In January of 1986, Edmond Browning, Bishop of Hawaii, was installed as the 24th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. It was a Church still divided over the role of ordained women, and as yet there were no bishops who were female. That would come in 1989. The Church was divided over the role of openly gay clergy with “progressive” dioceses allowing such clergy to be called as rectors and associates in parishes, while other “conservative” dioceses banned such action. Racism continued to gnaw at the church. Against this background, Browning declared “I want to be very clear: This church of ours is open to all — there will be no outcasts — the convictions and hopes of all will be honored.”
To pick up on the old Virginia Slims ad, “we’ve come a long way, baby.” Women are serving at all levels of the Church. The 26th Presiding Bishop was a woman, as is the current Bishop of Washington. More and more African Americans and other people of color are serving at all levels as well, with our current Presiding Bishop and the Bishop of Maryland both being African American.
Though not particularly visible in Maryland, there continues to be a divide over the place of openly gay, married clergy. The election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 nearly split the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion apart. You may remember that he, like the first woman bishop elected, was advised to wear a bullet-proof vest for his consecration. There are dioceses where openly gay, married people are not allowed into the ordination process nor, if already ordained, to be called to church positions. But since Bishop Robinson’s election in 2003, Maryland’s own Mary Glasspool was elected a bishop in Los Angeles in 2010 with much less controversy, and a couple of weeks ago the Diocese of Maine elected an openly gay, married man to be its next bishop.
So why am I writing about this topic, since things seem—at least from my perspective—to be moving in the right direction? I believe what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But just last week, it was reported that the Archbishop of Canterbury in sending out invitations to the next Lambeth Conference (an every-ten year gathering of Anglican bishops*), including invitations to their spouses—except the same-gendered spouses of openly gay bishops. What a petty action! To be sure the number is tiny (two in the U.S., one in Canada), but the Archbishop fears offending conservative bishops. So, in fact, there are still outcasts in the Anglican Communion.
This exclusion will not last. Gene Robinson was not invited to the last Lambeth Conference, but openly gay bishops are being invited to this one. It is up to us who love this Church to speak out against attempts to close the Church and to move forward to the day that Bishop Browning envisioned.
*That is, all active bishops within the Anglican Communion around the world