The election of Canon Mary D Glasspool as an Anglican bishop in the [Episcopal] diocese of Los Angeles has been slated by some, praised by others. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wants Episcopal church leaders to block her appointment, and has warned of "very important implications" if they do not. But to Giles Fraser, "This is another nail in the coffin of Christian homophobia."
Along with Canon Diane Bruce, she has been chosen as a suffragan (assistant) bishop in the Episcopal diocese of Los Angeles. In some ways, Glasspool is an unsurprising choice, a gifted parish priest now in the senior clergy team supporting churches across Maryland. But she is also openly lesbian, and has been in a committed relationship for 21 years. Some believe that makes her unsuitable, at least while opinion is so divided. Others feel that turning her down just because of her sexuality would go against Gospel values and deny the promptings of the holy spirit.
The consecration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people as bishops, and blessing of same-sex partnerships, have been hotly debated in Anglican circles in recent years. Most provinces disapprove of such relationships, at least publicly, though some – such as the Church of England – rely heavily on LGBT clergy and layworkers. The Episcopal church, with the Anglican Church of Canada, has gone further than most towards including LGBT people at all levels.
Some see this as arrogance, others as bold prophetic leadership. Yet the Episcopal church is more in tune with traditional Anglicanism than many of its critics and supporters would admit.
Anglican thinkers have long recognised that complex issues deserve careful study, drawing on scripture, tradition and reason, and that is possible to disagree yet remain in fellowship. While Anglican churches in different parts of the world have long been autonomous, the "duty of thinking and learning" is a theme that has come up repeatedly at international gatherings. In 1978 the Lambeth conference recognised the need for "deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality, which would take seriously both the teaching of scripture and the results of scientific and medical research", "pastoral concern for those who are homosexual" and "dialogue with them".
Concern for justice and commitment to human rights was another theme, including from the 1980s those of "homosexual orientation". Anglicans also acknowledged that laypeople as well as clergy, "share in the priestly ministry of the church and in responsibility for its work", and each province should "explore the theology of baptism and confirmation in relation to the need to commission the laity for their task in the world".
The Episcopal church faithfully acted on these recommendations. And so, over the decades, it came under increasing pressure from an informed and empowered laity to stop discriminating and hold LGBT people to the same standard as heterosexuals. Meanwhile senior clergy in some other churches such as Nigeria and Uganda ignored such resolutions and instead insisted that the whole communion should submit to their interpretation of the Bible. International divisions deepened, especially after an openly gay man, Gene Robinson, became a US bishop in 2003. Rowan Williams has been publicly highly critical of this and other attempts to include LGBT people while saying next to nothing about repeated attempts to deny them dignity and safety.
Taken aback by the uproar, the Episcopal church accepted a moratorium on further consecrations, but this did not appease their fiercest critics, who kept trying to take over parishes and dioceses in the US, contrary to Anglican tradition. In 2009, a gathering of representatives affirmed that most Episcopalians believed that LGBT people should not be barred from any form of ministry. As well as Glasspool, an openly gay candidate, John L Kirkley, was among the six candidates considered for the two suffragan bishop posts in Los Angeles.
In a sermon earlier this year, celebrating the festival of Pentecost, Glasspool spoke of the outpouring of the holy spirit on Christians of many languages and the importance of "unity in diversity", which "involves listening to one another and learning from each other and honoring all of God's great and gracious creation." However the listening, learning and tolerance of diverse practices and beliefs (albeit grudging at times) which have been customary among Anglicans are anathema to some of the Episcopal church's most vocal opponents.
The 1988 Lambeth conference recognised that "reformation and transformation of unjust systems is an essential element of our biblical hope". Two years later the 1990 the Anglican consultative council urged "every diocese in our communion to consider how through its structures it may encourage its members to see that a true Christian spirituality involves a concern for God's justice in the world, particularly in its own community." It is ironic that, for holding to these and other Anglican principles, the Episcopal church may find itself exiled to the margins of the communion.
Here's what's stuck in my craw about the response of the Archbishop of Canterbury - it took him less than 24 hours to chide a diocese of the Episcopal Church for electing a lesbian to the bishopric, yet we're at 60 days and still waiting for any statement from him regarding the draconian anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda, which is openly supported by the Church of Uganda, another member church of the Anglican Communion. And somehow we're the ones straining the 'bonds of affection' that hold the communion together?
If i remember correctly, didn't Mr. Alighieri outline an especially hellacious location in The Inferno for bishops like Rowan Cantaur? Grrrrr.