Recently, delegates to the Episcopal church's triennial general conference voted to allow the ordination of gay bishops, a vote that overturned a de facto moratorium on ordaining gay bishops that was approved three years ago.
I agree almost entirely with the analysis offered by my fellow Chicago Free Press columnist Jennifer Vanasco. But there are a couple of additional points worth adding.
The vote was "overwhelming" (according to The New York Times)-more than two-thirds of both houses of the convention voting in favor of the new policy. Since most of those votes were probably not new converts to the gay side, that means that those votes have always been there but just not cast on our side.
Instead, they were temporarily persuaded by the appeals of Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, not to do anything that would rupture the Anglican Communion, many parts of which, particularly in Africa, are fiercely anti-gay
Williams made the same appeal this time too, telling the convention, "I hope and pray that there won't be decisions in the coming days that will push us further apart."
But the appeal did not work this time. Instead the convention voted to stand up for its principles of inclusion and acceptance of gays and, implicitly, for the acceptance of homosexuality as a legitimate mode of sexual expression. As one church leader put it, "real relationships are built on authenticity."
It is amazing how frequently calls for "unity"-religious, political, organizational-amount to one side urging the other side to abandon its principles and support a policy or view it does not believe in.
No doubt there will be angry denunciations from anti-gay provinces of the Anglican Communion and threats to withdraw or else expel the Episcopal Church. They have already sought to form alliances with anti-gay dioceses in the U.S., although with limited success.
But the Episcopalians have more or less brought this on themselves. For decades, wealthy American churches have sent millions of dollars to Africa to support proselytizing and missionary work to convert Africans to Christianity.
The result was to provide a homophobic rule book-as both the Old and New Testaments certainly seem to be-without any decent training in the historical and critical analysis of the bible that is commonplace in American seminaries. As one Episcopalian cleric told a startled friend of mine, "Some African bishops have little more than an eighth-grade education." So the message the Africans and others learned was a Bible-based homophobia.
Those Episcopal churches might be well-advised to start sending their millions of dollars to support gay rights and gay equality efforts both within and outside of the African churches to try to undo some of the damage they have done.
The main reason Williams' appeal did not work this time was that it seemed clear that another delay would have had no effect and that the appeal would be repeated again in another three years. It had been hoped that a few years' breathing room on the issue would allow some progress by the Africans (and other homophobic dioceses) in learning more about homosexuality and the historical and critical analysis of the Bible.
But the Africans showed no movement in that direction and instead dug in their heels on the issue. That means that the same urging would be given every time the issue came up, ad infinitum, and Episcopalians would never be able to institute their gay-supportive beliefs. This they were finally unwilling to do.
As if to indicate "Now we're serious about this," the convention also voted to develop formal rites for gay and lesbian unions. But that is a separate issue and deserves separate treatment another time.