Those ties that bind and divide

GAY BISHOPIt may be time for that old, old Episcopal joke, again. This is the version that I heard in the mid-1990s.

The year is 2012, as the joke goes, and two Anglo-Catholic priests in the back of National Cathedral are watching the Episcopal presiding bishop and her incense-bearing lesbian lover process down the aisle behind a statue of the Buddha, while the faithful sing a hymn to Mother Earth.

"You know," one traditionalist whispers, "ONE more thing and I'm out of here."

You can tell that the joke is very old, because the Episcopalians who told in a decade or more ago did not anticipate the advent of same-sex union rites. Thus, the joke should say that presiding bishop and her lesbian spouse processed down the center aisle. Times change.

Across the Atlantic, journalists are being a bit more blunt about the decision by the Episcopal Church to allow dioceses to openly make the decision to ordain gays and lesbians who are in committed, same-sex unions. This "local option" policy has been the norm for many years, but not with the details affirmed in a public vote.

Here's the top of the BBC report, which is mild by British standards:

Bishops of the Anglican Church in the United States have voted to overturn a three-year moratorium on the election of gay bishops.

The decision seems likely to lead to the Episcopal Church's eventual exit from the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Communion has been fighting to avoid disintegration since the Episcopal Church consecrated the openly gay bishop Gene Robinson in 2003.

Yes, there is that timeline issue again, with a reference that, at the very least, fails to take into account that Southern Cone bishops began consecrating alternative missionary bishops for North America in 2000. Actually, that fails to take in account a whole lot of things. But we can't linger there.

As you would expect, Ruth Gledhill's story in the Times is a bit more blunt and global:

A worldwide Anglican schism now seems inevitable after Episcopal bishops in the United States today backed the consecration of gay bishops.

Episcopal bishops approved a resolution passed earlier this week by the laity and clergy that allows "partnered gays" full access to ordination. ... They took the step towards schism in spite of a plea by Dr Rowan Williams, who addressed the General Convention in Anaheim, California, last week.

But as you would expect, the language was much calmer in the hallowed pages of the publication that matters the most to the Episcopal Church hierarchy, which would be the New York Times. Here's that lede, which stresses that the liberals have not completely won the day (thus sharing quite a bit in terms of tone and quoted material with the official release from the Episcopal News Service.

In this telling, the old joke remains highly relevant:

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The bishops of the Episcopal Church voted at the church's convention on Monday to open "any ordained ministry" to gay men and lesbians, a move that could effectively undermine a moratorium on ordaining gay bishops that the church passed at its last convention three years ago.

The resolution passed on Monday was written in a way that would allow dioceses to consider gay candidates to the episcopacy, but does not mandate that all dioceses do so.

In terms of the timeline issue, it is interesting that veteran Laurie Goodstein of the Times found a way to keep the focus on the consecration of New Hampshire Bishop Robinson (photo), without being inaccurate. Thus, note the "broken ties" language in the next quotation.

washington-national-cathedralThis focus on an event in 2003, and its aftermath, clears out the wider world of doctrinal fights over salvation, the Resurrection, the Virgin Birth and other basic, creedal issues -- making this a fight strictly over sexuality. Read carefully:

The battle over homosexuality in the Episcopal Church has been watched closely by other mainline Protestant churches that are also divided internally on the issue. Many are looking to the Episcopal Church as a bellwether that could foretell whether their denominations can survive the storm over homosexuality intact.

Conservative provinces in the Anglican Communion, especially some in Africa, have broken off their ties with the Episcopal Church in recent years after the church consecrated Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the communion, who was elected in the diocese of New Hampshire six years ago.

The entire report is set up in journalistic fashion, switching back in forth between two camps of believers who simply read the Bible differently on this one issue. The mood is properly Episcopal, with an emphasis on compromise and dialogue between people of today and people of the past.

Nevertheless, it's clear that the global clock is ticking, as traditionalists in the Global South get their act together in North America and elsewhere. This passage is especially blunt.

The debate before the House of Deputies voted on Sunday to overturn the moratorium on gay bishops sometimes grew emotional. Sally Johnson, a lay delegate from Minnesota, who had supported the moratorium three years ago, proclaimed that she had decided now to support D025, the measure to overturn the moratorium, because it is a more accurate reflection of where the Episcopal Church stands.

"I stand before you now asking us to give D025 to the church and the communion as a gift, reflecting our messiness in our church but an authentic, truthful statement about who we are as the Episcopal Church," she said.

But speaking in opposition, the Rev. Ralph Stanwise, from the diocese of Quincy, said, "If we overturn the B033 moratorium we will in effect be urging many remaining conservatives and moderates among us and in our home dioceses, especially our most fragile ones, to search for the exit signs."

As the Times stresses, all of the momentum is on the left in this General Convention. Many members of the church's leadership are being very honest and candid -- a stance that many conservatives will actually cheer behind closed doors.

Thus, the stress now is on the people who want to do everything they can to slow the train down, in the name of helping the Church of England keep the global institution together. They need another way to compromise, to give some traditionalists to hang on and wait for "one MORE thing" to happen.

Stay tuned.

Photos: The 2003 consecration. The center aisle of Washington National Cathedral.

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