Bishops affirm openness of ordination process

July 12, 2009

After more than two hours of discussion and with a standing-room-only crowd watching, the House of Bishops on July 13 adopted an amended version of Resolution D025, which affirms the openness of "any ordained ministry" to gay and lesbian people.

Bishops voted 99-45, with two abstentions, for the revised resolution, which goes to the House of Deputies world mission legislative committee. The committee must make a recommendation to the full house about whether to concur in the amended resolution, amend it further, or defeat it, according to Deputy Sally Johnson (Minnesota).

The bishops amended the fourth resolve, which originally read "that the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church which call is tested through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church." They inserted the words "and that God's call to the ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church is a mystery which the church attempts to discern for all people" after the words "to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church" and deleted "which call is tested."

The House of Deputies was the house of initial action for D025, widely considered a response to Resolution B033, which was adopted by the last General Convention. B033 urged restraint in consenting to the consecration of bishops whose "manner of life" challenged the rest of the Anglican Communion. That challenge was widely understood to refer to gay bishops in partnered unions.

Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, chair of the World Mission legislative committee which crafted resolution D025, had advised bishops to reject the measure because it could threaten a proposed Anglican covenant and undermine "mission at home and abroad because it presumes a theological understanding that we have not in fact established."

But Bishop Mark Hollingsworth of Ohio, who authored the amendment, and other supporters said the vote is "an honest reflection of who we are as a church and where we are. B033 was about moratoria and about restraint, and I think it remains to be seen if this affects those two."

Bishop Henry Parsley of Alabama and others who voted "no" said passage of the resolution would not be well-received by some members of the Anglican Communion.

"I long for us to be an inclusive church, but not a polarized church," he said. "We need to be a part of the larger Anglican Communion in what we do in this matter. I think it will be interpreted internationally as a rejection of B033. I actually think it's more nuanced and subtle than that.

"I think it can be understood that B033 still has some effect among us in terms of exercising restraint as we act under the constitution and canons of our church."

One of the 300 or so onlookers included the Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity USA, a GLBT Episcopal advocacy group. She said she was confident that the vote "moves us beyond B033. Today we told the truth about who we are. It was a vote for both unity and mission. This is a church that is ready to move on. It was a clear vote for mission for this church."

Among other things, D025 reaffirms participation and commitment of the Episcopal Church within the Anglican Communion and also acknowledges the ministerial gifts of gays and lesbians.

Bishop Stacy Sauls of Lexington (Kentucky), who voted yes, said D025 and B033 together offer "a true picture of where our church stands at the moment: That our canonical process is open to all people, including gay and lesbian people. We are concerned about our relations in the communion, and we have asked people to exercise restraint while we get that worked out.

"I think that's probably an advance, and I think people will know we're through exercising restraint when we've stopped doing it."

Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, at the heart of the issue because he is in a long-term relationship with a male partner, urged his fellow bishops to support the measure, saying once again that "it's time for us to stand up and be the church God is calling us to be."

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