SALT LAKE CITY (Christian Examiner) – The Episcopal Church, one of the nation's oldest denominations, has elected its first minority presiding bishop, and he is already affirming the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.
During the church's general convention in Salt Lake City, Michael Curry, bishop of the North Carolina diocese, was chosen from four candidates on the first ballot. Curry, who is black, will begin his nine-year term Nov. 1 with an installation service at Washington's National Cathedral on All Saints Day.
In a press conference following his election, Curry said the Supreme Court in its 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage, "affirmed the authenticity of love."
"We're in the business of love," Curry said. "There's a hymn, 'where true love is found, God himself is there. 'We're in the process of working that out, what form that will take we'll know at the end of this convention."
"The reality is the issues are about marriage. How do we make it fulsome and wholesome for all? How do we make marriage a context where life is ennobled and lifted up? Those are critical pastoral concerns."
Curry's approach to same-sex marriage varies little from the larger effort of the denomination to include gays and lesbians in its ranks of leadership and its congregations.
In 2003, the church ordained its first openly homosexual bishop, V. Gene Robinson, in New Hampshire. Robinson eventually married his homosexual partner, but he has since retired and they have divorced. The church also elected lesbian bishop Mary Glasspool to serve its Los Angeles diocese in 2010.
Katherine Jefferts Schori, who Curry succeeds as presiding bishop, also threw the church into controversy with her full court press for the inclusion of LGBTs in the life of the church. Schori was the first female presiding bishop elected.
Controversy within the church over the election of gay clergy caused conservative Episcopalians to split from the church. Conservatives eventually formed a remnant church, the Anglican Church in North America. The denomination of 112,000 in 1,000 churches has offices in Pennsylvania and Georgia.
Following the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges June 26, the conservative Anglicans issued a statement on God's design for marriage. The church said it was "deeply grieved by the departure from God's revealed order."
"While this decision grieves us, God's truth and the goodness of the order established in creation have not been changed. The kingdom of God cannot be shaken," the statement said.
Leaders of the conservative Anglican body also said:
"Marriage is established by God for the procreation and raising of children and for the good of society. For this reason, governments have an interest in marriage and have delegated authority from God to protect and regulate it. But no court, no legislature and no local magistrate has the authority to redefine marriage and to impose this definition on their citizens.
The United States of America, so its founders believed and taught, is a nation under God whose citizens' fundamental rights are derived from the Creator. There is no right to a relationship which is contrary to the Creator's express design. We cannot accept the Supreme Court's decision purporting to find a fundamental right to same-sex 'marriage' any more than we can accept its claim to have found a right to destroy human life in the womb. We will work with others to overturn this decision, and we pray that others will join with us in this effort."
The group called the Supreme Court justices to repentance and asked for God to forgive them, "for they know not what they have done."
Their words fell on deaf ears. Schori, upon hearing about the Supreme Court's decision, told the bishops gathered for the church's General Convention in Salt Lake City that she rejoiced at the verdict.
She said the Court had "opened the way for the love of two people to be recognized by all the states of this union, and that the court has recognized that it is this enduring, humble love that extends beyond the grave that is to be treasured by society wherever it exists."
"Our society will be enriched by the public recognition of such enduring faithful love in families headed by two men or two women as well as by a woman and a man. The children of this land will be stronger when they grow up in families that cannot be unmade by prejudice or discrimination. May love endure and flourish wherever it is to be found," said Schori, who has presided over one of the most precipitous declines in any denomination's history.
The Episcopal Church is in serious financial and numerical trouble , mirroring the contraction of other mainline Protestant denominations that have adopted policies openly accepting of homosexuality and gay church leaders. In fact, it recently authorized the sale of its New York headquarters because it could no longer afford the mortgage payments. That sale has been postponed for now.
From 1992-2002, the Episcopal Church declined from 3.4 million members nationwide to 2.3 million. In 2003, following the appointment of Robinson, the membership was shaken again. By 2009, the church's membership had dropped to 2 million, and by 2013 to 1.86 million. The decline shows no signs, at least statistically, of slowing in the future.
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church concludes July 3. According to Schori, any remaining questions about the role of homosexuals in the church will be addressed by then.