So far in this century, it’s never a dull moment with those Episcopalians. Which is ironic, since they used to be considered some of the dullest folks around.
As they opened their national meeting in mid-June, Episcopal clergy and lay delegates knew they would be grappling with the incendiary topic of gay bishops. The elevation of openly gay V. Gene Robinson to bishop three years ago had infuriated many of their brethren and threatened to turn the global Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch, into woodchips.
By the time their meeting concluded, not only had the Episcopalians not caved to internal and international pressure on the gay issue, they managed to find an entirely new way to rankle conservatives.
I give them points for creativity.
Even for non-Episcopalians, it’s been hard to miss the flap over Robinson’s consecration as New Hampshire’s bishop. In this country, about 40 congregations have left the Episcopal Church. Globally, some Anglican churches, especially in Africa, have severed ties with the U.S. church.
The Anglican Communion is so fractured that the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the communion, might have no choice but to put himself and his whole dysfunctional brood in the hands of Dr. Phil.
Anglican honchos had pushed the Americans to pass a temporary moratorium on openly gay bishops. With that doozy of a demand hanging over them, Episcopalians journeyed to Columbus, Ohio, for the Episcopal General Convention. Where, before they even got to The Big Gay Issue, they made a decision that will cause consternation from Kansas to Kenya.
They elected a woman to lead them. They chose Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the first female presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.
“It’s huge in terms of what this means for the church and what it means for women in general,” the Rev. Susan Saucedo Sica from New Jersey told the Daily Record. “Within my lifetime, women couldn’t be priests. In less than 30 years, to go to the top is nothing short of amazing.”
I can hear the grumbling: Give ’em an inch and they take a presiding bishopric.
The Rev. Eddie Blue of Maryland said he was “shocked, dismayed and saddened by the choice,” and told The Associated Press, “I can’t help but consider the peculiar genius our church has for roiling the waters.”
They may be roiled good and proper, when you consider that of the Anglican Church’s 38 provinces around the globe, just three have women bishops, and nine actually forbid women as priests. Roil, waters, roil!
On the “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” correspondent Ray Suarez asked religious scholar Scott Appleby the significance of this selection. Appleby answered that “to the worldwide Anglican Communion, it may seem to some to be a slap in the face.” He noted that many already had their knickers in a twist over Robinson, and this decision could “further alienate” traditionalists.
Suarez sensibly noted that a gay bishop and a female head of church would seem to be two different issues. Appleby said, “We find in American religion and across the world the same kind of dividing lines on matters of gender, and sexuality, and abortion … that there seems to be a linkage in the minds of many people between women’s rights … and gay rights.”
So if you’re a church inclined to provide both, you’re exasperating people to the second power. Very thorough.
By the way, those feisty Episcopalians rejected the proposed ban on gay bishops. To indicate that they do grasp much of the Anglican world is upset, they passed a last-ditch, nonbinding resolution calling on American church leaders to “exercise restraint” when considering gay candidates for bishop.
I hear waters a’roilin.’