Many major news organizations were caught napping in the run-up to this month's election of a bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of California. For months, news stories made much of the fact that three noncelibate gay or lesbian clergy were among the nominees. Surprisingly, none of them garnered more than a handful of votes.
From the outset of voting by the 550 clergy and lay delegates, it was a race between two men in a field of seven: Rev. Eugene Sutton, an African-American pastor at Washington National Cathedral, and Bishop Mark Andrus of Alabama. The laity favored Rev. Sutton, who emphasized social action and evangelism; the clergy were for Bishop Andrus, who declared his support for inclusiveness and for the consecration of gay bishop Gene Robinson in 2003. On the third ballot, Bishop Andrus attracted enough lay votes to win.
Analysts credited the Andrus win in part to late politicking by ECUSA Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and other leaders among diocesan clergy and gay activist circles.
"Is such pressure in fact part of a coordinated strategy intended to mislead the Communion?" asked a spokesperson for the American Anglican Council, an evangelical group in ECUSA. Many AAC members believe liberals at next month's convention will use doublespeak to try to get past Communion leaders concerned about ECUSA's doctrinal integrity.
When in Beijing...
For China watchers, it was a puzzling development. When the country's government-sanctioned Catholic church, which has no ties to Rome, consecrated two bishops this month, the Vatican sharply objected to the choices. Chinese officials shot back that Beijing had told the Vatican in advance of the consecration plans, but got no response. A third new bishop named the same weekend had the approval of Pope Benedict XVI.
When communists took over China in 1949, Chinese Catholics were forced to sever connections with the Vatican (though most Catholics privately remained loyal to the pope, and a large clergy network thrived underground). A thaw has been underway in recent years, and Chinese church officials and the Vatican through informal contacts have agreed on bishop choices. Chinese church leaders are now permitted to recognize the pope as their spiritual father.
So, the apparent breakdown in communications and resulting Vatican protest alarmed church officials. The Chinese Foreign Ministry quickly said it still is "sincere" in wanting to improve relations "and work together with the Vatican." In return, though, it said Rome must "adopt the correct way in handling the question of Taiwan." Vatican officials earlier indicated they were considering cutting diplomatic ties with Taipei for that purpose.
Afghanistan's new constitution "does not contain clear protections for the right to freedom of religion or belief for individual Afghan citizens." That's the conclusion reached by the highly regarded U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in its annual report released this month. It blamed many instances of persecution on "Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari's intolerance toward freedom of religion, speech, and gender equality."
Homosexual rights have precedence over free speech and religious free exercise rights. That appears to be the meaning of a decision this month by the Cincinnati-based U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals involving Baptist prison chaplain William Akridge. The court ruled an Ohio prison had the authority to punish the chaplain for refusing to permit an open homosexual to lead an inmates' praise band in a worship service.
On the chopping block at the financially ailing Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): 75 staff positions (including some top administrative ones), 55 missionary assignments, and some denominational offices and programs. PCUSA leaders announced the cutbacks May 1.