New Criticism for Episcopal Bishop

By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 11, 2007

Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first female presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, is used to hostility from the right wing of her denomination. Now, she faces a rebellion among her longtime allies on the left.

With more puzzlement than rancor, liberal Episcopalians are questioning why Jefferts Schori signed an international statement last month that, in their view, demands a halt to 30 years of growing acceptance of gay men and lesbians.

"The overwhelming response I'm hearing is, 'Wait a minute! We're not prepared to turn back the clock,' " said the Rev. Ruth Meyers, academic dean of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill.

The bishops of all 111 Episcopal dioceses will meet this week at a church retreat center near Houston to consider their response to an ultimatum issued in Tanzania on Feb. 19 by the primates, or heads, of the 38 national churches that make up the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the 77 million-member communion, which is still reeling from the consecration of an openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, in New Hampshire in 2003.

In an attempt to prevent a schism, Jefferts Schori and her fellow primates gave U.S. bishops until Sept. 30 to make an unambiguous, collective promise that they will not consent to the election of any more gay bishops and will not authorize blessings of same-sex couples. The primates also agreed to establish the post of "primatial vicar" to oversee U.S. dioceses unhappy with the Episcopal Church's recent course.

If the Episcopal Church rejects the ultimatum, it will face unspecified sanctions, such as a downgrading of its status within the Anglican Communion. But even before the U.S. bishops gather in Texas on Friday, more than a dozen of them, including Bishop John B. Chane of Washington, have indicated they are inclined to rebuff Jefferts Schori's recommendation and politely but firmly say "no" to the primates.

"We have to be very clear about where we are as a church. We have consented to the consecration of Gene Robinson, and we have -- the majority of dioceses in this country have -- allowed the blessing of same-sex couples for some time," Chane said in an interview.

"We have done these things, and the one thing we're not going to do, in my opinion, is we're not going back to Egypt," he said, referring to the biblical exodus from slavery. "These are positions that have been taken, really, at some cost to the unity of our church, but for the integrity of our church."

Liberal Episcopalians also object to the ultimatum on procedural grounds, noting that the primates' Tanzania communique was addressed solely to U.S. bishops, as though they can speak for the American church. "There isn't a bishop I know of who will say we can do that," Chane said.

Bishop Paul V. Marshall of Bethlehem, Pa., said many of the primates rule autocratically over former colonial churches and do not understand the "democratic polity" of the Episcopal Church, which broke away from the Church of England during the American Revolution.

The Episcopal constitution was written by many of the same people who drafted the U.S. Constitution, and it vests power in a legislature with two equal chambers: a House of Bishops and a House of Deputies, which contains lay people and priests, Marshall said.

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