NEW YORK – Episcopal bishops meeting privately in Texas have rejected demands from the world's Anglicans that they provide an alternate leader for conservatives who oppose ordaining gays — a move that brings the church to the brink of expulsion from the Anglican Communion.
In the strongest and most direct language yet defending their support for gay relationships, the bishops said that accepting a second leader for traditionalists would violate Episcopal church law and the founding principles of the church.
"We cannot accept what would be injurious to the church and could well lead to its permanent division," the bishops said in the resolution.
Last month, Anglican leaders emerged from a meeting in Tanzania with an ultimatum for the U.S. denomination. They gave Episcopalians until Sept. 30 to unequivocally pledge not to consecrate another partnered gay bishop or authorize official prayers for same-sex couples. Otherwise, they said, the church risked a much-reduced role in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion.
As part of the plan, the Episcopalians were told to accept a "primatial vicar" for conservatives who said they could not accept U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori because of her acceptance of gay relationships and liberal theology.
While the bishops addressed that issue in their resolution, they did not directly stake out a position on the Anglican demand about other gay bishops.
However, Episcopal leaders noted that they had previously met requests not to approve another bishop in a same-sex relationship "at great cost to many, not the least of whom are our gay and lesbian members," only to have Anglican leaders say the pledges weren't sufficient.
The resolution expressed the bishops' desire to remain the U.S. representatives of the communion and said there was an "urgent need" to meet personally with the Anglican spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the Anglican bishops who advise him.
The Episcopal leaders also acknowledged that their actions could get them kicked out.
"If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision," they said.
Anglicans have been debating for years how to interpret Scripture on salvation, truth and sexuality. Those divisions reached the breaking point in 2003 when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
The bishops, meeting near Houston, planned a news conference Wednesday afternoon to explain their decision.