The election of a second openly-homosexual bishop in the Episcopal Church hardly came as a surprise. Given the actions of the church in its General Convention this past summer, the question was clearly not if there would be more openly-gay bishops, but when. The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles answered that question on Saturday, electing the Reverend Mary D. Glasspool of Baltimore as an assistant bishop. She is expected to be consecrated as bishop on May 15 in Los Angeles.
Ms. Glasspool was elected on the seventh ballot, winning 153 clergy votes and 203 lay votes. Her election followed the election of another woman as a fellow assistant bishop for the diocese. More significantly, her election followed the seismic events of 2003, when the Reverend V. Gene Robinson was elected bishop of New Hampshire - the first openly-homosexual bishop in the entire Anglican world.
Bishop Robinson's election set off a cataclysm in the Anglican Communion. That worldwide body of Anglicans appealed to its American church, the Episcopal Church, to respect the concerns of other churches and to establish a moratorium on the election of openly homosexual persons as bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions.
Anglican churches in the so-called "Global South" responded to the election of Bishop Robinson with outrage and conservatives in the Episcopal Church withdrew, forming the new Anglican Church in North America [ACNA]. Over the past two years, a significant number of churches and dioceses have withdrawn from the Episcopal Church to join the new ACNA or another conservative Anglican body.
The election of Rev. Glasspool as bishop - an action that must be affirmed by the church - sets the stage for a global confrontation. The man at the center of that conflict is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Williams clearly sees his role as that of keeping the Anglican Communion together - at least as together as possible - at all costs. Ruth Gledhill of The Times [London] reports that Williams was chosen as Archbishop of Canterbury precisely because of his well-documented liberal views on homosexuality. As she reports, Williams "was the favored choice of Tony Blair's Government and the mostly liberal Church of England bishops because of what they believed to be his fearless advocacy for gay rights."
Conservatives, on the other hand, have been frustrated by the Archbishop's refusal to define the actions of the Episcopal Church as unbiblical and objectively wrong. Given the Archbishop's published comments on homosexuality, most observers have come to the conclusion that he is indeed an advocate for gay rights, but one who feels that the time has not come to take such radical steps as the election of openly-homosexual bishops.
In a statement released after the election of Rev. Glasspool as bishop, Archbishop Williams stated that her election "raises very serious questions not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole." He concluded by stating: "The bishops of the Communion have collectively acknowledged that a period of gracious restraint in respect of actions which are contrary to the mind of the Communion is necessary if our bonds of mutual affection are to hold."
That is the language of a man who - judging by his words - is far more committed to affection than to truth. His continuing calls for "gracious restraint" have only earned him the anger of both liberals and conservatives. The liberals are frustrated, to say the least, that Williams appears to lack the courage of his own convictions. Conservatives see his continual refusal to act against the rebellious Episcopal Church as evidence that he does hold those convictions, but is simply biding his time.
Here is a great lesson: We cannot reduce a question of truth to a question of process. The real question that confronts the Anglican Communion is whether their churches will bless homosexuality. Liberals see this as the necessary liberation of oppressed human beings from prejudice. Conservatives see the blessing of homosexuality as a direct rejection of Scripture, a violation of Christian tradition, and an act of rebellion against God.
"Gracious restraint" will not hold back strong conviction, as the actions in Los Angeles make clear. The conservatives and the liberals agree on this much - "gracious restraint" is no excuse for violating conviction on a matter of this significance.
The conservatives are profoundly right. The blessing of homosexuality is an affront to Scripture and an act of rebellion against God. They are also correct in understanding that the Archbishop of Canterbury knows that a lack of decisive action on the part of the Anglican Communion will lead to the eventual normalization of homosexuality. But the liberals show their public disrespect for the Archbishop by flaunting their disregard for his calls for "gracious restraint."
When truth is at stake, denominational etiquette is no basis for courageous leadership. A call for "gracious restraint" is no leadership at all.