California Episcopal Diocese May Elect Gay Bishop

The Episcopal Diocese of California, which includes the Bay Area counties, will elect a new bishop May 6. Three of the seven candidates are gay. The national Episcopal Church has been roiled by the election of a gay bishop, Gene Robinson. Conservatives in the church are already warning against the election of another gay bishop. The election would have to be confirmed by the national church convention in June.

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Tomorrow, Episcopalians in the San Francisco Bay Area could elect their church's second gay bishop. The vote being watched closely by the National Episcopal Church and the large denomination that's part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Marjorie Sun reports from San Francisco.

MARJORIE SUN reporting:

At San Francisco's soaring gothic Grace Cathedral last Sunday, church members settled in to worship and also to pray for the election of the new bishop. The winner will lead one of the largest Episcopal dioceses in the country. So far there doesn't appear to be a clear frontrunner among the five men and two women who are running. All have solid backgrounds in church leadership. What's garnering much interest, though, is that among the candidates are two openly gay men and a lesbian. Alan Jones is Dean of Grace Cathedral. He approaches Saturday's election, he says, with fear and trembling.

Mr. ALAN JONES (Dean of Grace Cathedral): Whatever we do, we'll be blamed. One is that if we elect a straight male, the liberals on the extreme left will say, yeah, they're just playing it safe. If we elect a gay person, others will say they're browing up the Anglican Communion.

SUN: Whoever wins Saturday must be approved in June by the National Episcopal Church. If the Bay Area elects a gay the National Church will face some hard decisions. Three years ago it elected its first openly gay Bishop, Gene Robinson, to lead the Diocese of New Hampshire. Church conservatives revolted worldwide. In 2004 the International Anglican Communion based in Canterbury, England issued a report asking the American Episcopal Church for a moratorium on electing gays as Bishops.

Robert Duncan is Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and one of the most vocal critics of openly gay clergy. He says when the Episcopal Church affirmed Robinson as Bishop it acted arrogantly. He hopes California won't do the same. If it does...

Bishop ROBERT DUNCAN (Bishop, Diocese of Pittsburgh): That will be California saying we have the right to do exactly what we chose to do. The only cost of that right is that you're no longer part of the worldwide church.

SUN: In contrast, the outgoing Bishop of the Bay Area Diocese, William Swing, says he's proud of the Episcopal Church's stance on gays in the clergy.

Bishop WILLIAM SWING (Outgoing Bishop, Bay Area Diocese): The fact that we're in a, in a royal mess is just fine. We're here because we really courageously believe in some things, and we're going to have to work our way out of it.

SUN: The Anglican Community is at a crossroads, says theologian Ian Douglas. It's now dominated by a majority of members from Africa, Asia and South America, who, he says, are more conservative, culturally and religiously.

Mr. IAN DOUGLAS (Theologian): Fundamentally, the question before Anglicanism today is, can we be a church or a family of churches embracing radical differences beyond the mono-cultural experience of an English-speaking white western world?

SUN: Douglas says the Bay Area Diocese in Saturday's election is facing an enormous challenge, balancing its local concerns against the needs of the larger Anglican community. For NPR News, I'm Marjorie Sun in San Francisco.

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