Since the 2003 consecration of the Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the churchâ€™s first openly gay bishop, which set off a worldwide firestorm of reactions, both positive and negative, the recent election of an openly lesbian candidate, the Rev. Mary Douglas Glasspool of Baltimore, as bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Los Angeles will re-ignite the storm once again.
And her election hangs in the balance.
Under the canons of the Episcopal Church a majority of bishops must consent to Glasspoolâ€™s ordination for the selection process to be complete.
A graduate of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the former rector of St. Lukeâ€™s and St. Margaretâ€™s in Boston, Glasspool, 55, if approved will be the eighth suffragan bishop in the history of the Diocese of Los Angeles.
Glasspoolâ€™s election has already brought immediate concerns to the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Issuing a cautionary statement in response to the Diocese of Los Angelesâ€™ election of Glasspool Williams stated the following:
â€œThe election of Mary Glasspool by the Diocese of Los Angeles as suffragan bishop-elect raises very serious questions not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole. The process of selection however is only part complete. The election has to be confirmed, or could be rejected, by diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees. That decision will have very important implications.â€
Although Williams denounces anti-gay prejudice in the church Glasspoolâ€™s election is the prism through which we see the Episcopal Churchâ€™s long-time struggle and history with homosexuality.
Williams candidly told the Episcopal News Service â€œchanging the Anglican theological position on homosexuality would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion.â€
And that acceptance wonâ€™t come easy.
Since Robinsonâ€™s consecration, the Anglican Communion Network (ACN), a theologically conservative network of dioceses and parishes also known as the â€œBreakaway Conservatives, has been working toward a realignment in U.S. Episcopal Church. These Breakaway Conservatives feel liberal bishops have hijacked the church by both â€œaccommodate[ing] and incorporate[ing] un-Biblical, un-Anglican practices and teaching.â€
But â€œauthority of Scriptureâ€ doesnâ€™t hold weight in the argument against homosexuality
because the Episcopal Church has always challenged controversial issues of the day.
In the 1970s, the argument for authority of Scripture came up with the ordination of women â€“ and so, too, did the threat of a schism. But in 1989, the Church consecrated its first female bishop â€“ Barbara C. Harris. And conservatives were not only theologically outraged, but also racially challenged because Harris is African American.
And in 2006, gasps of both exhilaration and exasperation reverberated throughout the Anglican Communion when it was announced that Katharine Jefferts Schori would be the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church USA. Schori not only supports gay unions, but she also backed the holy consecration of Robinson.
All this is no surprise, however, since the Episcopal Church has a history of taking the moral high ground on social justice issues.
On the theological rift concerning American slavery, the Episcopal Church rebuked the Bibleâ€™s literal interpretation, arguing that slavery violated the spirit of the Bible.
Built in 1723, Bostonâ€™s Old North Church played an active role in the American Revolution, serving as a beacon for Paul Revereâ€™s â€œmidnight ride.â€
The Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Cumberland, Maryland, was a major stop on the Underground Railroad, and both Trinity Parish on Wall Street and St. Paulâ€™s Chapel, which George Washington attended, have become the spiritual center of Ground Zero since 9/11.
The Episcopal Church prides itself as being an inclusive worshiping body. And it is drumming up a new national ads campaigns stating â€œThe Episcopal Church Welcomes Youâ€ with specific examples of the Churchâ€™s beliefs.
â€œWe want to herald and share our welcoming message,â€ explained Anne Rudig, Episcopal Church Director of Communication told the Episcopal News Service. â€œWe are bringing our identity, our core beliefs, and our heritage to life in a manner that invites all to share.â€
With the changing demographics, both nationally and globally, of this ecclesial body, the Churchâ€™s once-upon-a-time ruling â€œFrozen Chosen,â€ whose anti-gay initiatives had a stranglehold on the Churchâ€™s governing future is beginning to wane.
While many LGBTQ Episcopalians and their allies are jumping for joy over Glasspoolâ€™s election the battle isnâ€™t over.
For me, however, the joy in this moment in the history of the Episcopal Church is that the Church continues to crawls toward inclusiveness, albeit haltingly and in spite of opposition.
And for those of us on the margins in our churches and faith communities, Harris, Robinson, Jefferts Schori, and now Glasspool show us the churchâ€™s steadfast principle of justice in action.