ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Episcopal Church, casting aside warnings about further alienating conservatives within its ranks, on Tuesday lifted a de facto ban on the ordination of gay bishops and was weighing whether to sanction blessings for same-sex couples.
Bishops, clergy and lay leaders voted overwhelmingly at the denomination’s General Convention here to open “any ordained ministry” to gays and lesbians.
The liberalized policy represents a reversal from guidelines adopted by the church at its last convention in 2006 that effectively prohibited the consecration of bishops whose “manner of life” would strain relations with the 77 million member Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the communion.
The new approach was likely to deepen theological fissures that already led some traditionalist Episcopal congregations and dioceses last month to form a rival church. And it was almost certain to trigger a backlash among conservative Anglican leaders who have urged the U.S. church to refrain from relaxing ordination and marriage standards.
But progressives in the 2.1 million member denomination said the move toward inclusion reflected the reality of a church that is home to many partnered gays and lesbians who belong to parishes that encourage their involvement and already bless their unions.
“Being an Episcopalian means you can disagree and still worship together,” said the Rt. Rev. Jon Bruno, bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles. “We’re going to leave the door open for all those who disagree with us to find a place here and peace here.”
Tensions have been mounting since 2003, when a partnered gay priest, V. Gene Robinson, was consecrated as bishop of New Hampshire. Several conservative Anglican leaders, especially in Africa, cut ties to the U.S. church after his election.
The spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, had expressed apprehension during a brief visit to the conference last week about potential decisions “that could push us further apart.”
On Tuesday, an elated Robinson celebrated the lopsided vote in the church’s two legislative bodies – the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, comprised of clergy and laity.
“I’m simply delighted at the possibility that another diocese will recognize the gifts of a gay or lesbian clergy person,” he said.