December 7, 2009
Lesbian Bishop's Election Triggers New Power Struggle
The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles this weekend elected Mary Glasspool, an openly lesbian priest, to be one of its assistant bishops. This is sure to trigger new anxieties and power struggles in the worldwide Anglican Communion. Under limitations in effect since the election of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003, Anglicans have more or less developed a consensus not to elect openly practicing homosexuals to the office of bishop. With this move, the consensus becomes all but unsustainable.
In my view, the election of Rev. Glasspool will fuel these power struggles:
1. Between Episcopal pragmatic traditionalists and the left wing on whether her election should be affirmed by the national church. (A majority of US dioceses must approve of this move and are likely to grant approval in this case.)
2. Between Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and TEC Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori regarding the future relationship between the American church and global Anglicanism. (Conservatives will now press more aggressively for ABC Williams to recognize the Anglican Church of North America. Church of England conservatives are also putting great pressure of Williams to hold the line.)
3. Among conservatives who remain inside the American church and the growing number of breakaway leaders. (There are still a sizable number of conservative/evangelical pastors and other leaders inside TEC -- mostly in suburban areas. These conservatives face the dilemma of what to do beyond verbal criticism of this action in Los Angeles.)
Meanwhile up North, the left-leaning Anglican Church of Canada has won a major victory when a British Columbia Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of the Vancouver-area Anglican diocese in a property fight with St. John's, Shaughnessy, one of the largest and most evangelical parishes in the national church, and several other conservative churches in the area. Some $20 million in property is at stake.
What do these developments mean for conservative Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, or non-denominational evangelicals?
Based on recent experience, here are four developing trend lines:
A. Flight, not fight. At the local level, more conservatives will become what I call "faith-based refugees." They might end up at your church!
B. Objection to homosexual conduct is equivalent to homophobia. The rhetoric of the left increasingly is that any opposition to active homosexuals in any leadership capacity is homophobia, unjust, and discriminatory. This has wide-spread implications for all of civil society, regardless of denomination.
C. Gay + Christian is emerging as a global movement. Most American Christians seem to be quite unaware of how the faith-based gay movement has strong coherence in the UK and other Euro-zone nations.
D. Conservatives remain deeply divided by politics, strategy, and theology. I continue to be surprised at how the conservative majority has had so much difficulty overcoming their disagreements over women in ministry, communion, the influence of Reformed theology, just to name a few things. These disagreements are likely to ripple far beyond Anglican borders.