Tag Archives: Episcopal (Anglican)

Holy Union 1970

Did the Movement for Marriage Equality Begin in 2008? One Chapter in a Larger Narrative

Forcing the Spring, the recent best-seller by New York Times reporter Jo Becker, purports to chronicle the back story to the sweeping success of the marriage equality movement across the nation, but critics complain that the book gives too much credit to Becker’s sources and too little to the significant contributions of others, especially earlier pilgrims in the long journey toward marriage equality. In response, author Becker acknowledges that “The book is about one chapter in a larger narrative, and that narrative includes so many people who worked so hard on this issue when the going was far tougher than it is today.”

Indeed.

Let us consider the role of progressive religion. Against well-entrenched religious opposition to all things gay, progressive religious leaders were early voices “crying in the wilderness,” and decades of advocacy within religious spheres have largely prepared the good soil for recent marriage equality policy breakthroughs.

In the sixties, the issue was not marriage equality but criminalization and police harassment of homosexuals. Of course, the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village in the summer of 1969 exploded as a spontaneous backlash to a police raid on a gay bar, and Stonewall has become the iconic moment that marks the birth of the gay liberation movement.

Clergy press conference following police raid

Clergy press conference following police raid of 1964 New Year’s ball

However, nearly five years before Stonewall, the San Francisco based Council on Religion and Homosexuality (CRH) sponsored a New Year’s Eve ball in 1964 that was raided by police, and the clergy who appeared at a press conference the next day to denounce the police behavior focused the eyes of the nation on abusive police practices and policies. One commentator suggested the clergy provided the “cloak of the cloth,” a powerful and visible sign of religious support for the LGBT community. In 1965, the prestigious Christian Century Magazine suggested, “the law … should not penalize private immoralities which cannot be proved contrary to the common good.” The first LGBT policy statements of the ecumenical Protestant denominations (Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, United Church of Christ) in the late sixties and seventies called for the decriminalization of homosexuality and homosexual behavior.

Holy Union 1970

The 1970 Holy Union of Father Robert Mary Clement and John Darcy Noble, Rev. Troy Perry officiating

By the 1990’s, still long before marriage equality was on the legal horizon, many clergy conferred a blessing on the relationships of their gay or lesbian parishioners, variously referred to as “covenant ceremonies,” “rites of blessing,” commitment services,” “holy unions,” and other terms. In fact, the terminology “holy union” dates to 1970 when independent (non-Roman) Catholic priest, Father Robert Mary Clement, who had marched in his clerical robes in the first Gay Pride parade in New York City, was joined with his life partner in a religious ceremony, and the officiant was Rev. Troy Perry, who had started the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), a predominantly gay denomination, months before Stonewall. In 1993, Perry and the MCC organized a Washington D.C. event they dubbed simply “The Wedding,” and Perry claimed “At least 2,600 same-sex couples, complete with tuxedos and wedding gowns, made a public commitment in a mass ritual.”

Meanwhile, the ecumenical Protestant churches wrestled with policies regarding blessing gay and lesbian couples.

  • In 1993, the Lutheran Conference of Bishops stated that although the church did not recognize an official ceremony of blessing, the bishops acknowledged the prerogative of pastors and congregations in ministry with gay and lesbian persons to “explore the best ways to provide pastoral care,” and that was widely interpreted to allow clergy discretion to preside at rites of blessing.
  • After Methodist Pastor Jimmy Creech was defrocked and Pastor Greg Dell suspended just before the turn of the century for presiding at covenant ceremonies, nearly one hundred West coast Methodist clergy jointly officiated in the covenant service of a lesbian couple. Though Methodist policy remained unchanged, the horde of media representatives and bank of television cameras at the February 2000 press conference announcing that no ecclesiastical charges would be filed against the “Sacramento 68” demonstrated that the same-sex marriage issue had captured the attention of the world.
  • When Massachusetts became the first state to recognize marriage equality in 2003, by judicial fiat, the local Episcopal bishop initially encouraged his priests to refrain from conducting marriage ceremonies, but the priests widely ignored their bishop, and within a few years, the bishop himself presided at a lesbian wedding–of two of his priests, no less!
  • On July 4, 2005, the UCC General Synod formally endorsed marriage equality with an overwhelming vote for a resolution that “affirms equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that the government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry and share fully in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriage.”
  • In the last decade, the Presbyterian journey to full LGBT inclusion was marked by ecclesiastical trials wrestling with rites of blessing, and the Presbyterian courts made it clear that rites of blessing were permitted as long as it was not a legal marriage ceremony. Yet, when the Presbyterian “Supreme Court” instructed her local presbytery to censure Rev. Dr. Jane Spahr, who has long been the “poster lesbian” of the Presbyterian Church, for officiating at legal marriages of gay and lesbian couples, the presbytery instead issued a resolution of support for Rev. Dr. Spahr’s ministry. All Presbyterian eyes are on Detroit this week where issues of marriage equality are front and center of the General Assembly.

In the last dozen years, as marriage equality has gained momentum in the civil sphere, so too has full inclusion of LGBT persons moved forward in the religious sphere, at least within the ecumenical denominations. By removing the gates to the pulpit through revisions to ministry policies–that is, by ordaining partnered gays and lesbians–the UCC (as early as the 1970s), the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, and the Presbyterians have all recently affirmed that the relationships of gay and lesbian partners are to be recognized, supported, and celebrated. Without attempting too fine a point regarding a chicken or egg analysis, when the moral authority of the church swings toward inclusion, public opinion will be affected.

