Two events galvanized religious conservatives in and out of The Episcopal Church (“TEC”) in 2003. The Diocese of New Hampshire elected, and TEC approved, the first openly gay bishop in the Church, and the Canadian diocese of New Westminster authorized services for blessing same-sex unions.
Conservatives had been uncomfortable since 1979 with women in the clergy and a new Book of Common Prayer. Outside TEC, the Institute for Religion and Democracy (richly endowed by Howard Ahmanson Jr. and the Bradley, Coors, Olin, Scaife and Smith-Richardson family foundations) began plotting to recast mainstream denominations in rigid doctrinal—and homophobic—terms. TEC became one of its prime targets. IRD and Anglican neoconservatives coaxed other churches around the world to be horrified by an openly and honestly gay man being made a bishop. Together they helped create several organizations in the US, reconnecting conservative parishes to African provinces, forming an alternative church that they hoped the Anglican Communion would recognize as the “true” Anglican church in the US.
A word about Anglicans. There are 34 autonomous Anglican churches in the world, called Provinces, each governed by an Archbishop, called a Primate. Most primates appoint their own bishops, who then select the next primate. The Archbishop of Canter¬bury (UK) is “first among equals,” a position with more clout by rea¬son of being the “Mother Church”. The Primate in the US is called a Presiding Bishop and is elected every nine years by bishops, clergy and lay persons in a triennial General Convention (GC). The GC is the governing body of TEC. All church property is held in trust for TEC.
Following Bishop Robinson’s election, the Archbishop of Canterbury convened an “emergency” meeting of primates, appointing a conservative to conduct a Special Commission to address the twin horrors of an Episcopal bishop not hiding his homosexuality and an Anglican diocese producing a rite to bestow God’s blessing on gay couples who love each other. The Eames Commission produced the Windsor Report in 2004. It called for moratoria on the blessing of same-sex unions, consecration of gay bishops, and incursions by primates on other primates’ turf. The Windsor Report was thoroughly critiqued in 2005, part of the building resistance to hijacking TEC.
TEC elected not to consecrate any bishops until GC 2006. Primates in Nigeria, Rwanda and elsewhere continued their cross-border incursions, picking off conservative Episcopal parishes and taking the property with them. In 2006, TEC elected the Anglican Communion’s first female Primate, Katharine Jefferts Schori to be its new Presiding Bishop, another shock for Anglican traditionalists. Bishop Katharine has actively cleaned house since, tolerating dissent but not schism.
For all the noise emanating from straight Christians who hate gay Christians, fewer than 1% of Episcopal parishes have voted to leave the church. Congregations who lost members over Bishop Robinson report a net increase since. Still, count¬less thousands of dollars will be spent in litigation to recover church property, funds that will not help those who need it the most, for food, clothing, education and shelter. Forgive us, Father, for we have sinned.
There really are churches that welcome lesbians and gays?
Yes, there are. St. Nicholas in Elk Grove Village has an active ministry for LGBT Christians:
adult education on spirituality and sexuality
LGBT group discussions on spirituality
openness to leadership talent: 50% of the board is gay
commitment to celebration, not just tolerance or inclusion
“The Church has a sexuality complex, it’s bankrupt on issues of sexuality,” says pastor Stephen Martz. “It’s hurting the Church. Until this issue is resolved, the Church cannot be whole, cannot be human.” Martz’ vision for St. Nicholas is a congregation that includes everyone, not just those with a narrow range of “acceptable” sexuality. Oh, did I mention that St. Nicholas is growing larger, year by year?