Episcopal clergy and lay delegates Tuesday rejected a demand from fellow Anglicans that they temporarily stop electing gay bishops, leaving little chance the proposal could be revived at a national church meeting.
Anglican leaders, angered by the 2003 consecration of an openly gay Episcopal bishop, had asked the Episcopalians pass a moratorium — at least for now — on homosexuals leading dioceses.
But in a complex balloting system, a majority of the Episcopal House of Deputies voted against the measure, which church leaders had seen as critical to keeping the embattled Anglican Communion together. Exact vote totals were not immediately available.
The critical debate in the Episcopal Church came on a day when another American Protestant denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), coincidentally planned to decide on whether to allow leeway on the ordination of gay clergy and lay elders and deacons.
Mainline Protestant groups, including the Methodists and the largest U.S. Lutheran branch, have been struggling for decades over the traditional Christian prohibition on gay sex as lesbians and gays push for full inclusion in their churches. The issue has frequently dominated debate at national Protestant assemblies.
Little hope for ban
The Episcopal General Convention ends Wednesday, and the House of Bishops could still try to resurrect the ban on gay bishops. But such a measure would still need the approval of the very same deputies who have now rejected it.
Anglicans sought the changes after the consecration three years ago of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who lives with his longtime male partner.
The Episcopal Church is the U.S. arm of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, the fellowship of churches with roots that trace back to the Church of England.
While conservatives are a minority within the American denomination, the majority of overseas Anglican leaders oppose actively gay clergy. They have pressured Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the communion’s spiritual leader, to take some action against Episcopalians if they fail to adhere to that view.
Many Anglican churches have already broken ties with the U.S. church over Robinson’s elevation. And if overseas leaders dislike the outcome of this week’s meeting, it greatly increases the chances that the association of 38 national churches will break apart.
Williams has repeatedly expressed concern that the feud over homosexuality would lead to a permanent rift.
“We cannot survive as a communion of churches without some common convictions about what it is to live and to make decisions as the Body of Christ,” he wrote in a message to the General Convention when it began last week.