Finally, and especially germane to the recent sweeping success of marriage equality adjudication and legislation across jurisdictions, the role of progressive clergy in statewide pro-equality movements cannot be understated. The example of Minnesota is illustrative. In 2012, a restrictive constitutional amendment was defeated by the electorate, and marriage equality was enacted during the next legislative session in 2013. Minnesotans United was the LGBT advocacy group that successfully worked on both measures, and their strategy “refused to cede the religious ground.” Though the local Roman Catholic Archbishop was an outspoken opponent of marriage equality, ecumenical Protestant and Jewish clergy served in highly visible leadership roles. Minnesota clergy issued joint communiques, provided legislative testimony, appeared at rallies and press conferences, and a priest, a minister, and a rabbi came into a bar together in a humorous TV ad. The clergy collar was omnipresent in LGBT advocacy efforts.

Marriage is a legal contract, defined and sanctioned by the civil law but with significant religious overtones, and the voices of opposition to LGBT rights have long used religion to bolster their arguments. Because of the religious underpinnings to LGBT issues, legal and societal progress would have been slowed or thwarted without the counter-influence of activists and allies, within the church, who offered the “cloak of the cloth” from the earliest days, who provided the example of holy unions to bless and solemnize gay and lesbian relationships, and who “refused to cede the religious ground.”

The Failed Attempt to Blunt Progressive Christianity

In 1980, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and a couple of hundred thousand conservative Christians claimed “Washington for Jesus.” Months later, Ronald Reagan was elected with substantial support from Falwell’s “Moral Majority.” Thus began an unholy alliance between Christian fundamentalists and the Republican Party that now threatens to rip the Grand Old Party apart. The loss of functioning government has been collateral damage of this internecine warfare, and David Brat’s defeat of Eric Cantor is the latest and most profound example of the raging civil war over the heart and soul of Republicanism. That christianist Brat claims his victory was a God-ordained miracle is hardly surprising.

The Republican establishment has long fed the beast that now threatens to devour the party, and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman’s New York Times op-ed of June 13 offers his typical sublime insights. Krugman suggests the Republican establishment has long used the cultural warriors of the religious right to stir up the base and win elections but for the benefit of the economically advantaged. Krugman writes of the stratagem: “an interlocking set of institutions and alliances that won elections by stoking cultural and racial anxiety but used these victories mainly to push an elitist economic agenda.”

There is a striking parallel within ecumenical Protestantism.

At the same time that Ronald Reagan forged support from Christian conservatives into a winning political coalition, the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) was founded in 1981. This organization mirrors the Republican establishment in the manner it riled up folks in the pews in order to further a largely neo-conservative economic and political agenda. The IRD’s political/economic goals include increased defense spending, opposing environmental protection efforts, anti-unionism, and weakening or eliminating social welfare programs, but those actual goals were masked by an emphasis on cultural warfare issues. Over the years, the IRD has been financially supported by a who’s who of right-wing millionaires, including Richard Mellon Scaife, Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson, Jr. and his IRD board member wife Roberta (called the “financiers” in a 2005 Time Magazine article), Adolph Coors, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

President of the United Church of Christ, John Thomas, wrote in 2006,

The right-wing Institute for Religion and Democracy and its long-term agenda of silencing a progressive religious voice while enlisting the church in an unholy alliance with right-wing politics is no longer deniable … But to play with Scripture just a bit, we doves innocently entertain these serpents in our midst at our own peril.*

The Lutheran expatriate turned Roman Catholic priest, Richard John Neuhaus, an IRD founder and longtime board member, bragged in 2005 while addressing the IRD board,

How, if at all and what ways, do we distinguish IRD from the remarkable insurgency that has rewritten the map of American culture and politics over the last 20 years, of evangelical, Catholic, generally conservative, religiously inspired political activism, dismissively called by our opponents, the “Religious Right”? How did it happen, one might ask, that IRD became in many ways an ancillary, supportive, coordinating agency for insurgencies within these three denominations–the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church-USA, and the Episcopal Church?*

The earliest splash made by the IRD was to attack the National Council of Churches by promoting the false notion that the ecumenical denominations supported Marxist revolutionaries in Africa. CBS’ 60 Minutes played the role of dupe in furthering the claim in a 1983 segment later dismissed by Don Hewitt, the 60 Minutes creator and longtime producer, as the segment he regretted most in his 36 year career. The broadcast began with the IRD leader, Richard John Neuhaus, speaking,

“I am worried – I am outraged when the church lies to its own people.” The camera moved from an offering plate in a United Methodist church in the Midwest to images of the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and then to marchers in Communist Red Square. The lengthy segment over and over suggested that the National Council of Churches (NCC) was using Sunday offerings to promote Marxist revolution. The most damaging accusation in the program was that NCC had somehow funded armed insurgents in Zimbabwe. While showing horrific footage of a slain missionary, the program implied that the NCC was responsible for the brutal murder. It was a lie that the top rated show in television told to tens of millions. The broadcast was highly damaging to mainline Protestants and the NCC.*

By the late 1980s and continuing, the IRD founded, funded, or otherwise influenced conservative organizations within the Methodist and Episcopal Churches and trumpeted the danger of LGBT inclusive policies to rally their troops. Dianne Knippers cut her teeth as a staffer for the conservative Methodist organization, “Good News.” Later, she would serve as IRD president during the height of its influence. Methodist theologian Thomas Oden was another Good News leader with ties to IRD as a member of the IRD board of directors. Current IRD President Mark Tooley is a lifelong Methodist and founder of the Methodist arm of the IRD called UMAction. The IRD also has a Presbyterian Action branch. The longtime conservative irritant within the Presbyterian Church is an organization called the Lay Committee that promotes their publication, The Layman. The self-described pillars of the Lay Committee were “People of means and action. Besides being leaders in their churches, they were leaders in corporate America.”* Within the Episcopal Church, Knippers served jointly as IRD President and organizer and leader of the late 1990s Episcopal group, the American Anglican Council, which served as chief conservative organizer at the virulently anti-gay Lambeth Conference in 1998 and as the opposition to the confirmation of Bishop Gene Robinson and all things gay in the early years of this century. Though the opponents of ELCA progressivism are not connected to the IRD, some Lutheran conservative commentators share neo-conservative political views (for example, Robert Benne, the author of The Ethic of Democratic Capitalism: A Moral Reassessment).

