Former Integrity head says not to expect local diocese to change policy
On July 17, the Episcopal General Convention authorized bishops to bless same-sex unions and create an official prayer for the ceremony by 2012.
Earlier in the week, they voted to drop a pledge to the Anglican Communion to act with restraint in considering the appointment of additional openly gay candidates for bishop. That assurance was given after the outcry that followed the 2003 appointment of Bishop V. Gene Robinson in the New Hampshire diocese.
Anglican leaders had asked the church not to consecrate additional gay bishops and not to develop an official prayer for same-sex couples. The measure adopted by the convention noted the growing number of states that have legalized same-sex marriage and other forms of partnerships.
Many dioceses already allow a blessing for couples, but the Dallas diocese did not.
Fred Ellis, a member of St. Thomas Episcopal Church past president of the LGBT Episcopal group Integrity, said, "My sense of the convention was that truly a supermajority was saying it’s time to move on."
Describing the discussion at the convention, he said, "There was no real vitriolic rhetoric," and that respect was shown for what everyone had to say.
He called that a first.
Once a liturgy is adopted into the "Book of Common Prayer, " all parishes can use it. Until then, Ellis explained, the vote allows for local option by the bishop for that diocese. He expects no change in local policy by Bishop James Stanton of Dallas.
"There’s no doubt in my mind the prohibition will stay in place," Ellis said.
Until 2012 when new liturgy is expected to be adopted, Ellis said, "I think there will be some very intense discussions."
During the debate at the convention, Bishop J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles said, "Gays and lesbians have a right to the ordination process under our canons." He argued that if "we baptize people of all sexualities," the church should be able to ordain them.
The vote to remove the ban on considering consecrating more openly gay bishops was overwhelming. Other mainline Protestant denominations have watched the debate in the 2.1-million member Episcopal Church.
Even some who voted against did so for the sake of unity in the Anglican Communion rather than for prejudicial reasons.
The Rev. Shannon S. Johnston who will become bishop of the Virginia Diocese on Oct. 1, said, "I thought we would be seen as uncooperative and not a team player in the Anglican Communion."
Bishop William Love of Albany, N.Y., worried, "If we are not extremely careful at this convention, we could find ourselves outside the Anglican Communion, and that would be a tragedy for all of us. My fear is that the Episcopal Church destroys itself."
Ellis said the decision tells the LGBT community, "There’s a place for you in this church." He noted that the issue of acceptance of gays and lesbians in the church has been debated constantly since 1976.
Four dioceses in the United States, including Fort Worth, have voted to split from the Episcopal Church over the issue, although some individual parishes remain affiliated.
While Ellis expects no changes locally because of the stance of the local bishop, he noted that churches in other areas have been pushing the issue.
In reaction to the passage of Proposition 8 in California, at least one parish in Pasadena, Cal., will not act as an agent of the state and sign state-issued marriage certificates. The church currently will perform a religious wedding only after a heterosexual couple has had a civil ceremony and completed the paperwork with the city.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 24, 2009.