Episcopal Church to Vote on Gays as Bishops

With the Anglican world anxiously waiting, Episcopal leaders weighed their response to demands that they bar any more gays from becoming bishops.

A bishops' committee took a break late Monday after working on a statement that could determine whether the global Anglican fellowship splits apart.

The Episcopal Church, the Anglican body in the U.S., caused an uproar in 2003 by consecrating the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

Anglican leaders set a Sept. 30 deadline for the Americans to pledge unequivocally not to consecrate another gay bishop or approve an official prayer service for same-gender couples.

A vote by the full House of Bishops was set for Tuesday, the final day of the Episcopal meeting.

"We are working very closely with one another whether we are on the conservative end of the church, the liberal or the moderate middle," said liberal Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno. "We're looking to make as full, clear and complete a response as we can."

Bishop Ed Little, a theological conservative from of northern Indiana who wants to stay in the Episcopal Church, said that lay and clergy leaders from the Anglican Communion who have been attending the six-day meeting are pushing bishops to make concessions.

"They've all said in essence, for the good of the church, for the good of the communion, you have to take a step back," Little said.

The 77-million-member communion is a fellowship of churches that trace their roots to the Church of England. It is the third-largest Christian body in the world, behind the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Most overseas Anglicans are traditionalists who believe the Bible bars gay relationships. But liberals, who emphasize biblical teaching on justice and tolerance, are a majority in the 2.2 million-member Episcopal Church.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader, took the unusual step of attending the meeting here on its first two days, warning Episcopal leaders behind closed doors that they must make changes to keep the communion together.

Last year, the top Episcopal policy-making body, the General Convention, asked bishops to "exercise restraint" by not approving candidates for bishop "whose manner of life presents a challenge" to the church. However, the measure isn't binding, and a lesbian with a female partner is among the finalists in an upcoming election for Chicago bishop.

The Episcopal prayer book has no liturgy for blessing same-gender couples, but about a dozen of the 110 U.S. dioceses allow priests to perform the ceremonies.