Head of Episcopal Church Calls for Compromise in Gay Bishop Debate

The head of the Episcopal Church told delegates Wednesday that "humility" was needed in their response to Anglican demands to stop electing gay bishops, or their denomination and the entire world Anglican fellowship could break apart.

Outgoing Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, speaking to the church's General Convention on the last day of an anguished nine-day meeting, asked delegates to reflect on their vote Tuesday to reject a measure urging dioceses to refrain from electing gay bishops.

"Unless there is a clear perception on the part of our Anglican brothers and sisters that they have been taken seriously in their concerns, it will be impossible to have any genuine conversation," Griswold said in a special session — that he called — of the convention's two policymaking bodies, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies.

Anglican officials sought a temporary ban to calm conservatives outraged over the 2003 consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who lives with his longtime male partner.

"There needs to be a clear sense that we are not ignoring the sensibilities for those who are genuinely unable to understand what we have done," Griswold said. "Humility is not an easy virtue but it is very much required in this season."

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. arm of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, the family of churches with roots that trace back to the Church of England.

While conservatives are a minority within the American denomination, the majority of overseas Anglican leaders oppose actively gay clergy. They believe that the Bible prohibits gay sex.

Griswold asked both houses to immediately take up a new resolution that would call on bishops "to exercise restraint" by not allowing the consecration of a bishop "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church." The language falls short of requiring a moratorium on installing gay bishops.

The bishops quickly adopted the resolution with a show of hands. The measure was then sent to the House of Deputies, comprised of more than 800 lay people and clergy, for discussion.

In a sermon immediately before the special session, the incoming presiding bishop, Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, told delegates the church should "lay down our narrow self-interest and heal the hurting" as they headed into a final debate on gay clergy.

"We children of Jesus can continue to squabble over our inheritance or we can claim our name and heritage as God's beloveds, and share that name beloved with the whole world," said Jefferts Schori, who was elected Sunday and will take over as lead bishop in November.

She also said that "our invitation, both in the last work of this convention, and as we go out into the world, is to lay down our fear and love the world.

"Lay down our narrow self-interest and heal the hurting and fill the hungry and set the prisoners free," she said.

The Nevada bishop will be the first woman presiding bishop, and the first woman ever to lead an Anglican province.

Speaking just a couple of days after another Protestant denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), agreed to allow gender-inclusive language in some services when referring to the divine Trinity, Jefferts Schori referred to both "our mother Jesus" and "King Jesus' followers" in her sermon.

"That sweaty, bloody, tearstained labor of a cross bears new life. Our mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation and you and I are his children," she said.