Page last updated at 03:29 GMT, Sunday, 6 December 2009

Rift flares after US Episcopal Church elects gay bishop

Los Angeles Diocese delegates vote on Friday for the first assistant bishop, Diane M Jardine Bruce
Delegates in Los Angeles have been voting for two assistant bishops

A diocese in Los Angeles has elected only the second openly gay bishop in the global Anglican Church, reigniting an issue that has caused deep division.

Canon Mary Glasspool was elected assistant bishop, although she needs a majority of national Episcopal Church heads to back her consecration.

The election of the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, six years ago created a massive rift.

Traditionalists have already expressed opposition to the latest election.

Conservatives insist the Bible unequivocally outlaws homosexuality whereas liberals believe the Bible should be reinterpreted in the light of contemporary wisdom.

The row led to the formation of a conservative breakaway Episcopal movement in the US - the Anglican Church in North America.

The head of the worldwide Anglican community, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, has been under pressure to recognise it.

Reflection of diversity

BBC religious affairs correspondent Chris Landau says that for an Anglican Communion already fracturing over the issue of homosexuality, this election is yet more evidence of the church's divisions.

Mary Glasspool
Mary Glasspool has been with her partner since 1988

He says that for many in the US, electing openly homosexual bishops is simply a reflection of the diversity long affirmed by that Church.

Episcopal Church leader, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, has said she will consecrate any bishop whose election follows the rules.

Mary Glasspool, from Baltimore, is 55 and has been a canon in the Diocese of Maryland for eight years, Associated Press news agency reports.

It says she has been with her partner, Becki Sander, since 1988.

In a statement after her election, Canon Glasspool said: "Any group of people who have been oppressed because of any one, isolated aspect of their persons yearns for justice and equal rights."

Robert Pigott
Robert Pigott, BBC religious affairs correspondent

Despite intense pressure to maintain a moratorium on ordaining gay bishops - the Episcopal Church's ruling convention voted in July to allow homosexual men or women to become bishops.

This clarification of the Church's policy makes it all the more likely that Mary Glasspool's election will be confirmed by its bishops and a committee representing the Church's lay and clergy members.

If it is confirmed, Canon Glasspool's election will set back attempts to preserve worldwide Anglicanism intact and makes it more probable that the American Church will be consigned to membership of the second of a two-tier Communion.

The diocese's Bishop J Jon Bruno acknowledged there were rumours of a "concerted effort not to give consent" to Canon Glasspool's election because of her sexuality.

But he said: "I would remind the Episcopal Church and the House of Bishops they need to be conscientious about respecting the canons of the Church and the baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of every human being."

However, one traditionalist clergyman, the Reverend Kendall Harmon of South Carolina, told AP: "This decision represents an intransigent embrace of a pattern of life Christians throughout history and the world have rejected as against biblical teaching".

Delegates in Los Angeles have been voting for two assistant bishops - the other is the Reverend Diane M Jardine Bruce.

Bishops of the US Episcopal Church voted in July to overturn a three-year ban on the appointment of gay bishops.

Anglican leaders had asked the Church to observe the moratorium.

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