At The Episcopal Church General Convention in Indianapolis on Monday, the full delegation approved new anti-discrimination language for transgendered clergy candidates and church members. This action comes after years of schism in the denomination over its teachings on same-sex relationships.
By adding "gender identity and expression" to its nondiscrimination canons, the denomination made clear that people who undergo sex-change operations or otherwise behave in a fashion contrary to their biological sex are welcome to the ordination process and shall not "be denied rights, status, or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this church."
Some Episcopal dioceses already ordain transgendered people or elect them to positions of parish leadership. The Rev. Carla Robinson, who is transgendered and a vicar of All Saints Church in Seattle, said he was lucky to have the backing of parishes and bishops when he was considering ordination, but said others haven't had the same support.
"I stand here as a priest today because my diocese specifically said that my gender identity and expression didn't disqualify me from the discernment process," Robinson said from the floor of the convention. "I ask that as a church we do the same for my trans sisters and brothers."
Groups, or deputations, within two separate orders, lay and clergy, cast votes on such measures at the convention. On this resolution, the 94 lay deputations out of 110 voted in favor, while 95 clergy deputations out of 111 voted yes, according to the Episcopal News Service.
Sarah Hey, writing about the vote at the Stand Firm website, explained, "This perfectly parallels the theology and foundational worldview of those who have driven the acceptance of non-celibate, same-sex relationships as well."
Clearly, she wrote, the denomination's national leaders "are not competent, healthy, or ordered in their theology or foundational worldview. It is one thing to love sinners [as we all are], and to love those with mental illness [as many of us have]. It is another thing to re-name pathologies as 'good and healthy,' to enshrine those with such pathologies as leaders of a church, and to force others to pretend as if disordered affections or gender identities are functional and wholesome."
Hey concluded that this has contributed to the denomination's decline in membership in recent years: "Parishioners, clergy, parishes, and entire dioceses have left The Episcopal Church as a direct result of these unrelenting, escalatingly foolish and destructive decisions. In return, the national church has spent some $21 million to sue to recover parish property." (See "A great divorce," by Emily Belz, WORLD, June 16).
Also at the convention, Episcopal bishops approved an official prayer service for blessing same-sex couples. The House of Bishops voted 111-41, with three abstentions, to authorize a provisional rite for same-sex unions for the next three years. The liturgy next goes to convention's deputies for their authorization.
Several Episcopal bishops who spoke against the same-sex union trial liturgy warned about the repercussions overseas. "I believe it will put us, put The Episcopal Church, out of the Christian mainstream," said Bishop Edward Little of the Diocese of Northern Indiana. "They will interpret that The Episcopal Church has endorsed same-sex marriage."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.