COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Episcopal delegates snubbed Anglican leaders' request that they temporarily stop electing openly gay bishops, a vote that prompted the church's leader to call a special session in hopes of reaching a compromise to preserve Anglican unity.
The vote Tuesday by the Episcopal House of Deputies came just hours before Presbyterians, at a separate meeting, approved a plan to let local congregations install gay ministers if they wish.
In Columbus, the debate over the proposed moratorium on the election of gay bishops stretched over two days in the House of Deputies, a legislative body of more than 800 clergy and lay leaders.
Top Anglican officials had asked the Episcopalians for a temporary ban to calm the outrage among conservatives over the election three years ago of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who lives with his longtime male partner.
In a complex balloting system, a majority of deputies voted against a measure that would have urged dioceses to refrain from electing gay bishops. Conservatives complained that the proposal stopped short of a moratorium, but supporters contended that it would have set a moral standard for the church and would have signaled that the U.S. denomination understood the concerns of the Anglicans.
Outgoing Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, the head of the denomination, said he will use his authority to call a special session Wednesday morning to try to break the impasse. The meeting will include both the deputies and members of the church's other policymaking body, the House of Bishops.
Canon Martyn Minns, a conservative leader and rector of Truro Church in Fairfax, Va., said the deputies' vote showed the impossibility of reconciling Anglicans who have different views about the Bible and homosexuality.
"It's too hard. It's a gap too wide," he said. "Unhappily, this decision seems to show that the Episcopal Church has chosen to walk apart from the rest of the Anglican Communion."
But the Rev. Susan Russell of Integrity, the Episcopal gay and lesbian caucus, said she feels proud that the church is willing to affirm its commitment to fight injustice.
"The vote says we're not willing to make sacrificial lambs of our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers, and that has to leave me feeling pretty grateful and very proud," she said.
The critical vote in the Episcopal Church occurred on a day when another Protestant denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), decided at a session in Birmingham to allow gay clergy, lay elders and deacons to work with local congregations.
A measure approved in a 298 to 221 vote by a national assembly keeps in place a Presbyterian church law that says clergy, lay elders and deacons must limit sexual relations to a man-woman marriage. But the new legislation says local congregations and regional presbyteries may exercise some flexibility when choosing the clergy and lay officers of local congregations if sexual orientation or other issues arise.
Mainline Protestant groups, including the Methodists and the largest U.S. Lutheran branch, have been struggling for decades over the traditional Christian prohibition against gay sex as lesbians and gay men push for full inclusion in their churches. The issue has frequently dominated debates at national Protestant assemblies.
The Episcopal Church is the U.S. arm of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, the fellowship of churches with roots that go back to the Church of England.
Though conservatives constitute a minority within the American denomination, a majority of overseas Anglican leaders are opposed to having actively gay clergy. They have pressured Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the communion's spiritual leader, to take some action against the Episcopalians if they fail to adhere to that view.
Many Anglican churches have already broken ties with the U.S. church over Robinson's elevation.
Williams has repeatedly expressed concern that the feud over homosexuality could lead to a permanent rift, writing to the convention: "We cannot survive as a communion of churches without some common convictions about what it is to live and to make decisions as the Body of Christ."
Associated Press writer Richard N. Ostling in Birmingham contributed to this report.
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