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Episcopal Church reaffirms antiqueer discrimination

Queer Anglicans struggle for recognition

Bishops of the Episcopalian Church, the US wing of the worldwide Anglican Communion, reaffirmed a pledge not to consecrate queer bishops and not to approve rites for same-sex marriages until a global consensus on same-sex marriage is reached within the Anglican Church.

The move came on Sep 25 at a meeting of bishops in New Orleans after five dioceses threatened to splinter from the US church if queer congregants and clergy were treated the same as apparently heterosexual ones.

In 2003 in New Hampshire Gene Robinson was consecrated as the first openly gay Episcopalian bishop. This increased tensions within the Episcopal Church in the US and across the world – especially in many countries in Africa. As many as five dioceses threatened to break with the Episcopal Church and asked to be put under the oversight of a foreign primate. The resolution in New Orleans was an attempt to address that situation.

The resolution reaffirms the overall antiqueer status quo of the Episcopal Church. It confirms a commitment for Episcopal clergy “to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”

John Gibson, director of communications with the queer Anglican group Integrity USA, says his reaction to the resolution is mixed.

“Like most activists I expected the bishops to uphold the antigay status quo,” he says. “Since they didn’t go further and do anything worse I was relieved. As one of the LGBT faithful in the church I was deeply hurt by their actions. Having to read again the words of discrimination embodied in the resolution, originally passed in June 2006, reopened wounds for many of us. To hear the bishops admit openly that the euphemisms in the resolution did in fact target gays for discrimination was no surprise but it was a painfully unholy moment. My relief has dissipated. My pain has lingered.”

The resolution also says the bishops refuse to authorize “any public rites of blessing of same-sex unions,” although in the US and Canada same-sex Anglican blessings do happen unofficially.

Chris Ambidge, coconvenor of Integrity Toronto says that many queer commentators in the US were disappointed by the bishops’ resolution.

“They’ve certainly addressed the questions, whether they have satisfied anyone is a different question,” says Ambidge. “The conservatives are saying they haven’t gone far enough of course, but they probably wouldn’t have been satisfied with anything less than repentance in sackcloth and ashes.”

“In practical terms it means the Episcopal Church is stuck in a place of continuing conflict,” says Gibson. “What the bishops did was perpetuate the excruciating struggle with a dissident minority who are in no way representative of who we really are as a church.

“So the implications are, in a word, status quo with a dollop of LGBT pain on top,” continues Gibson. “The American church dodged a bullet and the LGBT faithful took that bullet between the eyes. Anglican bishops around the world are congratulating themselves on affirming antigay discrimination in the American church.

“Ironically, that discrimination is what will hold the worldwide Anglican Communion together… for now,” says Gibson. “We were looking for unity in diversity. We got unity in bigotry. Importantly, we do not believe that that is where the American church or the Anglican Communion are headed in the long run.”

Ambidge says the Episcopalian statement doesn’t have implications for Canada but a concurrent meeting in Pittsburgh of splinter supporters might.

“At General Synod in Winnipeg [in June] while debating the homo-centred motions, there was some talk about ‘the communion’ but more of a sense of we have to make our own decisions for ourselves,” says Ambidge. So yes, the Anglican Church of Canada will take note but will not be heavily influenced by this.

“Of more import to Canadians, possibly, than what happened in New Orleans is what happened very shortly thereafter in Pittsburgh,” Ambidge continues. “The very conservative bishops, led by Iker of Fort Worth and Duncan of Pittsburgh, didn’t bother staying for the full house of bishops meeting.”

These bishops and other supporters met in Pittsburgh to discuss forming a new orthodox province of the Anglican Communion in North America, Ambidge explains. A province is usually a geographical linkage of churches but this group is looking to create a link based on theology and common belief. A founding convention is anticipated to be held within the next 15 months.

Gibson says it’s possible that there may be some movement on queer issues within the next few years.

“Many feel it’s very likely that our church will repeal the antigay measures at our next General Convention in Anaheim, CA, in June 2009,” says Gibson. “We’ll see. Gradually, the American bishops and the whole church are realizing something we as gay folks have always known: Once you’re out of it there’s no way to stuff yourself back into the closet. That’s the reality and that’s the future: an out Christian church that welcomes all, including the LGBT community, to full and equal participation.”