Over the years, the Republican establishment has stoked nativist, racist, sexist, anti-intellectual, anti-government, and anti-Muslim fears with a politics of scapegoating the immigrant, the black, the feminist, the queer, the academic, the government worker, and the welfare recipient. town-hall_thumb.jpgBy appealing to lesser instincts–especially of the angry white male–the party has enjoyed sufficient electoral success to continue feeding the beast, but Krugman’s article suggests this “bait and switch” tactic may no longer work as evidenced by Tea Party primary challenges to the party favorites. Ironically, the destabilization of the Republican Party itself would appear to be the legacy of the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and the complicity of the Reagans, Bushes, and the Republican establishment who are now being forced to “dance with the one who brought you.” While Republican self-destruction may not play out in the 2014 off-year elections, early portents for 2016 suggest a likely Democratic president and Congress, despite the built-in Republican advantage of gerrymandered Congressional districts. In the meantime, dysfunctional government will continue as the Tea Party insurgency in Congress will preclude any meaningful legislation.

While the outcome of the Republican civil war remains uncertain, the ecumenical denominations have largely resisted the contemporaneous neo-con attempts to destabilize leadership and thwart progressive impulses. For years, the conservatives used the rising tide of LGBT inclusive policies to frighten folks in the pews, but that battle is nearly won. Within the Lutheran Church (ELCA), Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ, LGBT-friendly policies are largely settled and entrenched with LGBT clergy, bishops, and high-ranking executives in the home offices all serving openly. The Presbyterians now ordain openly gay and lesbian ministry candidates and will likely endorse marriage equality in the next week. Meanwhile, the conservative opposition to Presbyterian progressivism, the Lay Committee, has chosen to stay away from the national General Assembly currently underway in Detroit–a telling admission of their declining influence. Although the battle rages within the United Methodist Church, it is only unique Methodist international polity that serves as the final barricade against LGBT inclusion (38% of all delegates at the last Methodist General Conference were foreign and staunchly conservative regarding LGBT issues), but the swelling pockets of inclusivism in local congregations and regional conferences and the ecclesiastical disobedience of Methodist clergy and bishops signal growing momentum for the cause of inclusion. After years of IRD and other conservative opposition to the innate progressivism of the ecumenical denominations, those church bodies have emerged from the fray more solidly progressive than ever. The neo-conservative intention of thwarting the social justice impulses of progressive Christianity has been a singular failure.

The media is noticing. The religious editor of the Huffington Post suggests the knee-jerk media response of running to the nearest evangelical with a bullhorn may be over in an article entitled, The Stunning Resurgence of Progressive Christianity.

*Quoted in Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism.

Cast of Characters: Gene Robinson

Gene Robinson portraitIf readers of this blog series of biographical snippets of the iconic pilgrims who led the journey toward full inclusion know only one name, it would undoubtedly be Bishop Gene Robinson, consecrated as the bishop of the New Hampshire Episcopal Diocese in 2003. For this brief taste of the Gene Robinson story, we will sample the spicy few days in Minneapolis when bishop-elect Robinson’s fate was on the plate-then off-then on again.

As with several other significant waypoints along the journey, the 2003 General Convention that approved his election occurred on the banks of the Mississippi River in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. It was in Minnesota that the Episcopalians convened in 1976 and revised canon law to allow women to be ordained to all levels of ministry; it was here that Christian feminists gathered for a Re-Imaging Conference in 1993 that rattled the mainline denominations; it was here that the Lutherans convened for their 2009 Church Wide Assembly and revised ministry policies to allow partnered gays and lesbians to be ordained; and it was here that the Presbyterians voted in General Assembly 2010 to do the same. There were numerous lesser signposts staked in Minnesota as well, and this was the homeland of more than a few pilgrims encountered in the book. There must be something in the Minnesota water.

Episcopalians elect their own bishops in diocesan conventions. However, the elections must be ratified by the national church, which is usually nothing more than a rubber-stamp approval. Because the New Hampshire Diocese elected Gene Robinson just a short time before the scheduled triennial General Convention, it would be the bishops and deputies who would gather in Minneapolis in the summer of 2003 who would have the last word. July in Minnesota is splendid, and the freezing blizzards of January are merely a test of character for the thousands of Minnesotans whose reward is to wet a fish line or take a dip in the sky-blue waters of midsummer. Yah, sure, you betcha.

Gene Robinson was a candidate running for office with a well-oiled campaign. His supporters roamed the hallways sporting buttons that said “Ask Me About Gene.” Robinson himself wore one that said, “I AM Gene” as he chatted and greeted all comers with a friendly grin and firm handshake. Partner Mark followed closely, appearing a bit self-conscious, and a burly security man with a crew cut kept a close watch.

A standing-room only audience followed Robinson’s speech before a committee considering the consecration of bishops. Many more clustered around the closed-circuit TV monitors in adjacent rooms. Part of Robinson’s task, now and continuing throughout the convention, would be a rebuttal of lies put out by his adversaries. He had not abandoned his wife and children, and they said so in highly supportive terms (his relationship with Mark Andrews began a couple of years after the divorce). Robinson’s twenty-one year old daughter appeared in person and read aloud a statement prepared by her mother, which demonstrated her continuing high regard for the man who had once been her husband.

