Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Electing a Lesbian Bishop

I was a delegate to the 114th convention of the Los Angeles Diocese of the Episcopal Church in Riverside this past weekend where we "made history" by electing the first lesbian bishop. Unlike Bishop Gene Robinson, who famously remarked that he was scarcely the first gay person to be a bishop in the Anglican or Roman churches - just the first one to be honest about it - the list of female bishops is so short that we can safely say that The Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool is the first lesbian bishop in the Church. The vote for a new bishop is taken by orders, and a candidate must get a majority of both clergy and laity. There were 203 lay votes in favor of Glasspool on the 7th and final ballot, including my own vote.

Some clarification. In the Episcopal tradition, each administrative region or "diocese" has one "Diocesan" bishop. This is a bishop with a specific administrative responsibility for that diocese. In addition to the diocesan bishop, there may be more than one Bishop "suffragan." A bishop suffragan is sort of a bishop-without-portfolio: ordained and called to the episcopate but not given a specific geographic administrative function. Most dioceses do not have suffragans. Of those that do, it is rare to have more than one. The LA diocese, which is very large, has two. One reason to have a bishop suffragan is that a bishop by custom visits each parish at least once a year to preach and administer sacraments. With 180 congregations in LA, but only 52 sundays in a year, this task cannot be reasonably done by one person. A bishop may appoint an Assistant Bishop (usually from retired bishops) who is specifically a helper-bishop and who may be hired or fired at will. A Bishop suffragan is not an "Assistant" in this way (despite how the papers report it). He or she serves for life, just like the bishop diocesan. A bishop suffragan is more like a co-bishop. Anyway, that's who we elected.

The process for choosing our bishop was as follows. The nominations were opened for 6 weeks in mid-2009. Each candidate has to be given a full background check. For this reason, nominations from the floor of the convention are not possible. The 24-person "search" comission includes both lay and clerical members. There were 51 nominees, of whom 20 actually applied. Of the 20 nominees, the diocesan "search committee" narrowed the candidates to six by unanimous vote. These included one straight white woman, one gay white woman, one gay white man, one straight black woman, and two straight hispanic men.

Why did I vote for Glasspool? While not required anywhere to explain my vote, let me say that the reason was twofold. First, she was nearly a decade older and more experienced than most of the others. She was also one of only two who came from outside the diocese, which I regarded as a plus. We don't want to be too insular. With that being said, I was also delighted that by electing her we could make a statement to our own people about the final step of inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in our Christian life together. Poking my finger in the eye of the Archbishop of Canterbury was a minor, sinful pleasure.

The voting on the floor took place in two rounds over two days. The white, straight candidate (Diane bruce) was elected on the first balloting on the first day. That took four votes. Glasspool consistently came in second during that voting. Once Bruce was elected, the filed narrowed to five. The delegates split between Vasquez and Glasspool. The "gay thing" was scarcely an issue. In fact, the only lesbian clergymember who shared her vote with me was urging me to vote for Vasquez because she felt that he was an incredibly talented leaader who had been given short shrift because his English is so poor. The real discussion was whether to elect a secodn white woman or someone of color. The bishop pleaded with us to listen to God and not to try to "engineer" God's will. Some otuside the convention might have taken that as a plea not to elect a gay person; it was directed, actually, to those seeking racial diversity. The clergy settled on Glasspool by the third vote, but the laity did not. The laity twice voted for Vasquez with a majority, but the clergy did not budge. The crucial vote came after lunch on Saturday, when the clergy were preparing to leave. Typically, I understaand, the clergy has to leave the convention by Saturday afternoon to prepare for Sunday while the laity just take sunday off, so the laity usually can "hold out" and make the vote. We didn't - the laity prayed and reversed course, joining the clergy in voting forGlaspool on the 7th vote, the results of which were announced at about 2:45pm.

We all had to sign a testimony that we were present during the election. While this happened, the bishop led us in an impromptu singing of "Amazing Grace." The convention stood, sung, and wept. The bishop's own voice was cracking as he announced the election results, something quite amazing to see. As I left the convention hall to head home - sneaking out before the final devotional service of the day - I was astonished to see news reports of the vote coming out everywhere. Was this really so radical, to vote for a 55-year old woman from Baltimore who had been a priest for a quarter-century? My reaction to reading the Archbishop of Canterbury's terse reply on Sunday was unexpectedly furious. We are called to raise up our own leaders to preach the gospel. We know who we are. And it was liberating to express without reservation that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are a full part of our community, loved by God who created all of us as we are, in His/Her image. It is simply not the Archbishop's business to tell us how to respond to Holy Spirit.

I want to stress to you all that this was a surprisingly un-political convention. There was no opposition to electing a gay person in any evidence anywhere, at least no opposition on that basis. What I can assure you is that we left the convention with full and joyful hearts, in awe of the new things that God is doing in this world.


Raised By Republicans said...

What an interesting insider account!

Is the Arch Bishop of Canterbury reflective of where the British congregations are? Or is he out of step with his own flock?

The Law Talking Guy said...

The archbishop's "flock" is really the state-supported clergy. Church attendance is very, very low in England. The C of E has ossified into a sort of combination of state museum and extended seminary. Lack of lay financial responsibility is a problem.

Raised By Republicans said...

So are the majority of the state supported clergy in the UK, as socially conservative as the Arch Bishop?

Is the Archbishop of York any different? For that matter, what role does the Archbishop of York play in the C of E?

The Law Talking Guy said...

The Archbishop of Canterbury isn't actually very socially conservative, and indeed was rumored to be fairly liberal when he was appointed. His problem is that he is such a namby-pamby wuss that he just gives into whatever conservative demands are made on him. He is even so "liberal" as to believe that it should be okay for Muslims in England to have their own Sharia law apply only to them.

The Archbishop of York was the only other "Archbishop" in England at the time of the split, so he retained his title. He is the #2 after the Archbishop of Canterbury. An Archbishop is just a bishop with a more prestigious posting. As if we called the governors of California, New York, and Texas "Archgovernors" because the states were bigger.

The C of E clergy is not terribly right-wing but is conservative in the sense of being slow to change. Among the reasons for this is that they do not have to respond to the laity at all. The C of E is much more liberal than the African churches that the Archbishop is afraid of offending. These churches were largely founded by the evangelical mission societies of the C of E in the Victorian period and remain much more evangelical and Victorian in their outlook than the rest of the C of E or the Anglican communion.

It's not just the USA on its own, btw. The Anglican Churches of New Zealand, Canada, and Scotland are all quite liberal and supportive of us, and Canada's church also does gay marriages now. Australia's church is more conservative (naturally) and is probably the most conservative Anglican church in the developed world.

Raised By Republicans said...

Thanks LTG! That was very informative.

The Law Talking Guy said...

The bottom line is this. I have read the Anglican Communion documents about a "covenant" and other instruments designed to force the Episcopal Church to retreat from full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons or lose fall out of full communion with other churches in the Anglican Communion. These are all dreck, all pointless. Either the sister churches will decide to remain in communion with us - despite our clear difference on this single issue- or they will not. In their hands, not ours, lies the momentous issue of our communion together. Not only are we called to be in communion with one another by history, tradition, and our deep "bonds of affection" over many years, but by the princple of ecumenism enshrined in the gospels. Schism and ideological purity are not Christian, and are not the Anglican way. Until Canterbury bars us from being full parnters at Lambeth, we will presume to be welcome there.

If some friends leave, though, other friends will come. For example, we are in negotiations to join in full communion with the (Lutheran/Reformed) Church of Sweden who ordained the world's first lesbian bishop (they remain within the "historic episcopate", as do we) on November 8th of this year.

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