While she doesn't believe schism in her faith is inevitable over homosexual issues, the leader of Utah's Episcopal community says gay members and clergy will never again be disqualified from ministry, despite the angst that position has caused among millions of members of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
"What would such a reversal say to our gay brothers and sisters?" asked the Right Rev. Carolyn Tanner Irish of the Diocese of Utah in a statement on Tuesday. "Go back to the closet? To deceit and dishonesty?"
Her comments came in response to what has been dubbed the "Windsor Report," issued Monday in Britain by the internationally comprised Lambeth Commission in response to the ordination of a gay bishop by fellow U.S. Episcopal bishops last summer. The Anglican leaders also examined the blessing of same-sex unions by a Canadian church — a move Bishop Irish has followed up on, calling for the formation of same-sex blessing rites within the Utah diocese.
That is entirely different from same-sex marriage, she said, noting such unions are not sanctioned by the church.
The Windsor Report was critical of the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Canadian church but stopped short of doling out any kind of punishment for the actions, which Bishop Irish said conservatives had sought. It also derided conservative bishops in other parts of the world — mainly Africa and Asia — who have sought to provide disgruntled U.S. conservatives a home by extending oversight to their churches within the United States.
It calls for bishops in the U.S. church — one of several autonomous provinces within the 77-million member worldwide Anglican Communion — to apologize for ordaining Bishop Eugene Robinson of New Hampshire in August 2003, despite the fact he is openly gay and church law disallowed it.
"I believe we are perfectly willing to apologize for any harm and hurt our actions have caused, and many among us have done so publicly," Bishop Irish said. "On the other hand, it is entirely unlikely that we will be willing to set the clock back on the actions themselves, or to cease acting inclusively — respecting the dignity of every human being, as we promise in our baptismal vows."
Conservative leaders around the globe believe uniformity on gay ordination and same-sex blessings is vital to the perpetuation of the faith, but Bishop Irish told the Deseret Morning News her view of "communion" means something different than having every church worldwide agree on those issues.
The report recommends formation of a council that would work with a presiding bishop in adjudicating cases of disobedience to authority within the faith.
"I don't think we have to go there," she said. "I don't have the expectation that provinces and diocese elsewhere must ordain women and gays. I don't have the need that they do that in order to be satisfactory to me.
"But they do have that need and expectation" of uniformity, she said, "and they pin it all on their reading of scripture, which is really not our reading of scripture.
"Why aren't they quoting 'love thy neighbor?' " she asked of the literal vs. scholarly scriptural arguments. "If you get into that, you'll never come to an end of it. The Bible will let you do anything if you look only at one verse."
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the U.S. church responded to the report by saying he is "obliged to affirm the presence and positive contribution of gay and lesbian persons to every aspect of the life of our church and in all order of ministry."
Both he and Bishop Irish noted that in American society — unlike many other nations — homosexuality is not only openly discussed but "increasingly acknowledged in all areas of our public life."
Bishop Irish acknowledged she voted against the blessing of same-sex unions in a conference of Anglican bishops in 1998, despite pressure to do otherwise, because she believed then that "through conversation and education we could reach a place of agreement. But I don't think that's going to happen now. I've learned a great deal about the power of fear and cultural differences."
The fact that such issues have been under discussion for decades means the U.S. church has "evolved not only around our understanding of homosexuality and inclusivity but the years and years it's taken us to do this is an indication of how much we wanted to act together," she said.
"We had patience. We didn't just hop off into something rash."