never going to be ready. You can't wait for them; you have to lead them.

In the end, I don't think those who oppose gay bishops – and let's not forget that some of those same people also oppose female bishops – are going to change their minds just because the Episcopal Church said they'd exercise "restraint." They're just going to demand more.

So I'm disappointed. But I'm still proud to note that the Episcopal Church includes openly gay priests and bishops in its clergy – including some in active relationships. Most other mainstream churches are dragging their heels on the issue; some will allow gays so long as they remain celibate; others won't allow them at all.

I'm hoping that by the next Episcopal general convention, the church stops compromising and goes back to taking a firm stand. We have plenty of compromisers in this country. What we need are leaders.

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