The U.S. arm of the Episcopal Church has done it again — elected an openly queer bishop. At the 114th annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, the Rev. Mary Glasspool was elected to become its eighth bishop suffragan.
But the reception is mixed.
Integrity, a grassroots organization working for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the church, considers Glasspoolâ€™s election a clear sign of the church moving forward.
“As Episcopalians, we are proud of the historic links between the founders of our church and the uniquely American democratic process that influences our church polity. We are very different from the Church of England and the Church of Rome, and we rejoice that lay members are valued for their significant role in the choosing of our leadership, and empowered to stand as radical witnesses that can heal past discrimination and prejudice,â€ Integrity wrote.
But with the Church still wrestling over Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshireâ€™s consecration as the churchâ€™s first openly gay bishop, Glasspoolâ€™s election is a slap in the face to conservatives.
Last July, the House of Bishops voted overwhelmingly to overturn a three-year moratorium on the election of LGBTQ to the episcopate. But the Anglican Communion Network, known as the â€œBreakaway Conservatives,â€ also suggested that Robinson resign to avoid disintegration of the Anglican Communion.
Is the Episcopal Church’s impending schism really about the theological rift that ensued after the consecration of Robinson? Or, is the brouhaha instead about a church embattled with itself over how to be financially solvent and theologically relevant in today’s national and global competitive religious marketplace?
While the U.S. has, at best, approximately 2.2 million Episcopalians today, the center of Anglican gravity is neither here nor in Britain, but in Africa. There are approximately three million Episcopalians in Kenya, and nine million in Uganda. But those two countries combined do not even come close to the 20 million in Nigeria, making Peter Akinola, the archbishop there, one of the most influential men in the Anglican Communion.
A vociferous opponent of LGBTQ civil rights, Akinola has used the issue of homosexuality to flex his muscle as a sign of African power in the Anglican Church, and has expanded his missionary power by capitalizing on the theological schism that has developed.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has been trying to bridge the gap between liberals and conservatives on homosexuality by floating the idea that there might be “two styles of being Anglican.”
“The ideal is that both ‘tracks’ should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as Church, with greater integrity and consistency,” Williams said. And I agree with Williams.
While many would like to believe that secessionist congregations battling sodomy-endorsing liberal bishops brought on the financial crisis in the Episcopal Church, the coffers were bare prior to Robinson’s consecration. The reasons: declining membership for over four decades; the rise of Third World bishops from countries in Africa, South America, and Asia; and egregious acts of inhospitality and exclusion toward its LGBTQ population.
At least if Glasspoolâ€™s election is approved, the Episcopal Church will be taking a step on the road toward improvement.