Invading Anglican closets

The historic Trinity Episcopal Church offers clear online guidance to those seeking a Blessing of Holy Union in its sanctuary on Boston’s Copley Square.

The services are based on “A Rite for the Celebration of Commitment to a Life Together” which is used in the Diocese of Massachusetts.

“A priest may bless a same-sex civil marriage or preside at and bless a same-sex union. … The same liturgical rite is used,” say the guidelines. “In the presence of God and the couple’s Christian community, the rite includes a declaration of the couple’s intent to join their lives together and a celebration of their commitment to a life together.”

This is precisely the kind of rite that has infuriated so many conservatives in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

But the sound that Anglican insiders heard the other day was nervous coughing in England. U.S. Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori has decided not to let gays, lesbians and bisexuals in the mother church sit safely on the sidelines while traditionalists take shots at her flock.

What about those same-sex union rites?

“Those services are happening in various places, including in the Church of England, where my understanding is that there are far more of them happening than there are in the Episcopal Church,” she recently told the BBC.

What about New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, a gay man who is living in a same-sex relationship? According to Jefferts Schori, Robinson is under attack for being honest.

Bishop Robison, she said, is “certainly not alone in being a gay bishop, he’s certainly not alone in being a gay partnered bishop. He is alone in being the only gay partnered bishop who’s open about that status. … There’s certainly a double standard.”

What we have here is an attempt to pull British bishops out and into open combat with conservatives in Africa, South America, Asia and other parts of the 70-million-member Anglican Communion. The presiding bishop has played the England card in a high-stakes game of ecclesiastical poker inside the Church of England.

The tensions were already rising, as Canterbury prepares for its once-a-decade global Lambeth Conference of bishops, this coming July 20-Aug. 3. Conservatives are planning their own Global Anglican Future Conference, June 15-22 in Jerusalem.

Thus, it was symbolic that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams recently presided at a closed-door Eucharist in London for the Clergy Consultation, a support network for gay Anglican clergy, seminarians, monks and nuns. The Times of London offered this detail: “Secrecy was so tight that a list of names attending was sent to Lambeth Palace with orders that it be shredded as soon as Dr. Williams had read it.”

Meanwhile, a few liberal activists have focused on the leader of the one U.S. diocese that has — so far — voted to cut its ties to the national church.

Citing a disputed interview from more than a decade ago, backed with hostile testimonies, blogger Lisa Fox of Jefferson City, Mo., claims that San Joaquin Bishop John-David Schofield has repeatedly “outed” himself as an ex-homosexual.

Yes, it’s time to publish names, Fox said.

“When a cleric uses his closet as a sniper’s nest, he deserves to have a light directed upon his deceit and duplicity,” wrote Fox, at her “My Manner of Life” weblog. “For the life of me, I still do not know how those gay-lesbian bishops — especially the ones on the ‘progressive’ side of the spectrum — can look themselves in the mirror each day.”

Schofield, meanwhile, insists that he has been misquoted. The 69-year-old bishop does have an unusual background, since he has both taken a monastic vow of celibacy and been a leader in the charismatic renewal movement, with its emphasis on spiritual gifts such as healing and prophecy. He also supports ministries for those who struggle with sexual-orientation issues.

“I always thought I would be married,” the bishop told Virtueonline.org. “In my early days of the priesthood, I was an Oblate of Mount Calvary that required annual vows be renewed. By 1966, I was convinced that married life was for me. On November 17, 1966, however, in a life-changing encounter with the Lord, I responded to his request to live a single life for Him.”

Schofield also answered the question that others will soon face.

“I am not a homosexual,” he said. “I have never been in the homosexual lifestyle.”

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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