Our lives together both married and divorced have been examples of how to deal with difficult decisions with grace, love, integrity, and honour. He is worthy of your affirmation. His charisma will draw in many more people to the church than will leave due to his sexuality. He will be a truly great bishop.

The House of Deputies voted first, and Robinson was easily approved by roughly a two to one majority.

Before the House of Bishops’ vote the following day, which was likely to be dicey anyway, the scent of scandal wafted out of the opponent’s headquarters with an allegation that placed Robinson’s ordination in serious jeopardy. A different allegation that arrived by email had to be dealt with first.

The first allegation developed from an email sent by a TV viewer back in New England who had been watching a news report of the proceedings. A man claimed he had been touched inappropriately by Bishop-elect Robinson at a regional church gathering years earlier. Even the normally reliable Episcopal News Service was swept up in the emotion of the moment, falsely reporting that “a Vermont man sent an e-mail to bishops accusing Robinson of fondling him” (emphasis added). The unfortunate word choice was a sensationalist misstatement–the email made no such claim, and the man quickly backed off when he was contacted by the bishop assigned to investigate. The alleged “touching” of years earlier turned out to be entirely innocuous. In a crowded conference room, Robinson had passed the man and stopped briefly to exchange a greeting. In doing so, Robinson had grasped the man’s upper arm and patted him on the back.

Shocking. Objection overruled.

The second allegation was even more titillating. Robinson was connected to pornographic websites, according to a “portly, red-faced pseudo journalist addicted to conspiracy theories and running his own raucously partisan conservative website.” During his fifteen minutes of fame, the man strutted around the convention media center, gleefully sputtering, “I have found the smoking gun. We got him!” The accuser’s last name was Virtue. You can’t make this stuff up.

Mr. David Virtue was part of the gatekeeping organization, the American Anglican Council (AAC). It had been the AAC chairman who first alerted church authorities to the allegations of Mr. Virtue. ”I think the bishops in considering his worthiness would want to weigh that,” the chairman said as he bounced around the convention press center, hoping that substance would back up the flimsy allegation, even while sanctimoniously claiming otherwise.

Supporters were stunned. Bishop Samuel G. Candler of the Diocese of Atlanta had spoken passionately on behalf of Rev. Robinson, but he admitted that he was shaken by the allegation.

Detractors smugly asserted, “we told you so.” Rev. Donald Armstrong of Colorado Springs, an opponent of Robinson, claimed that the allegation about pornography was entirely predictable because of Robinson’s disordered sexuality, and he suggested that Robinson ought to withdraw his candidacy.

The investigation into the pornographic website complaint revealed no connection to Robinson whatsoever. It was a “six degrees of separation” claim run amok. The questionable link had been placed on an organization’s website long after Robinson was no longer involved with the organization. The guilt-by-association smear tactic of unvirtuous Mr. Virtue failed. The investigator reported to his fellow bishops that there was ”no necessity to pursue” either complaint further. Objection overruled.

Gene Robinson consecrationWhen the Bishops finally conducted their own vote a day late, Robinson’s ordination to the episcopate was approved by nearly sixty per cent. Perhaps a vote or two swung in favor of Bishop-elect Robinson due to the underhanded tactics of the gatekeepers. Robinson was consecrated as New Hampshire bishop later that fall, but that festive event is another story.

The book is now available!

Print copies are available from Amazonthe publisherBarnes and NobleCokesbury, or an autographed copy straight from me. Amazon offers it in digital, eBook format for Kindle, and Barnes and Noble offers it for Nook. For iPad or other Apple users, you may order through the iTunes bookstore. Search on RW Holmen.

This is the latest installment in the series Cast of characters countdown, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book.

Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

2001 Anita Hill (extraordinarily ordained Lutheran)

Cast of Characters: Walter Righter

Rt. Rev. Walter Righter had ably served as bishop of the Iowa Episcopal Diocese for sixteen years, and in 1988 at age 65 he had earned voluntary retirement. Little did the combat veteran of the WWII Battle of the Bulge know that his most significant contribution in conflict would come a decade later.

First came the call from the bishop of the Diocese of Newark, Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong. Righter was persuaded to join the diocese in 1989 as Spong’s lieutenant, his assistant bishop, but only for a few more years. Spong’s reputation as an outspoken progressive didn’t scare him off; he was moving in that direction himself. At the General Convention of 1979, the “height of homophobia” according to Dr. Louie Crew of Integrity, Bishop Righter had voted with the majority in the House of Bishops in rejecting an LGBT-friendly task force recommendation and resolving, “it is not appropriate for this Church to ordain a practicing homosexual.” At that time, he was certainly not with the bishops who filed a “Statement of Conscience” in dissent. However, a decade later, he was willing to stand with Spong who lit a fire in the Episcopal Church by publicly ordaining an openly gay man just before Christmas in 1989. Bishop Spong had to take care not to trip over the TV cables for the broadcast of the ordination ceremony, which was looped as lead story on CNN every half hour.

As Spong dodged barbs and arrows during 1990, another gay man requested ordination. Better to let Walter do it, in a quiet, private ceremony, Spong and Righter decided. Late in the year, assistant Bishop Righter ordained Barry Stopfel, a partnered gay man, to the diaconate, a non-sacerdotal role that was often a steppingstone to ordination as a priest. Indeed, the following year, Bishop Spong himself ordained Stopfel to the priesthood. About that time, Bishop Righter retired for good.

