Conservative delegates to two national denominational conventions lost battles to either hold the line against gay ministers or to move it back.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to continue their official disapproval of ordination of gay ministers but to allow those who are supportive of an inclusive church to ignore the rule.
A measure approved 298-221 by a Presbyterian national assembly keeps in place a church law that says clergy and lay elders and deacons must limit sexual relations to man-woman marriage. But the new legislation says local congregations and regional presbyteries can exercise some flexibility when choosing clergy and lay officers of local congregations if sexual orientation or other issues arise.
Although this may not on the surface appear to be particularly supportive, it is being viewed as a significant loss for those within the PCUSA that wished to retain a restrictive view on homosexuality.
Also today, the Episcopal Church rejected efforts to put a temporary moratorium on the ordination of gay bishops. After Bishop Robinson was confirmed in 2003, many churches within the Anglican Communion (of which the Episcopal Church is a member) severed ties with the Episcopal Church. This moratorium was viewed as a possible way that the peace could be maintained and the church remain unified.
A proposal for the U.S. Episcopal Church to impose an unofficial moratorium on ordaining more openly gay bishops was rejected on Tuesday in a vote that could further roil relations with fellow Anglicans worldwide.
Although a day remains in which parliamentarian maneuvers could still allow for a vote, the action today suggests that this will not happen.
Those opposed to gay Episcopalians have determined that they cannot share fellowship and communion with fellow Anglicans who disagree with them on this issue. This rejection of the moratorium comes on the heels of the election of a woman as the head of the church. More conservative Anglicans oppose the ordination of women.
It is likely that the worldwide Anglican Communion will break apart with more liberal countries in the West splitting from African and Asian Anglicans. Alternately, the Archbishop of Canterbury may, in a last ditch effort, expel the Episcopalians in an effort to keep the other churches under one roof. This would be, in my opinion, a short lived effort as it would embolden the conservatives to make more demands on other chuches in the West.
Of more practical interest will be what will happen within the Episcopal Church itself. It is highly likely that those conservative Episcopalians who have been unhappy for the past three years will sever themselves from the body and appeal for recognition by the Archbishop as true Anglicans. We should also expect legal battles over the property of those dioceses.
This will be, in my opinion, just the first of the schisms that will arise out of the most divisive issue to affect Christianity since slavery, namely how the body of Christ should respond to those within it who are gay.
In an unexpected move, the presiding head of the Episcopal Church called a joint meeting of Bishops, clergy, and lay representatives and pleaded for some resolution that could be used to show the greater Anglican Communion that their concerns were taken seriously.
Yesterday, at the end of the Episcopal Church’s triennial convention in Columbus, Ohio, bishops and clergy and lay representatives voted overwhelmingly for a resolution calling upon bishops and diocesan standing committees, which are akin to boards of trustees, not to give their consent to the election “of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”
This nonbinding resolution served to please neither conservatives, who demanded that a moratorium be placed, nor liberals, who were offended that gay Episcopalians are being sacrificed on the alter of “unity”. This unhappy compromise may, however, allow the Anglican Communion a breather in which to come to terms with what fellowship can be maintained between branches that differ so greatly in their understanding of sin, redemption, sexuality, and the application of Levitical Law and cultural prohibitions to the modern understanding of sexual orientation.
A crisis may have been averted. But this issue will not go away and the Episcopal Church will not accept forever the exclusion of gay Christians from full inclusion in its body. We can anticipate further crises and a possible schism within the next few years.