The Episcopal Church’s politics re: status of LGBTs since 2003 and Bishop Gene Robinson’s election
This is background material in response to some comments on the “Bishop Robinson at Inauguration” threads.
A late 1970s bylaw indicates that gender, orientation are not to be considered in eligibility for seminary and for ordination, but a separate bylaw specifies that sexual activity should be conducted within the bounds of marriage. At the present, there is no official rite of marriage for same-gender couples in the Prayer Book; experimental rites have been used in some dioceses before 2006, and probably on the quiet after 2006 (see below). In actual practice, many gay or lesbian priests serve, and many have partners who are fully recognized as the (monogamous) spouses of the priests. Priests are hired by their parishes, but must be acceptable to the bishop of the diocese. Many bishops are actively welcoming, many are indifferent on the issue, and about 10% of the dioceses' bishops will not license gay/lesbian priests to serve in their dioceses.
Since 2003, the Episcopal Church (TEC) has been threatened with schism by the 10% of bishops who will not license gays/lesbians (and women, in some cases) as priests. TEC General Conference (House of Bishops, and House of Deputies (deputies are layfolk and parish priests)) approved Robinson as bishop in 2003, after his valid election by his diocese. My impression is that Robinson's support has increased considerably since then, and 90% of bishops find him perfectly satisfactory.
More below the fold.
The schismatics started a campaign to get the worldwide Anglican Communion to throw the American branch (Episcopal Church) out of the Communion, the schismatics hoping thereby to take over title to Episcopal Church real estate as the “true”, Archbishop of Canterbury-recognized American Anglican Communion member. TEC polity has all real estate belonging to the diocese, and all dioceses subject to the supervision of the General Conference and of the duly elected (by GC) archbishop-equivalent Presiding Bishop (ten year term). The schismatics' game plan was to have the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Primates (chief bishop of a country's Church) declare TEC “out of Communion with Canterbury”, that being the operational definition of membership in the loosely associated “worldwide Anglican Communion”. In court disputes, ownership of church assets has depended on the polity followed by the particular denomination – in denominations with congregational polity, individual congregations own the assets, in denominations with episcopal polity, real estate and other assets are owned by the dioceses and controlled by the bishop (and oversight committees, in the case of TEC). If the secular courts declared the schismatics to be the true bishops of TEC, according to the secular court's interpretation of TEC polity, legal precedent would support the transfer of the very significant real estate and endowment assets of TEC to the schismatics. Real Money.
The campaign of the schismatics was funded in large part by the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), a right wing foundation that has a history of supporting bloody dictators such as General Rios-Montt and others during the Contras era, has funding from Howard Ahmanson, a kingmaker of the California Republican party and (former?) adherent of replacing the US Constitution with Biblical law, and has been run largely by right-wing Catholics who follow the Scalia philosophy. IRD has targeted mainstream Protestant denominations to shift them from “social Gospel” concerns for the poor to an uber-Calvinistic attitude that the poor don't deserve help because they are lazy, and consequently taxes should be lowered dramatically.
90%+ of TEC opposes IRD goals, and a slight majority (as of 2006) appears to favor bylaws allowing ordination of partnered gays (and by extension allowing non-partnered gay priests to settle down with partners). At the General Conference 2006, during the thick of the schism crisis, the newly elected Presiding Bishop persuaded the pro-gays to stand down until after the every-ten-years 2008 Lambeth worldwide Anglican bishops' meeting, specifically, to promise not to elect another out gay partnered bishop and for bishops to promise not to endorse any union rites that any of the diocesan priests might choose to perform on the basis of pastoral discretion (in other words, bishops would turn a blind eye and let the priests do as they will, neither commanding nor forbidding such rites). In the interval between 2006 GC and now, the schismatics have made fools of themselves and the Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops have affirmed the existing TEC as the “real” TEC. I suspect that at GC 2009, the moratoria on election of new gay partnered bishops and on bishops' endorsement of same-gender union rites will be lifted.
The lifting of these moratoria will still not make practice in TEC uniform – there will be some 7 to 10% of dioceses where all gay (and female, for one or two dioceses) priests will be refused licenses by the bishop. In all dioceses, even those whose bishops oppose gay priests, there are welcoming parishes – the bishop doesn't have the power to tell gays to stay away if the parish says welcome. Priests of financially self-supporting parishes are tenured after a fashion, so those priests can just smile at the hostile bishop and continue welcoming gays. By the same token, conservative LGBT/woman-hostile parishes can continue to exist within dioceses run by welcoming bishops. Every major metropolitan area has welcoming parishes, and membership is not geographical (as in the Roman church), so gay urbanites have TEC church homes. People in rural areas may or may not have friendly churches nearby (and might not have much choice in other denominations either).