Four years later in 1995, Episcopal gatekeepers feared that the walls were about to be breached; it was time for a last stand, much like the Germans’ counterattack against the onslaught of the allies in what history has labeled the Battle of the Bulge. With unintended irony, their target would be a survivor of the original Battle of the Bulge. For only the second time in the entire history of the Episcopal Church in America, an Episcopal bishop would be charged with heresy, and Bishop Walter Righter would be the accused, based upon his 1990 ordination of Barry Stopfel.

Why the assistant and not the ringleader? Perhaps for reasons of the statute of limitations. The gatekeepers planned to go after Spong after first dispatching his lieutenant.

“This is ridiculous … It is harassment … not of me, but of the church,” Bishop Richter said when informed of the presentment against him, a formal charge of heresy filed by ten fellow bishops.

On May 18th, 1995 Bishop Righter’s counsel filed his answer, and his supporting brief framed the issue in the broadest possible terms: that the core doctrines of the church did not preclude LGBT ordination. If the conservatives wanted a test case to determine once and for all whether the church could or would ordain LGBT candidates, Bishop Righter and his allies would welcome a frontal attack.

Much like its civil counterpart, the ecclesiastical trial would involve precise, formal procedures. Much like the chronology of a civil trial, the heresy proceedings against Bishop Righter would be drawn out. More than a year would elapse after the filing of charges and still Bishop Righter had not had his day in court.

On February 27, 1996, the latest in a series of pre-trial hearings took place at the Wilmington Cathedral of Hartford, Connecticut. At issue was the central defense argument that mere resolutions, such as the 1979 resolution, were not equivalent to the core doctrines of the church. Local and national press swarmed about the Cathedral, but when the parties and the judges began to meander through the thicket of Episcopal canon law, the mood turned quiet and solemn, with occasional snatches of humor, as often is the case in the verbal jousting of skilled lawyers.

Sitting in the overflow crowd, Barry Stopfel and Will Leckie, partners for eleven years, watched with greater interest than the others. It was Stopfel’s ordination nearly six years earlier and his relationship with Leckie that had triggered the charges against Bishop Righter. Stopfel willingly addressed the press, noting that he and Leckie had decided to sacrifice privacy in order to put their faces on the case, to remove it from abstraction to the personal:

At first I was hesitant to make myself… so visible. But more and more I thought: I want to put a face on this abstract concept. So Will and I just decided the price we were going to pay was to do that.

As in a civil trial, the court adjourned and took the matter under advisement. Both sides were to present further written argument, and a decision was not expected soon.

Nearly three months later, on May 16, 1996, the court announced its decision based upon a 7-1 vote of the sitting judges. Bishop Cabell Tennis of Delaware, a lawyer and member of the court, read a summary of the decision to a breathless crowd. Behind him, a stained glass depiction of the last supper seemed to suggest that Jesus was looking over his shoulder. When Bishop Tennis read that there was “no core doctrine prohibiting the ordination of a non-celibate, homosexual person living in a faithful and committed sexual relationship with a person of the same sex,” the crowd exhaled. The case was over and ordination of LGBT candidates had been countenanced by the highest Episcopal court; unless and until a General Convention would adopt canon law to the contrary, the law of the Episcopal landscape was now settled.

Dr. Louie Crew, who had been on the frontlines from the beginning, had the last word:

After twenty years of struggle, with many tears and prayers, a great moral victory had been won.

Assistant Bishop Walter Righter, drafted into the fray, had his moment in history.

The book is now available!

Well, sort of. It is in and out of availability on Amazon, but it is available directly from the publisherBarnes and NobleCokesbury, or an autographed copy straight from me. Amazon offers it in digital, eBook format for Kindle, and Barnes and Noble offers it for Nook and other epub format devices.

This is the latest installment in the series Cast of characters countdown, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book.

Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

 

Bishop John Shelby Spong: straight ally

Jack SpongIn 1976, the Episcopal Church revised its canons to allow women to be ordained as priests. That same year, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark consecrated Rev. John Shelby Spong to be its bishop. For the next twenty-five years, Bishop Spong would be an outspoken leader of the progressive wing of the Episcopal Church, especially regarding LGBT issues.

Bishop Spong’s advocacy as a straight ally came to the fore in the late 1980s when he penned the progressive view in a running dialogue in the official Episcopal magazine, The Episcopalian. A gay man from Texas responded to the series by challenging the bishop to ordain him. Although there had been previous gay ordinations by sympathetic bishops, this one would prove different. Never a shrinking violet, Bishop Spong encouraged press scrutiny, and he carefully stepped over television camera cables during the December, 1989 ordination. CNN looped the story as its lead every half hour.

The following year was marked by reaction and fallout. “The seeds of anarchy are sown,” charged eight bishops in the Midwest. An “open and deliberate violation … a blatant disregard of the teaching of the Church Catholic,” cried a Texas bishop. A Florida bishop accused Spong of “an act of arrogance,” and the bishop of Northern Indiana suggested Bishop Spong was motivated by “publicity and little else.” At their fall meeting, the House of Bishops voted to disassociate from the ordination, but the four vote margin proved to be much closer than the conservatives expected. Following the vote, Bishop Spong blistered his opponents in a speech to the House of Bishops that he characterized as “forty-five minutes of what surely must be described as passionate purple oratory.” Late that night, two of his fellow bishops separately appeared at his hotel room door to confess that they were closeted gay men, one of whom had actually voted against Bishop Spong. “I am so afraid,” he said, “that I will be exposed. I cover that fear by being negative and harsh on this issue on every public occasion.”

