As the Episcopal drama unfolds...
The situation, in a nutshell: at its 2003 General Convention in Columbus the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) ratified the ordination of one Gene Robinson, an active and unabashed homosexual, as Bishop of New Hampshire. ECUSA also passed a resolution which appeared to authorize the creating of liturgies for same-sex unions. The Anglican Communion, the global assembly of Anglican churches of which the Episcopal Church is a part, took exception to these decisions, and in a carefully-drafted document called "The Windsor Report" called for the Episcopal Church to apologize for the damage it did to the Anglican Communion, and take steps to prevent both further ordinations of active gay bishops and the development of rites for same-sex blessings.
The Windsor Report concludes that if the Episcopal Church failed to take these steps, it could find itself seperated ("walking apart") from the rest of the Anglican Communion. Dissident congregations would likely seperate from ECUSA and form their own confederation, with the blessing of the Anglican Communion. In other words, open schism.
The Episcopal Church's response to The Windsor Report was to come at the 2006 General Convention, currently unravelling in Columbus. There is, it would appear, a majority of delegates who wish to remain in fellowship with the Communion and are willing to pass the needed resolutions, albeit with little enthusiasm. But the radicals within the church are adamantly opposed to any concessions on gay unions, and conservatives demand a strongly-worded response. So far the radicals are winning.
The radicals won a major victory when the Convention picked Katharine Jefferts Schori, formerly the Bishop of Nevada, to be the new Presiding Bishop. Bishop Schori is a theological radical, and as a woman her relations with other members of the Anglican Communion, not all of whom allow the ordination of women, will be complicated.
And now critical resolutions, intended to signal (however half-heartedly) that the Episcopal Church is willing to meet the terms of the Windsor Report were defeated on the Convention floor. The Convention is scheduled to break up tomorrow (Wednesday) evening. A special session of the Convention has been called for tomorrow morning, in hopes of getting resolutions through, but there is no guarantee that they will get through. Time is running out fast.
London Times religion reporter Ruth Gledhill neatly summarized
what went wrong in Columbus:The strategy of leaders of the Anglican church (sic) at Columbus had been to engineer the moderate middle ground to be Windsor-compliant, marginalising the radical liberals and the orthodox, for the sake of unity. This strategy failed. In the end, the key resolutions were too liberal for the conservatives or too conservative for the liberals.
Here's where the muddled middle of the Episcopal Church screwed up: They tried to make peace with one group of theological conservatives (Orthodox African and Asian leaders in the Anglican Communion) while leaving another group of theological conservatives (Orthodox American Episcopalians) on the sidelines.
Big mistake. The radicals naturally rejected any attempt to back down from the ordination of Bishop Robinson or the celebration of gay "marriages". But the conservatives, who sympathize with the requirements of the Windsor Report, also rejected those same resolutions, considering them half-hearted and vaguely-worded.
This may come as a surprise to the clueless Episcopal establishment, but it shouldn't. Conservatives in the American Church are fairly close to the conservatives in the larger Communion. Even if ECUSA manages to get its resolutions passed, American conservatives will still be out there arguing that what ECUSA did is not good enough. And their arguments will get a hearing.
One could argue that the conservatives have been churlish. A half-hearted "aww-come-on-do-I-have-to?" response is better than a flat no. (consider the Parable of the Two Sons, Matt 21: 28-32) But the failure of the Episcopal establishment to consult with conservatives, and their determination to not be seen as handing ECUSA's conservatives any clear victories, made it that much harder for those conservatives to overlook the shortcomings of the resolutions as they came on to the floor.
Which leaves us with what has been described as "anarchy" in the Episcopal Church, more radicalized leadership, critical resolutions failing. After that may come schism and the creation of a new American Anglican Church. All because Episcopal moderates failed to talk to Episcopal conservatives.