Should the Episcopal Church Let Dissidents Leave?

It looks like the Episcopal Church, the church to which I proudly belong, will end its moratorium on the appointment of gay and lesbian bishops.

The bishops themselves voted Monday to open “any ordained ministry” to them, thus ending a three year “moratorium” that angered both sides in this divisive dispute. The resolution has been written in such a way that dioceses can now consider candidates to become bishops, but there’s no mandate forcing any diocese to do so.

This sounds to me an awful lot like free choice.

Not being naive, however, I know the forces in the church that oppose the consecration of gay bishops won’t be happy. They’ve been fighting this battle since Bishop Gene Robinson was consecrated in 2003.

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Sad to say, some of those most vocally opposed to equality for gays and lesbians in the Episcopal Church are from Africa.

Here in the US, a number of dioceses have split off from the church over the issue. They’ve formed their own “Anglican Church in North America”. Many of the bishops opposed to rescinding the moratorium cited fears more dioceses will leave the fold. The central question facing the church now is whether to find another way to mollify the dissidents.

I must admit that at first, I saw all those opposed to the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy as little more than a bunch of throwback homophobes.

My initial reaction to the threat of breakaway dioceses was “Let ’em go! Who needs ’em?” It was this type of thinking that made me pull away from the church myself as a young man.

When discussing the issue with my former parish priest a few years ago, I was surprised by his calm approach to the problem. I expected him to be a fiery advocate for gay and lesbian clergy. After all, he is gay. Yet he counseled me not to overreact, not to condemn these folks as simple homophobes with whom no dialogue was possible. Instead, he expressed the belief that the two sides can find common ground. There may be some Episcopalians who would never accept gay clergy, he said, but eventually most would come to accept it.

I’m starting to think he was right. The fight for gay rights and equality has come further than I would have thought possible just a few years ago. In fact, some lay members of the church’s House of Deputies who voted three years ago in favor of the moratorium voted Sunday to rescind it. One woman who spoke to the New York Times cited the fact that no matter who decides to leave, inclusion is where the Episcopal Church is. Amen, indeed.

So it’s my personal hope that dialogue between these opposite sides will continue, and serve as an example to other Protestant denominations who look at this divide and wonder when it will come to their church.

What about you?  Should the Episcopal Church continue the conversation about the consecration of gay and lesbian bishops?

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