At the 1994 General Convention, conservatives succeeded in watering down a document called the “Pastoral,” and Bishop Spong encountered the tearful leaders of Integrity (including Dr. Louie Crew) in the hallway outside his hotel room. Bishop Spong spent the night penning a response in longhand on a legal notepad. As dawn creeped through his hotel window, he awakened his wife and asked her to go the hotel business center to type up the document, which he called a “Statement of Koinonia.” At the plenary session of the House of Bishops the following day, Bishop Spong asked to raise a point of personal privilege. When the presiding officer recognized him, he strode past the floor microphones and proceeded to the main microphone at the platform, and he began to read the document as his wife and others distributed copies to the floor and to the press and visitors. After a few minutes, the presiding officer attempted to cut him off, but Bishop Spong held up his hand like a traffic cop and continued reading. When he finished, Bishop Mary Adelia McLeod of Vermont stepped forward saying she wanted to sign the document. Other bishops did the same disrupting the business of the day. Eventually eighty-five bishops signed the document, representing the largest dioceses in the nation and the greatest number of church members.

There is so much more to be told, and my book, Queer Clergy, does precisely that. Bishop Spong has written one of the endorsements that appears on the book’s back cover, and he states, “It is a story that had to be written … Obie Holmen tells this story in a gripping and fascinating way.”

This is the fifteenth installment in the series Cast of characters countdown. I will continue to post biographical notes about the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in my soon-to-be-released book, Queer Clergy.

Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

Dr. Louie Crew (Clay): founder of Integrity

Louie Crew (young)In October 1974, a few select Episcopalians around the country discovered a newsletter in their mailboxes bearing a postmark from Fort Valley, the county seat of Peach County, Georgia. The newsletter was called Integrity: Gay Episcopal Forum and was circulated solely by Louie Crew, a young gay man just beginning his career as an English professor.

Almost immediately, Crew received two calls from interested persons; coincidentally, they were both from Chicago although they were strangers to each other, one a priest and the other a lay person. With Crew’s encouragement from afar, those two and other gays from Chicago organized the first chapter of Integrity during a meeting in December 1974. The following summer, the first national gathering convened in Chicago.

Crew’s salary as a young English professor at a small state college was minimal, but he had the benefit of paid airfare to attend seminars and conferences. He would pocket the airfare and travel to the conferences by Greyhound, stopping frequently along the way to network with bishops and others. The road toward full inclusion included bumpy bus rides.

By the 1976 General Convention in Minneapolis, Integrity had spread across the country with chapters in many cities; representatives of Integrity had been well received by official church spokesmen; and church leaders were accommodating to Integrity during the convention. In addition to the momentous revisions to the canons to allow women’s ordination to the priesthood, the 1976 General Convention also acted favorably on LGBT measures, including a resolution stating:

that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.

A “full and equal claim” is pretty heady stuff, but following the ordination of lesbian Ellen Marie Barrett in January, 1977, the pendulum swung. Big time. Dr. Crew called the 1979 General Convention, “the height of homophobia.”

Dr. Crew continued as an Integrity leader/activist over the years, often serving as a deputy (delegate) at conventions. After the 1994 General Convention adopted an odious resolution, his weeping conversation with Bishop Spong in the hotel hallway inspired the bishop to write through the night, and the resulting “Statement of Koinonia” marked a breakthrough. When the Episcopal progressives were getting pummeled at Lambeth 1998, Dr. Crew arranged for flowers to be delivered to London. When gay Bishop Gene Robinson was consecrated in 2003, Dr. Crew was one of the laity presenters. He has received several honorary doctoral degrees. At the 2012 General Convention, Integrity honored him for his lifetime of service, and the line at the reception for folks to have their picture taken with him wound around the room. And, of great importance to me, Dr. Crew served as my principal Episcopal source and fact-checker.

Louie and ErnestAbout the same time that he sent out his first Integrity newsletter, he fell in love with Ernest Clay, and they have been a happy couple to the present. They recently were married, and Louie Crew is now Louie Clay.

 

 

This post is part of the series Cast of characters, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book. Here’s the full list of these posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

2001 Anita Hill (extraordinarily ordained Lutheran)

2003 Gene Robinson (gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)

2004 Karen Dammann and Beth Stroud (Methodist clergy put on trial for being lesbians)

2007 Bradley Schmeling and Darin Easler (defrocked Lutheran clergy who were the first to be reinstated)

2011 Scott Anderson (first gay Presbyterian to be ordained following policy change)

2011 Amy DeLong (out, partnered Methodist minister on trial)

2012 R. Guy Erwin (gay professor elected as ELCA bishop)

Ellen Marie Barrett: Ordained as an Episcopal Priest in 1977

Ellen Marie BarrettIn 1970, the Episcopal General Convention authorized diaconal ordination for women, a non-sacerdotal role. Two years later, Bishop Paul Moore, Jr., of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, interviewed Ellen Marie Barrett, an early female candidate for ordination to the diaconate.

I asked her to sit down on the sofa across from the wing chair where I usually sit when someone comes to see me. Ellen is tall, with dark brown hair conservatively styled. She, like many tall people, stoops a little as she walks. Her most arresting feature is her eyes, which appear honest, deep, and welcoming … In conversation, she seems rather soft, until the discussion finds its way into an area of faith or conviction. Then you strike rock.

Though the progressive bishop was impressed with Barrett, he did not recommend her for ordination to the diaconate because she was an out lesbian. Barrett attended seminary. When she finished in 1975, she again asked Bishop Moore to approve her for ordination to the diaconate. He relented, and she was ordained a deacon in December, 1975 before a few church ladies, a few students, and her proud Southern mother. The ordination barely disturbed the church mice even though Barrett had been elected co-president of Integrity, an Episcopal LGBT advocacy group, at its inaugural national meeting earlier that year.

