Episcopalians Vote on Propriety of Gay Bishops

The Episcopal Church, at its annual convention in Columbus, Ohio, passed a resolution urging its more than 2 million members to elect no more gay bishops. The move was a response to the divisions created three years ago by the election of an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Chicago Public Radio's Jason DeRose reports.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

The Episcopal Church today said no more gay bishops. The American church caused a rift three years ago when it elected an openly gay man, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, as bishop. Today, delegates took steps to heal that rift, voting on several key resolutions involving homosexuality.

Chicago Public Radio's Jason DeRose is covering the Episcopal Convention in Columbus, Ohio, and he joins us now. And, Jason, there were several proposals, I gather, involving gay clergy and same-sex unions. What was resolved today?

JASON DEROSE reporting:

Well, the Episcopal Church has now officially apologized to the entire Anglican Communion for the pain that it caused when it elected the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, back in 2003. Now they apologized for the pain that they caused, but they don't apologize for having done it. They don't express regret for having done it, just the pain caused.

And, also, late this afternoon, they basically put into effect a moratorium, saying no, we will not elect any more gay bishops so that the rift between the U.S. Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion can be healed.

SIEGEL: And blessing of same-sex unions? Did a resolution pass on that issue?

DEROSE: Well, there was also a resolution that suggested that the church hold off on the creation of an official blessing for same-sex unions. However, that proposal never actually came up to the floor. So, no word either way. So, that means the diocese throughout the U.S. that do bless same-sex unions will continue to do so and those that don't will probably not.

SIEGEL: What was the reaction from Bishop Robinson to this?

DEROSE: Well, he says that he, Bishop Robinson and representatives from the Episcopal gay and lesbian rights group Integrity, say that they're very disappointed by this new ban on gay bishops. In fact, the president of Integrity said this afternoon - she looked very, very upset actually - she said that the Episcopal Church has not only failed the gospel, but failed its gay and lesbian members.

SIEGEL: Now, as you said, part of the issue here, much of it was the division between the American Episcopal Church and the Worldwide Anglican Communion. But there also is an issue between liberals and conservatives within the American church itself.

DEROSE: Right. Conservative Episcopalians in the U.S., such as from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, parts of Texas, parts of Virginia, say that what was done today, in fact, a ban on gay bishops, still isn't enough, that this church continues to be too liberal.

They say the new presiding bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, who was elected over the weekend, the first female bishop, is just too liberal. She supports gays and lesbians in ministry as clergies and bishops at all levels. And they're still threatening to break away.

So a lot of people thought this ban would appease them, however, that's not the case. In fact, some are now asking for oversight from a bishop other than Katherine Jefferts Schori in the U.S. So they would look elsewhere, to the archbishop of Canterbury, perhaps, for oversight.

SIEGEL: Well, is a resolution of the convention of the Episcopal Church in America, is that binding on all bishops of the church or are the bishops independent?

DEROSE: Well, technically, because of the cannons of the church, they cannot affect a full moratorium. But instead, the resolution was worded to, you know, exercise extreme caution and to refrain from. Now, a number of bishops, over 30 in fact, have signed a letter saying they're not going to abide by this resolution to not have gay bishops. They're going to encourage and raise up gay and lesbian leaders at all levels of ministry in the church. That includes bishops from the Diocese of Washington, DC and from the Diocese of Chicago.

Now, in the coming months, several dioceses will elect new bishops, such as the Diocese of Newark in New Jersey. Now, that's a very progressive diocese of the Episcopal Church. And there's a chance that they could elect the next gay bishop.

SIEGEL: That's Jason DeRose of Chicago Public Radio, reporting to us from Columbus, Ohio. Thank you, Jason.

DEROSE: You're welcome.

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