This coming Sunday marks the one year ‘anniversary’ of the official nomination of the openly gay Gene Robinson as bishop to the New Hampshire diocese in the Episcopal Church, USA. The same week – at the same national convention - bishops to the ECUSA passed a controversial measure that would allow pastors the choice to bless same-gender relationships.
Many bishops interpreted the measure as one that openly allows the conduction of gay “ceremonies,” even though the church has not yet formalized any policies regarding homosexuality; currently, the 77 million member worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the ECUSA takes part, commissioned a group of theologians to discuss human ‘sexuality’ – specifically, homosexuality.
Already several bishops have given the green light to gay ‘marriage’ blessing ceremonies, adding fuel to the fiery debate on the issue; following last year’s convention, nearly half of the members in the Anglican Communion severed fellowship with the ECUSA because of its open acceptance of homosexuality as a ‘biblical norm.’
Other bishops contended that give same-sex blessing unions are “within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions." Still others viewed the green light as yet another confirmation of what ECUSA priests have already been doing in the past.
However, the Rev. Kendall Harmon, theologian for the conservative Diocese of South Carolina, viewed last year’s convention as a “change in teaching” that has damaging effects inside and aside the multi-million member denomination.
"You had more incremental movement toward a revision of the church's sexual teaching," Harmon said. "What's actually happened is we've changed our teaching. I'd just wish we'd be honest about it.”
Harmon, like many other biblically-centered Episcopalians, say liberal leaders should not allow the cores of faith to be altered by their own view of what they believe.
However, with no central authority within the denomination, bishops and clergy are free to interpret whatever legislation is passed with their own view of what the measure implies.
"You're always going to have people who are going to interpret legislation conceivably in a different way," said Bishop John Chane of Washington, D.C., who in June conducted the first ceremony for gay partners using his diocese's new liturgy. "To believe that consensus is ultimately the way in which we live in a community of faith really limits the power of the Holy Spirit."
With the Lambeth Commission due within the next few months and with yet another Episcopal convention on its way, bishops have much longer to go before coming to any form of agreement on the issue – at least for now.