A Woman of Faith
May 12 2010 5:00 AM ET
To a nonreligious observer, Glasspool is what one would hope any member of an organized religion aspires to be: compassionate, honest, and joyful. And yet as she begins a new chapter of what by any measure has been a stellar career, Glasspool is now intractably something she never intended to be: an “issue.”
In an April statement Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, which counts the U.S. Episcopal Church among its 38 provinces, prayed for healing “in the light of confusion, brokenness, and tension within our Anglican family—brokenness and a tension that has been made still more acute by recent decisions in some of our provinces.” It’s clear what he refers to by “recent decisions.” When the Episcopal House of Bishops consented to Glasspool’s election in L.A. a month earlier, Williams called the decision “regrettable” within a matter of hours.
Appointed archbishop in 2002, Williams saw the 2003 consecration of V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, as straining the precarious cohesion of the diverse, 77 million–member Anglican Communion. A full-fledged schism remains unrealized, though several conservative U.S. bishops have left the Episcopal Church with their flocks in recent years, forming a separate church and aligning themselves with Anglican communions in countries such as Nigeria and Uganda.
Williams can hardly be cast in the role of antigay crusader. As an Oxford divinity professor, he gave a 1989 lecture to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement titled “The Body’s Grace,” where he argued that sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage need not be considered sinful perversion. Gay and lesbian relationships, he asserted, were worthy of God’s love. “If we are afraid of facing the reality of same-sex love because it compels us to think through the processes of bodily desire and delight in their own right,” Williams said, “perhaps we ought to be more cautious about appealing to Scripture as legitimating only procreative heterosexuality.”
But critics have faulted Williams for what they see as the abandonment of his earlier, revelatory theological views on gays in order to appease conservative factions of a fragile communion. Thus the urgent condemnation of Glasspool’s election, in stark contrast to Williams’s slow-to-react denunciation of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which calls for the death penalty for some homosexual acts. The archbishop, who had called the mounting pressure against him “divisive” and “counterproductive” in the church’s efforts to fight the draconian bill, finally spoke out against the legislation in December. “The response of the Anglican Church in Uganda has ranged from silence to support for the goals of the legislation,” says Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. “Anglican leaders have condemned the death penalty even as they’ve endorsed the extreme homophobia that has made Uganda one of the most dangerous places in the world to be gay or lesbian.”