Tuesday, December 8, 2009

New bishops for the Episcopal Church, new controversy (and onward we go!)

The news in our corner of Christendom the last few days comes from my old haunts of Los Angeles. The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, meeting in convention this past weekend in Riverside, elected two new suffragan, or assisting, bishops, and both are women: the Rev. Canons Diane Jarden Bruce and Mary Douglas Glasspool.

Canon Bruce (right) is from the diocese of Los Angeles, serving as the rector of the parish in San Clemente, and Canon Glasspool (left) is from Maryland, serving as the canon to the ordinary in that diocese. You can read the Episcopal News Service coverage of the election by clicking HERE.

The most noteworthy development is that Canon Glasspool is a lesbian in an open partnered relationship, making her our second bishop to live openly as a gay person (and we have other bishops who are gay but remain in the closet).

Predictably the reaction came swift and sharp, and sadly lost are the qualifications of these two women who are serving Christ's Church. Both have subjected themselves to a worldwide public spotlight that can only be excruciating at the moment. Please keep them both in your prayers.

The process of becoming bishop is not over for either of the suffragan-elects. To be confirmed, each must gain the endorsement of a majority of the Episcopal bishops and a majority of the elected Standing Committees in each of our 110 dioceses. Such confirmations are not foregone conclusions; the election of a bishop in Northern Michigan was recently rejected. You can expect that both Cns. Glasspool and Bruce will receive intense scrutiny by the bishops and standing committees, and intense media coverage throughout.

It should be noted that other elections have taken place in recent weeks in Oregon and Louisiana, and those elections (of men) have been treated as local events with nary a word in the national or international media.

Suffragan bishops assist the diocesan bishops in their sacramental ministry; they do not have the full authority of the diocesan bishop, who in Los Angeles is The Rt. Rev. Jon Bruno (center in photo above).

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams reacted swiftly. His statement, in full, is below:
The election of Mary Glasspool by the Diocese of Los Angeles as suffragan bishop elect raises very serious questions not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole.

The process of selection however is only part complete. The election has to be confirmed, or could be rejected, by diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees. That decision will have very important implications.

The bishops of the Communion have collectively acknowledged that a period of gracious restraint in respect of actions which are contrary to the mind of the Communion is necessary if our bonds of mutual affection are to hold.
Meanwhile, a number of commentators have pointed out that Williams has remained silent for two months on a proposed anti-gay law in Uganda, though he was able to quickly rebuke the Episcopal Church for the election in Los Angeles. I think that criticism fair, if only because it symbolizes that the archbishop is more concerned with church politics than the politics of the larger world. It ought to be the other way around. But it also shows that he is hemmed in by his own delicate diplomacy with the African Anglican bishops.

To be fair, commentators in the U.K. have noted that if Williams speaks out against the proposed anti-gay law he may only ensure its passage; the Anglican bishops in Uganda have likened homosexuality to Satan, and are only looking for further proof that homosexuality is a colonial import (and that makes me wonder why we want to be in this Anglican club at all, but that is a matter for another day). You can read a commentary about Williams' predicament in the U.K. Guardian by clicking HERE.

My own reaction? Of course I welcome these two bishop-elects. I believe they bring great gifts to our church beyond the diocese which elected them. I believe it was inevitable that we have another gay bishop, and there will be more to come. I believe the Holy Spirit is calling us to lead the way on this, and leading will be painful and progress will come incrementally. I hope the archbishop and the rest of the Anglican Communion will come along, as I think they will sooner or later.

But it is a mixed blessing. Canon Glasspool will now get the death threats Gene Robinson has endured. More angst and anger will overheat our church conventions with little result. I am sad that this is so polarized.

My reaction is also tempered by the fact that, unfortunately, only two suffragans were elected in Los Angeles, and not three. It took seven ballots to elect Canon Glasspool in what was described by participants as a very tense election; edged out was The Rev. I. Martir Vazquez, who was certainly qualified to be bishop. The Diocese of Los Angeles, almost as big in numbers as Virginia and ten times more diverse, has 30 of its 149 parishes that worship entirely in Spanish. Los Angeles very much needs a Latino Episcopal bishop.

It leads me to wonder if Bishop Bruno and his diocese can find a way to have one more assisting bishop, and bring in Fr. Vazquez as a bishop. That would make what ought to be a great celebration even greater.

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