Courting schism

A gay bishop in the espiscopal church

Among the varieties of Christian experience, none is more pleasing to the senses than a stately Anglican liturgy, from the opening procession to the altar to the choir’s hymns and chants. Liturgy-and language appropriate to it-is what makes Episcopalians recognizably Anglican, and not just another American Protestant denomination. Not long ago, I asked a professor at the church’s General Theological Seminary in New York what theological issues most exercise his students. Without a pause he said: “Who stands where in the [liturgy’s] procession line.”

The professor spoke only partly in jest. Theology has never been the Episcopal Church’s strong suit, nor has credal commitment. The bishops have long tolerated the presence of eccentric nonbelievers in their ranks, from the late Bishop James A. Pike to the recently retired Bishop of Newark, John Shelby Spong, who continues to write books repudiating the very doctrines the church’s liturgy celebrates. Given this tradition of doctrinal elasticity, it follows that Episcopalians abhor nothing more than a public family fuss. So it was not at all surprising that when delegates to the church’s recent General Convention voted to accept the Reverend V. Glenn Robinson as the church’s first openly gay bishop (“open” meaning that he does not hide his domestic relationship with another man), there was much talk from both sides about the “pain” that a decision either way would...

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About the Author

Kenneth Woodward was for thirty-eight years religion editor of Newsweek.