The following summer, the Episcopal General Convention went further; church canons were revised to allow women to be ordained to the priesthood, and many lined up for ordination when the policy would become effective in January, 1977. Deacon Barrett was among the hopeful women, but she and Bishop Moore weren’t prepared for the firestorm that awaited them. TV networks were there for her January ordination, which was a Time Magazine feature story.

The bishop and the lesbian priest were hounded mercilessly with calls, letters, and rejection. The last years of the decade of the seventies degenerated into the “height of homophobia” within the Episcopal Church. Barrett didn’t have a comfortable career and faced crushing depression. Eventually, she joined the Order of St. Benedict as Sister Bernadette.

Sister BernadetteIn researching her story, I located her in the Diocese of Newark, and I asked her to comment. Months passed, and I heard nothing. Then, a long email arrived. With Sister Bernadette’s permission, the entire email appears as a poignant coda to the Episcopal section of my book.

Here’s a snippet:

 

Would I do it again? Knowing what I know now? That’s not a question that can possibly have an answer. Today is a very different time. I have no idea whether God would have moulded my combination of weakness, pig-headedness, and some talent into what another time would need. I was what I was, and I did what I did, in the context of a particular time and socio-political climate.

Am I still convinced it was the right thing to do? Yes. Done the right way by the right person? Who knows? It is what it is. And priesthood is as much a part of me as green eyes and once black hair turning white.

I am a priest forever. That’s all.

 

This is the fourth installment in the series Cast of characters countdown. I will continue to post biographical notes about the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer Clergy. Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1970 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1972 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

T minus thirty days and counting

Queer Clergy cover jpg

We are now at thirty days and counting until Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism is launched by Pilgrim Press. If you have paid attention to earlier posts, you are aware that this book is a chronicle of the journey to full LGBT inclusion within the mainline denominations, including the UCC, the Episcopal Church, the ELCA, the PC(USA), and the UMC. The narrative recounts the pioneer journey along twisted paths that have recently reached the downslopes, and the churches have accelerated toward full inclusion.

The book is already available for pre-sale through online bookstores. The list price is $27.00, but the online vendors offer discounts; for instance, Amazon.com is currently offering the book for $24.30 plus shipping. The book is also available for pre-orders through the publisher, Pilgrim Press, and Cokesbury, the bookstore of several of the featured denominations.

As the author, I will offer autographed and personally inscribed copies for pre-order. The price will be $24.00 plus shipping with discounts for multiple copies. Use the order form to the right to pay by credit card. Or, simply send me an email, and I will send you an invoice for payment by check. Direct email correspondence is probably the best method for larger orders. Of course, I will need a mailing address and the name(s) of the person(s) to whom the book should be inscribed.

Queer Clergy to be released

OK, the headline refers to a book title that will soon be published. The book will be a chronicle of the LGBT struggle for acceptance in the church.

In the spring of 2011, I began to research the history behind the journey toward full LGBT inclusion in the mainline, Protestant denominations. From the outset, the book was intended to chronicle the parallel journeys of the United Methodists, ELCA Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and the United Church of Christ (UCC).

I visited with a local UCC pastor, who was an out lesbian, for contact suggestions within her denomination. I already had good contacts within my own ELCA. After a geographical move from Northfield, Minnesota to Arlington Heights, Illinois late in the summer, I visited the Gerber-Hart Library of Chicago which stored archival material from the early days of Lutherans Concerned, the Lutheran LGBT advocacy group. Chicago was also the home base of the Methodist advocacy group known as the Reconciling Ministries Network, and I visited their offices and with early Methodist leaders such as Mark Bowman and Morris Floyd. I took a drive up to Madison, Wisconsin for lunch with Steve Webster and Jim Dietrich. Steve had organized the first gathering of gay Methodists way back in 1974. Rev. Amy DeLong corresponded with me about her recent Methodist ecclesiastical trial.

I began to write, and by thanksgiving, I was up to forty pages. During the winter and spring of 2012, Pilgrim Press offered to publish the book, which then carried the title, Gays in the Pulpit. The pages of the manuscript swelled.

I contacted Dr. Louie Crew, the founder of the Episcopal group called Integrity, and he provided valuable information about the Episcopal journey. Later, I contacted Bishop John Shelby Spong. Many are familiar with his voluminous writings, but fewer know about his own role as the leading advocate for LGBT issues within the Episcopal House of Bishops in the late ’80s and ’90s. Professor James D. Anderson served as the editor of the Presbyterian newsletter, More Light Update, for twenty-two years and had written his own article about the history of the Presbyterian journey. My wife and I had dinner with him near his home in Florida, and he loaned me several boxes of archived newsletters. When I traveled to Cleveland to conclude an agreement with Pilgrim Press in the spring, I also visited with UCC LGBT leadership, including Rev. Loey Powell, who had been ordained in 1977. Later, I visited with Rev. Powell and others at the fortieth anniversary celebration of the ordination of Rev. William Johnson that was the theme of the UCC Coalition gathering at Johnson’s alma mater, Elmhurst College, in the Chicago suburbs. I visited with Rev. Johnson, and he provided valuable background information.

In addition to the UCC Coalition gathering in June, the summer of 2012 also included networking at the UMC quadrennial General Conference in Tampa, the biennial Presbyterian General Assembly in Pittsburgh, the Episcopal triennial General Convention in Indianapolis, and the biennial gathering of Lutherans Concerned, renamed to Reconciling Works, in Washington, D.C.

Throughout the process, key subjects of the story have offered great support and background details. They also fact-checked my growing manuscript. The list of helpful correspondents is lengthy.

