A day after a legislative body of the Episcopal Church voted to sell the denomination's New York headquarters amid budget cuts and declining membership, church leaders on Saturday adopted legislation to give transgenders the right to become lay and ordained ministers.
At the church's ongoing week-long General Convention in Indianapolis, Ind., the House of Bishops approved proposal that would amend two canons to prohibit discrimination based on "gender identity or expression" in the lay and ordained ministry discernment process and in the overall life, worship and governance of the church, Episcopal News Service reported.
The House of Deputies, the other legislative body of the bicameral General Convention of the Episcopal Church, must approve the legislation to pass at the convention.
The bishops' move overlooks the fact that 200,000 members and 300 parishes have left the denomination in the past few years partly due to the church's leftist policies on social and political issues. Nine years ago, the church approved its first openly gay bishop.
For many in the church, Saturday's resolution was about "inclusion."
"I am pleased that these resolutions did pass in that they have the very significant effect of validating, in the eyes of the church, the humanity of those who are transgender," the Rev. Carolyn Woodall of the Diocese of San Joaquin was quoted as saying. "We are greatly misunderstood and there is a widespread lack of knowledge about what it means to be transgender."
The Rev. Susan Russell, a deputy from the Diocese of Los Angeles and a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activist, said the resolution brings the church "another step closer to making all the sacraments available to all the baptized."
"The courageous witness of our transgender brothers and sisters has been an extraordinary gift to the church as we continue to grow in understanding and appreciation of the diversity of God's beloved human family," Russell added.
Some church leaders opposed the resolution.
"I believe we need to have more discussion in the church, in our congregations, in order to be able to speak in a way that is theologically sound, that gives a deeper understanding of what it means to be a transgender person," said Bishop Andrew Waldo of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina.
"We are entering into a time of individualized eros … the freedom of every individual to self-define every aspect of who they are in such a way that we no longer have any kinds of norms. We are entering into the chaos of individuality," said Bishop Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of South Carolina. "It's an idol that will break us," he warned.
Leaders of the church are also scheduled to vote on a liturgy for same-sex weddings during the convention, which concludes on Thursday.
In recent years, the membership of the Episcopal Church, which is rooted in the Church of England, has declined to below two million, and the average Sunday attendance is as low as 657,831.