July 14th, 2009
At their national convention in 2003, delegates of the Episcopal Church took a vote that was not much watched by those outside of the body of Anglicans. Yet this decision has perhaps had more global fallout than any specific religious action in centuries.
When the Episcopal Church ordained Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, it infuriated conservative American Episcopalians as well as those around the world affiliated with the Anglican Communion, the globe\’s third largest Christian fellowship.
In America, several priests and laypeople left the church in protest along with a handful of churches and even four dioceses. Other religious leaders were quick to throw in their opinion with some, like evangelical mega-church pastor Rick Warren, leaping to praise the dissidents.
A number of Archbishops in Africa and Asia condemned the American church and declared that they would not break bread with anyone who would accept gay Christians on an equal standing. The global body stood on the brink of schism.
In 2006 the Episcopal Church took a breather. They chose to stand back and hold off on ordaining any further bishops or in taking any steps to recognize or celebrate same-sex unions in hope that this cooling off time could allow them to find common ground with anti-gay elements of the Communion and achieve peace.
But peace was not an option. Conservative Anglicans are not interested in unity in Christ or the guidance of each body\’s conscience or in allowing all to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They want strict adherence to their demands or harsh punishment as a consequence. Either reject gay Christians, or to Hell with you.
This week the Episcopal Church is meeting again, as it does every three years. And it appears to have made its decision. By a vote of 99-45, resolution D025 broke the moratorium on partnered gay ordinations. (NY Times)
The resolution passed on Monday was written in a way that would allow dioceses to consider gay candidates to the episcopacy, but does not mandate that all dioceses do so.
This is of particular note because while the resolution had passed the House of Deputies handily (77-31 in the lay order and 74-35 in the clerical order), it had not been anticipated that the House of Bishops would be so resolute.
This is a step that should not be underestimated. It is quite likely that this action will lead to a separation of the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion. Indeed, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the head of the church, hinted at such last week when he addressed the American delegation.
Dr. Williams addressed the General Convention in Anaheim as it opened last week, saying, “Along with many in the communion, I hope and pray that there won\’t be decisions in the coming days that will push us further apart. If we — if I — had felt that we could do perfectly well without you, there wouldn\’t be a problem.”
Should a separation (or expulsion) occur, it may soon be followed by other national bodies deemed too “liberal” by those who measure their faith by who it excludes. Eventually the parent church, the Church of England, may find itself in the position of fighting for its own inclusion in the body to which it lends its name.
Also in play is a resolution to “collect and develop theological resources and liturgies of blessing for same-gender holy unions” for consideration in 2012. This resolution, C056, has moved out of the Prayer Book Committee by a huge margin (6-0 among bishops, 26-1 in deputies) and is now before the House of Bishops.
The significant majority of Bishop support for ordination – considering its expected consequence – may give promise of a positive outcome for C056. Having embraced full inclusion of gay Christians, the church may feel less need to hesitate over blessing of their vows and commitments.
Today the Episcopal Church made a momentous decision. They took a step towards inclusion that will likely result in their exclusion. They decided that you are more important than the good favor of those who reject you. They decided that you are more valued than centuries of tradition, communion, and organization.
Given a choice between welcoming you into their fold or appeasing those who find you abhorrent, they chose you.
For excellent blogging of the convention and its decisions, see Episcopal Cafe
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A special congratulations to my friend Dan who leaves this week to become an Assistant Rector at an Episcopal Church in Illinois. May God keep you, guide you, bless you and shower you with His blessings.
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