ECUSA Bishop to Halt Gay Union Blessings and Ordinations

In an effort to mend the strained relationship with their international brethren, the bishops of the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) voted to halt the ordination of gay bishops and sanctioning of gay unions. However, they also placed a moratorium on all ordinations – including that of married and single heterosexuals – prompting sharp criticism from conservative leaders nationwide.

During a weeklong meeting in Navasota, Texas, which ended Wednesda, the bishops penned two statements to express their deep desire to continue their “relationships with Anglican brothers and sisters across the world."

In their “Covenant Statement” and “Word to the Church”, the bishops also said they plan to follow the recommendations listed in the Windsor Report. The report, which was released by an international task force last year, called on the U.S. and Canadian churches to halt their blessing of homosexual unions and sanctioning of gay priests and bishops.

Before the meeting in Texas, the U.S. members refused to follow the Windsor Report’s recommendations, widening the schism between the liberal North and the conservative South that with the ordination of an openly gay homosexual bishop in New Hampshire two years ago.

At the last international Anglican meeting, relations were tense: some conservative leaders even refused to share communion with their North American brethren. By the last day of the February meeting, which took place in Northern Ireland, the top Anglican leaders asked the U.S. and Canadian churches to “voluntarily withdraw” from an international council until 2008.

While the U.S. Bishops did not directly comment on the recommendation for withdrawal, they did express the “desire to be responsive and attentive to the conversation we have already begun” with their international brethren and a “deep regret for the pain that others have experienced” from the gay bishop’s ordination.

At that light, the bishops said they will halt the ordination of homosexual bishops.

However, citing that the “burdens of such forbearances” should be carried by all the Christian community, the bishops asked heterosexual ordinations also be halted as well.

“We believe that Christian community requires us to share the burdens of such forbearance; thus it must pertain to all elections of bishops in the Episcopal Church. We recognize that this will cause hardship in some dioceses, and we commit to making ourselves available to those dioceses needing episcopal ministry,” they wrote.

In terms of same-sex union blessings, the bishops explained that the ECUSA had never “authorized any such liturgies, nor has General Convention requested the development of such rites.”

However, the wording of their statement left open the possibility that some priests could bless such unions since some of the church members consider “pastoral care to include the blessing of same sex relations.”

The bishops’ statements were generally welcomed by international Anglican and Episcopal leaders as a positive step toward rebuilding the broken Communion.

"They have clearly sought to respond positively to the requests made of them in the Windsor Report and in the communiqué issued after the recent primates meeting. It is clear that there has been a real willingness to engage with the challenges posed,” said the archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams.

However, some expressed reservations – and even criticisms – regarding the statement, because it does not affirm the authority of the scripture.

“The Covenant Statement and the Word to the Church issued by the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops is insulting to the Primates of the Anglican Communion,” wrote the Rev. Canon David Anderson, President of the American Anglican.

“While it aims at specific requests of the 2004 Windsor Report and the 2005 Primates Communiqué, it fails to fulfill clear expectations outlined therein,” Anderson explained. “They failed to repent of their decisions and subsequent actions contrary to Scripture as well as Anglican faith and order.”

In regard to the moratorium on consecrations, Anderson said he was “outraged” that the bishops equated “single or married individuals with those living in homosexual partnerships.”

Anderson further explained that by placing a moratorium on all consecrations, the bishops are putting several dioceses in crisis.

“To place a moratorium on all consecrations not only takes the episcopacy hostage to the homosexual agenda but also places several dioceses in crisis,” said Anderson. “Canon law requires that bishops must retire at age 72 – what happens in those dioceses where their bishop faces mandatory retirement?”

Another conservative leader, Bishop Robert Duncan, head of the conservative Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, also expressed concerns regarding the ECUSA statement, but ultimately called it a step forward in maintaining unity.

“I am grateful that the bishops in Texas did finally begin to engage the real concerns of the wider Anglican Communion, although the statement issued falls short of what the primates were looking for,” Duncan wrote in a March 17th statement.

“We are seeking to work as closely and collaboratively as possible with other Episcopal Church leaders to find a way forward that will fully address the depth of the crisis we face while seeking to honor the consciences and concerns of all in the body of Christ,” Duncan wrote.