Episcopalians Stall on Gay Bishops Debate

With only two days remaining, the Episcopal General Convention is far from deciding whether they should bar gays from serving as bishops for now.

Delegates are considering a moratorium to appease fellow Anglicans angry about the 2003 consecration of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop — V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

The House of Deputies, comprised of lay people and clergy, ended debate Monday night without a vote on a proposal that stopped short of a ban. Instead, it would urge dioceses to "refrain from" choosing bishops "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church."

The deputies did adopt an "expression of regret" on a 563-267 vote for failing to properly consult Anglicans before confirming Robinson and for "the consequences that followed."

The measures need approval from the House of Bishops before they become final.

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. arm of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion. If overseas leaders dislike the outcome of this week's meeting, the association of 38 national churches could break apart. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the communion's spiritual leader, has expressed concern that the feud over homosexuality and the Bible will cause a permanent rift.

The situation has been complicated by Sunday's election of Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the first Episcopal presiding bishop — the first woman ever to lead an Anglican province. Only two other Anglican provinces — New Zealand and Canada — have female bishops and many Anglicans believe women should not be ordained.

In a 2004 document called the Windsor Report, Anglicans asked the Episcopal Church for the prohibition on homosexual bishops, a temporary ban on developing official prayers for blessing same-sex couples and an apology for the turmoil caused by Robinson's confirmation.

The Rev. Frank Wade, a leader of the committee that drafted legislation based on the Windsor Report, asked delegates not to view the document as an ultimatum, but as a plea for peace.

"No one is being asked to stop being different. No one is being asked to stop differently from others," Wade said. "The question is how do we live together."

The measure on same-gender blessing ceremonies directs "this General Convention not proceed to develop or authorize" any such liturgies, while using wording that leaves open the possibility that individual dioceses and priests could conduct the ceremonies informally.