The Episcopal Church Elects A Second Gay Bishop
by Nathan Empsall, Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 03:04:18 PM EST
Though this is a religious rather than political story, I thought it might be one many of you involved with the struggle for LGBT rights might be interested in. Organized religion, including (especially?) the world's Christians, has long been hostile to the LGBT community, but many churches are slowly moving from being homosexuality's biggest enemy to its biggest ally. The Episcopal Church, whose motto is "The Episcopal Church welcomes you," may just be leading the way. Earlier today, a second Episcopal diocese elected an openly gay person bishop, six years after New Hampshire became the first. (Disclaimer: I am currently working for an Episcopal parish in Omaha, my fourth job with the Episcopal Church.)
The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles elected the Rev. Mary Douglas Glasspool of Baltimore as bishop suffragan (assistant bishop) today. If confirmed, she will be the second openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church and the second lesbian bishop in global Christianity. Her election comes a day after the diocese elected another bishop suffragan, the Rev. Canon Diane M. Jardine Bruce, its first female bishop.
There is a reason I say "if" confirmed rather than "when" confirmed. In the Episcopal Church, bishops are elected by the members of their diocese but are subject to approval of the larger national church. A majority of the church's 110 diocesan standing committees (elected committees of both laity and clergy that assist the bishop with the governance of a diocese) must then approve the election. Very rarely do standing committees reject bishop-elects, and on those rare occasions that they do, it is usually because of technicalities and problems with the rules. Nevertheless, I am not at all confident that Mother Glasspool will be confirmed.
There are three key differences between Mother Glasspool's election and Bishop Robinson's 2003 election. The first is the timing. Because Bishop Robinson was elected shortly before the triennial meeting of the General Convention, the church's primary governing body (an elected, bicameral institution), he merely needed to be confirmed by a majority of the bishops at Convention. Because this Los Angeles election was held nearly three years before the next General Convention, Mother Glasspool will have to go through the standing committee process I described above, which is a bit more rigorous and impersonal. Second, Bishop Robinson's election put the issue of LGBT inclusion before the church. Now that it is an issue we have been grappling with for six years, there may be more concerns about unity than there were before the divisions had begun to grow. Finally, and this may help Mother Glasspool but I doubt it, she has been elected a bishop suffragan, which is basically an "assistant bishop," whereas Bishop Robinson was elected the bishop of his diocese.
It's hard to tell where the national church's mood lies. Many of those who are the most angry about these issues have left and so this past summer's meeting of the General Convention was a very encouraging one. Nevertheless, we're talking about 109 different elected bodies here, many of whose members were elected at annual diocesan meetings held after General Convention. If I had to make an uneducated guess, I'd put the odds of Mother Glasspool being confirmed at slightly over 50%.
One final word about LGBT battles in the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church, its American body: schism is not nearly as likely as the MSM has described it in recent years. Yes, some American Episcopal bishops do reject the authority of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and some have left the church for other, unofficial Anglican bodies - but no more than 8 of the 110. And yes, some of the other Anglican archbishops and presiding bishops also reject her authority - but no more than 10 of the 38. The Communion and its many member churches are dedicated to working this out together in the traditional Anglican way, and I'm sorry if that's not sexy enough of a story for most journalists. If Mother Glasspool is confirmed, many in the larger Anglican Communion will see it as yet another example of America taking action before the rest of the Communion is ready. While that can only serve to exacerbate tension, I am not worried about schism. Realignment, perhaps, but not schism.
I have refrained from commenting on theology in this post. While I do believe that a contextual reading changes the meaning of St. Paul's seemingly anti-homosexual words, this post is for informing, not opinionating. And the information is this: The Episcopal Church has just elected its second gay bishop, this time, a woman.