The Episcopal Church’s top policymaking body struggled Friday to balance Anglican demands to temporarily bar gays from becoming bishops with pleas from liberals against such a move.
A committee shepherding the General Convention’s response to the Anglicans was considering whether it should revise a proposal that stops short of a moratorium on electing gays to lead dioceses. The legislation asks parishioners only to “exercise very considerable caution” when choosing their leaders.
Supporters of gay clergy have lobbied Episcopalians not to make it tougher for gay and lesbian priests to advance within the church just so the denomination can maintain its role as the U.S. arm of the global Anglican Communion.
However, convention delegates have been coming under pressure from leading Anglican officials to toughen their legislation. Archbishop of York John Sentamu, the second-highest ranking cleric in the Church of England, is observing the meeting and has told Episcopal leaders that the measure does not go far enough toward healing Anglican divisions.
Question over Scripture
The 77 million-member communion is a loose association of churches that trace their roots to the Church of England.
The majority of overseas Anglican leaders believe gay relationships violate Scripture and many broke ties with Episcopalians in 2003 when they consecrated the first openly gay bishop — V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
On Thursday, the House of Deputies, comprised of lay people and clergy, approved a resolution on a voice vote affirming its commitment to remain within the communion despite the differences. The measure now goes before the House of Bishops for consideration.
This is just the start of what is expected to be a tense and complex debate in a meeting that runs through next Wednesday.
Delegates will also consider temporarily prohibiting bishops from creating official prayer services to bless gay couples. However, the legislation uses wording that leaves an opening for individual priests to conduct the ceremonies informally.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has expressed concern that the communion could break apart because of differences over homosexuality. The outcome of the convention will be a key factor in how the Anglican fellowship fares.
The Pittsburgh-based Anglican Communion Network, which represents 10 Episcopal dioceses and more than 900 parishes that opposed Robinson’s election, has a meeting set for the end of July to discuss its plans. The network remains part of the Episcopal Church for now, but could ultimately attempt to replace the denomination as the American member of the communion.
Church leaders hope voting on the issue will be completed before the election of their new presiding bishop on Sunday. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, the top official of the 2.3 million-member denomination, is finishing a nine-year term.