Though the manuscript was mostly complete by the end of 2012, Pilgrim Press planned the book for inclusion in their fall, 2013 catalog. Thus, the pace slowed considerably during the first half of 2013, but allowed for the addition of new details and revisions. Pilgrim Press suggested a title change, and after receiving comments and suggestions from many of my sources, the title became Queer Clergy, with the pretentious subtitle, A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism. The most recent manuscript contains common material plus five, separate sections on each denomination; altogether, the manuscript consists of nearly seven hundred pages, including nearly nine hundred end notes.

Pilgrim Press has just announced that Queer Clergy will be released in November, 2013, and they have also designed the book cover, which is included below.

 

Queer Clergy cover jpg

Female English Bishops? UPDATE: FAIL

In 1558, Queen Elizabeth I came to power, and one of her first acts was to establish herself as head of the English church, rather than the pope.  Successfully fighting off Catholic claimants, “Good Queen Bess” ruled for more than half a century, and the Church of England was born.

Two centuries later, Samuel Seabury was a priest of the Church of England, born and bred in the English colony of Connecticut.  When the revolutionary war broke out, he remained loyal to the crown and spent some time as a captive of the rebels.  But, when the colonists proved victorious, he saw which way the wind was blowing and switched allegiance to the now independent nation.  When fellow priests elected him to be their bishop, an ecclesiastical problem arose.  There were no other bishops around to consecrate him; thus, he sailed off to England, but the English bishops also refused to consecrate him because Parliament required that all bishops of the Church of England pledge allegiance to the crown.  Scottish Anglicans already chafed under English rule, and they sent word that they would consecrate Seabury, and that was how the first bishop of the Episcopal Church was consecrated in 1789, the same year the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

That was also the start of what came to be known as the Anglican Communion.  The American Church became the first body of Anglicans, with historical ties to the Church of England, that was not subject to her authority and control.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, was recognized as the titular and ceremonial leader.

Today, the Anglican Communion consists of thirty-eight international “Provinces” with recent growth concentrated in the third world.  Therein lies the problem with international unity.  The third-world Anglicans are decidedly conservative in their views of female ordination and LGBT issues generally, and recent years have seen a conservative splinter of Anglicans internationally and domestically.

The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Province of the United States, is perhaps the most progressive of all thirty-eight provinces along with Canada and Scotland, and the mother church, the Church of England, is a mostly progressive province but with significant conservative dioceses.  In 1988, the Episcopal Church consecrated the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion.  Diminutive Rev. Barbara Harris reportedly was encouraged to wear a bullet-proof vest during the ceremony.  That she was female with liberal views was probably a greater affront to the conservatives than that she was black.

Every ten years, the Archbishop of Canterbury invites approximately 800 Anglican bishops from around the world to a conference named for Lambeth, the district where the Archbishop’s palace is located.  At Lambeth 1998, the Archbishop invited eight female bishops from the U.S. and one from Canada.  Lambeth ‘98 also witnessed a third-world uprising that bashed the United States and adopted a virulently homophobic resolution.

Outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has barely kept the lid on a bubbling cauldron.  Several third world provinces refused to attend Lambeth 2008 and set up their own rival conference.  The dissident conference also established the Anglican Church in North America as a rival to the Episcopal Church.  A few Episcopal Bishops and their dioceses have bolted the Episcopal Church for the conservative alternative, which has not been recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Anglican Communion.

Future Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin WelbyArchbishop Williams suggested that his successor would need the “skin of a rhinoceros.”  Whether the Rt. Rev. Justin Welby has that anatomical necessity remains to be seen, but the next Archbishop of Canterbury has urged his own Church of England to follow other progressive provinces in allowing female bishops.

Speaking during a marathon debate ahead of Tuesday afternoon’s vote at Church House in Westminster, Welby, the bishop of Durham, said the measure on the table was “as good as we are going to get”.

But, drawing on his own experience in the evangelical wing of the church, he said he would do all he could to ensure the minority of traditionalists were provided for. The final approval vote – the most important the church has faced in the 20 years since it decided to ordain women as priests – is on a knife-edge.

“It is time to finish the job and vote for this measure,” he said. “But, also, the Church of England needs to show how to develop the mission of the church in a way that demonstrates we can manage diversity of view without division. Diversity in amity; not diversity in enmity.”

Stay tuned.

UPDATE:  Polity influences policy.  How organizations make policy decisions affects what decisions are made.  This principle was proved again yesterday when the Church of England rejected female bishops.

Within the General Synod of the Church of England, three separate constituencies voted on the question.  The House of Bishops voted overwhelmingly for (44-3), the clergy voted overwhelmingly for (148-45 77%-23%), but the measure also required a concurrence of 2/3 of the laity, and the house of laity vote failed by a mere six votes (132-74 64% –36%).  Church leaders were stunned:

Tony Baldry, the Conservative MP who is responsible for speaking for the synod in parliament, said it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for him to explain the church’s current predicament to MPs. He has previously warned it would be difficult for him to defend the guaranteed place for bishops in the Lords.

While some have suggested the move could even call into question its status as the established church, Baldry said he thought the bigger risk was simple “disinterest”. “I think the great danger for the church following this vote is that it will be increasingly seen as just like any other sect,” he said.

A source close to the culture secretary, Maria Miller, who is also minister for women and equalities, said: “While this is a matter for the church, it’s very disappointing. As we seek to help women fulfil their potential throughout society this ruling would suggest the church is at the very least behind the times.” When the measure was put to the church’s 44 dioceses earlier this year, 42 approved.

A ComRes poll in July found that 74% of respondents thought female clerics should be able to attain the highest reaches of the church. The bishop of Lincoln, Christopher Lowson, said the failed vote could make the church look even more outdated. “This is a very sad day indeed, not just for those of us who support the ministry of women, but for the future of the church, which might very well be gravely damaged by this,” he said.