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Election of Gay Episcopal Bishop Draws Sharp Reaction - 2003-08-06

The election of the first openly gay bishop by the Episcopal church in the United States is drawing sharp reaction, both among Americans as well as from Anglican Christians worldwide. Clergy in Africa and Asia are denouncing the move, as are some Episcopal bishops in the United States. Some say the historic could threaten a split within the Anglican Communion.

The world's 77 million Anglicans could be at a crossroads. The fallout from the divisive vote among Episcopal bishops in Minneapolis Tuesday approving the Reverend Gene Robinson, a practicing homosexual, as a bishop from New Hampshire is being felt around the world.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans is warning about the impact the decision will have along with what might come next. Some fear that could be a schism within the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The Reverend David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council, said "I think we've re-arranged the deck chairs now on the Titanic for the last time and we've struck the iceberg and we're going to begin to see the ship of state start to fragment and come apart."

In fact, Anglican leaders in developing countries, especially in much more conservative societies where homosexuality is not as culturally accepted as it is in the West, are already voicing strong objections to the selection of Reverend Robinson. In parts of East Asia and Africa, Anglican clergy have issued statements critical of making an openly gay man a bishop.

But Bishop Robinson, who appeared before reporters with his male partner, called the vote backing him a victory for gays and lesbians, and not what others fear could be a turning point, one that could lead to a division within the Episcopal church in America and among Anglicans worldwide. "To have an openly gay or lesbian person in the House of Bishops says something symbolically to the Episcopal Church about the welcome that gay and lesbian folk have a right to expect and receive in the Episcopal Church," he said. "When our church doesn't fall down, when the bishop who happens to be gay walks in, it just gets people a lot more calm about gay and lesbian folk in leadership positions."

This isn't the first time Anglicans have been confronted with an issue more definitive of the times than reflecting Biblical scripture. Years ago, the church agreed to accept gays and lesbians as equal members. But the outpouring of opposition from Anglican clergy around the world to the decision to make the first openly gay member of the clergy a bishop is raising the question of whether Anglicans could leave American Episcopalians to go their own way.