By John Pomfret
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 7, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO, May 6 -- The story from the Grace Cathedral on Saturday was not so much about what happened but what didn't happen. Episcopalians in San Francisco did not elect an openly gay candidate as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California, thereby preventing a schism within the 75 million-member Anglican Communion already on the verge of crisis after the election of its first gay bishop in New Hampshire three years ago.
Instead, about 700 voters representing clergy and laity chose Mark Handley Andrus, a violin-playing, yoga-practicing father of two, currently the bishop suffragan from the diocese of Alabama. Andrus, who will be succeeding Bishop William E. Swing, who is retiring, told the voters in a phone link from his home that he is "glad and humbled by the trust you have placed in me."
Andrus ran against six other candidates. Three of them, the Rev. Michael Barlowe of San Francisco, the Rev. Robert V. Taylor of Seattle and the Rev. Bonnie Perry of Chicago, live openly with same-sex partners, prompting pundits to predict that the diocese, based in a city with a powerful gay movement, would elect a gay or lesbian chief. But from the start of voting Saturday, it was clear that none of the gay candidates would win; Perry, the sole lesbian among the group, dropped out of the race after the second round when she garnered only one vote.
The election, which took three rounds in the airy cathedral atop historic Nob Hill, was significant, because if the diocese had chosen a gay or lesbian bishop, it could have prompted the archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican Communion, to expel the U.S. church from the communion, or compelled a majority of the communion's other provinces to boycott the communion; in short, a full-blown schism.
Since the election in 2003 by the New Hampshire diocese of V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in Anglican history, conservative Anglicans have urged the Episcopal Church of the United States to stop even considering the election of gay bishops.
The furor over sexuality underscores the increasingly stark divisions between the communion's liberal bastion in the United States and its conservative strains, represented by some U.S. clergy, but more significantly among the church's biggest growth areas in Africa, South America and Asia, now home to more than half of all Anglicans.
The Rev. Ian T. Douglas, professor at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., who co-chaired a committee that recommended in April that the U.S. church "exercise very considerable caution" before consecrating any more gay bishops, said the Anglican community had moved rapidly in the past 50 years to bring "historically marginalized voices" into the church. In the West, that has meant women, laity, gay men and lesbians and ethnic minorities. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, that involves "historically colonized poor people."
"What we need to be careful about is not playing one marginalized community off the other," he said. "The reality of differences is not going to go away because of one election."
The Rev. Robert Duncan, the bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, who has led the charge against Robinson's election, was clearly relieved that Saturday's victory did not go to an openly gay person. In a written statement, he said he was "grateful" the diocese had chosen Andrus. Duncan also called on the church to repent for its 2003 Robinson decision, place a moratorium on elections of openly gay bishops and stop blessing same-sex relationships.
"Our very claim to be 'Anglican' remains in jeopardy, and we have yet to clearly respond," he said. The Episcopal Church will next confront these issues in June during its general convention.
Senior clergy in the church and other participants in the vote said, however, that fear of a schism did not play a huge factor in the voting.
In a statement, Swing, the retiring bishop, said while it was understandable to see the election "as straight versus gay, or perhaps women versus men, or even black versus white," it really was about which candidate "God seems to favor" and which candidate could lead a diocese that in the past has witnessed "devastating earthquakes and fires and has been the epicenter of a pandemic."
"Fear was not a factor," said the Rev. Jack Eastwood, who led a committee that supervised the nominations and the election. "We said, 'Vote for the best person.' "
In addition to the three gay clergy members, the slate of nominees Saturday included one African American, the Rev. Canon Eugene Sutton of Washington National Cathedral, thereby making it the most diverse group of nominees in the California diocese's history. Since its founding in 1854, the diocese has been led by straight white men -- a tradition that Andrus will continue. However, the diocese is also among the most liberal of Episcopal dioceses; it has ordained the most gay and lesbian priests and last year also ordained a convicted felon.
In his comments by phone to the electorate, Andrus pledged to continue the diocese's liberal traditions, saying that "your vote today remains a vote for inclusion and communion." The voters erupted in a deafening applause. "Inclusion," Eastwood noted, is a church buzzword for welcoming gay men and lesbians and ethnic minorities.