Twenty-four conservative Episcopal bishops in the United States cut ties Friday with a Canadian diocese that recently authorized a blessing ceremony for a gay couple. The move has implications for a looming showdown in the Episcopal Church, which will vote in two weeks whether to approve same-sex blessings and ratify the election of the church's first openly gay bishop--the Reverend V. Gene
Robinson of New Hampshire. Many in the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the U.S. member, fear the votes at the Episcopal General Convention, which runs from July 30 to August 8 in Minneapolis, could split the church. In 1998 the Anglican Communion approved a resolution calling gay sex "incompatible with Scripture."
The 24 bishops said in an open letter addressed to conservative Anglican bishops that they "utterly repudiate" the same-sex blessing ceremony held May 28 in the Diocese of New Westminster, in Vancouver, Canada. They also warned that approving similar ceremonies in the United States and confirming Robinson's election "would be unparalleled departures" from church teaching. The bishops said they are aligning themselves with Anglican leaders from Africa and Asia who have been the most outspoken in condemning homosexuality--in some cases threatening to break with dioceses that elect gay bishops.
The Reverend Michael Hopkins, president of Integrity, an Episcopal gay advocacy group, views the statement as a warning that the bishops will break with the U.S. church if same-sex blessings and Robinson's election win approval at the national meeting. "They're basically trying to affect the convention by threat," Hopkins said. But spokesmen for several of the bishops said no threat was intended, and they accused gay rights supporters of trying to fracture the 2.3 million-member
In the Sunday edition of The [London] Times, Robinson called the Church of England a "very dangerous place to be honest" after the row that ensued over the appointment of the openly gay Jeffrey John as bishop of Reading; John ultimately declined the post as a result of the controversy. Two weeks before his election is due to be approved, Robinson also singled out the campaign by evangelical clergy against John's appointment. He said their actions "exposed the lie" that they were opposed only to active homosexuality and not to gay orientation. Unlike John, Robinson is in a sexually active relationship with his partner, Mark Andrew, a health worker. The two have been together for more than 12 years. Robinson said he believes honesty is a key difference between John's situation and his own. "My sense of what's going on in Britain is that homosexuality is not talked about openly and it's still, as Canon John learned, a very dangerous place to be honest about who you are and what your relationships are," he said.