Written by Bennett Guess
Expressing their "passionate desire" to remain a full partner in the worldwide Anglican Communion, U.S. Episcopal bishops on
Tuesday (Sept. 25) said they remain committed to not allowing more gay bishops and pledged not to authorize public blessings of same-sex unions.
The bishops, facing a Sept. 30 deadline from angry sister Anglican churches, said they had answered the demands made of them, but
conservatives remain skeptical that the bishops' statement has much staying-power.
The bishops condemned a move by African bishops to provide outside leadership for parishes that no longer accept the U.S. hierarchy. They endorsed a plan to appoint "episcopal visitors" from within the church instead.
"We call for an immediate end to diocesan incursions by uninvited bishops," the bishops said. "Such incursions imperil common prayer and long-established ecclesial principles of our Communion."
The bishops, by promising not to endorse gay bishops or same-sex blessings as a group, appeared to leave themselves significant wiggle
room on how their policies would be implemented on the local level.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori acknowledged that the statement was mainly a "clarification" of the bishops' previous
positions, but said it was a full response to what was asked of them.
"We treasure our membership in the Anglican Communion," she said, adding that the measures to pull back on the church's gay-rights
positions were "sacrificial."
The statement was approved by a voice vote, with only one resounding no, following five days of meeting that included three sessions with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and a delegation of other Anglican prelates last week.
The bishops, the statement said, "expressed our passionate desire to remain in communion. It is our conviction that the Episcopal Church
needs the Anglican Communion, and we heard from our guests that the Anglican Communion needs the Episcopal Church."
In addressing the question of gay bishops, the prelates reiterated a resolution passed at the church's 2006 convention calling on church
officials "to exercise restraint by not consenting" to bishops whose "manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church." In a
footnote, the bishops specifically said that includes "non-celibate gay and lesbian persons."
In making a "pledge not to authorize for use in our dioceses any public rites of blessing of same-sex unions" at this time, they noted
that the church has never adopted any rite for such blessings.
Whether the bishops' response will satisfy either the Anglican prelates or dissident Episcopalians remains in question.
"It's a great example of apostolic leaders acting like lawyers," said the Rev. Kendall Harmon, a conservative theologian from the Diocese
of South Carolina. "They're hiding behind language that's parsed and insulting."
The bishops' "reluctant bargaining effort to keep their foot in the door," of the Anglican Communion, will just lead to increased chaos in
the U.S. and abroad, Harmon said.
But the statement's seemingly overwhelming support from conservative and liberal bishops proves that it strikes a balance on a divisive issue, said Jim Naughton, a spokesman for the Diocese of Washington.
"Much of the church would like to move forward on issues of full inclusion," he said. "We would like to authorize blessings for gay
relationships, we would like to say that all orders of ministry in our church are open to our gay and lesbian members. We're not happy with the status quo. But tactically this seemed by far the wisest thing to do."
In a dramatic illustration of the level of distress within the U.S. church, Bishop Jeffrey Steenson of Albuquerque, N.M., announced at the
bishops' meeting that he had decided to resign and become a Roman Catholic.
"My conscience is deeply troubled because I sense that the obligations of my ministry in the Episcopal Church may lead me to a
place apart from scripture and tradition," he said in a statement to his fellow bishops.
At least three of 110 U.S. dioceses -- Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Texas, and Quincy, Ill. -- have threatened to leave the 2.2-million
member denomination if the New Orleans meeting did not produce satisfactory results.
The bishops endorsed a plan by Jefferts Schori to name eight bishops to take her place in six dioceses where her leadership has been rejected because of her progressive theology and pro-gay politics.
Anglican leaders in Nigeria and Kenya, among the most bitter critics of the U.S. church, in recent weeks have chosen six like-minded American and expatriate Nigerian clergy to serve as missionary bishops to dissident conservatives.
Williams, speaking at a New Orleans news conference on Saturday, deplored what he called these "foreign incursions," and added, "Canonically, this is a muddle, and I think it's getting worse."