COLUMBUS, OH: Convention Consents to Beisner
By Hans Zeiger
COLUMBUS, OHIO (6/20/06)-Both houses of the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church consented on Tuesday to the election of the Rev. Canon Barry L. Beisner as Bishop Coadjutor of Northern California, despite Beisner's two divorces and three marriages.
The Committee on the Consecration of Bishops recommended Beisner's consecration with five members of the 23-member committee dissenting in a minority report. The minority report cited Beisner's multiple divorces and marriages as "troubling impediments."
Referring to the Biblical mandate of leadership "above reproach," the minority declared that "assurance of forgiveness does not determine the appropriateness of advancement to higher office." To confirm Beisner, said the minority, would signal a weakening of church marital standards, confuse Episcopalians about the church's support for the family, and compromise Beisner's conscience in dealing with marital issues.
Perhaps most damaging to the Episcopal Church as it is faced with the scorn of the global Anglican Communion and the Windsor Report calling on the church to repent of its hasty sexual policies in 2003, Beisner's confirmation would likely "further strain 'the bonds of affection' within the Provinces of the Anglican Communion, causing them to question our commitment to the teaching of Holy Scripture, our marriage rite, our Canons and the resolutions of prior General Conventions regarding the sanctity of marriage (i.e., that we believe marriage to be 'a lifelong commitment')."
The six signers of the minority report were The Very Rev. Mark J. Lawrence of the Diocese of San Joaquin, The Rev. Richmond Webster of the Diocese of Alabama, Alma Thompson Bell of Maryland, Christopher Hart of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, The Rev. Hayden G. Crawford of the Diocese of Southwest Florida, and The Rev. Richard S. Westbury, Jr. of the Diocese of Florida.
In the House of Deputies, debate was emotional.
Canon Dr. Kendall Harmon of the Diocese of South Carolina lamented to the House, "This is a broken church, and this a tragic and broken moment...We don't even have interchangeability of ministry Diocese to Diocese in this church." Case in point: Harmon's own Diocese. "I want everyone in the House to know that the person about whom we're voting could not serve as a priest in the Diocese of South Carolina."
Bradley Drell of the Diocese of Western LA offered three reasons for his opposition to Beisner's consecration. First, to consecrate Beisner would violate the New Testament qualifications for Bishops. Second, the church is already bewildered and divided over marriage, and to confirm Beisner would only deepen the wounds. Finally, Beisner's reliability was questionable. "We lack the same sort of disclosure that we had with Bishop Robinson's consent in 2003."
David Grizzle of the Diocese of Texas said, "The standards for receiving the Lord's grace and mercy are not the same standards of holding positions of leadership in His church." Scriptures, he said, "are breathtakingly clear in regard to remarriage following divorce," in that disqualification from church leadership is the consequence. "I would be a hypocrite to have opposed the consecration of Bishop Robinson and now to have opposed the consecration of Bishop-elect Beisner."
Sharon Lewis of the Diocese Southwestern Florida said, "We must have some standards that we stand by as a church."
Another woman disagreed, "I believe it is wrong for this house to impose a standard of the election after the fact."
Beisner's supporters spoke highly of the Bishop-elect's character and selection process. The Rev. Stephen Carpenter, rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Beisner's Diocese of Northern California, said that Beisner was elected Bishop with a 60 percent vote. Carpenter described Beisner as "a man of God that we want to lead us into our future."
Carpenter and several others argued that Beisner's past problems boosted his credibility to serve as Bishop. "It is often from these painful places that we find the greatest growth in our faith and our witness."
Several defenders of Beisner contended that his consecration as Bishop would pose no difficulty for the global Anglican Communion, already torn by the Episcopal Church's support of homosexuality. "This is not a Communion issue," said Fr. Shawn Duncan of Trinity Episcopal Church in Hamburg, New York. Adam Trambley of the Diocese of Pennsylvania added that the Windsor Report says that divorce is not a crucial criterion the election of bishops.
Then a young girl stood up. Her name was Seniorita Alda Alexa Diaz, representing the Official Youth Presence: "We're all here for the Word of the Lord to be glorified." She cited Matthew 19 on the subject of divorce and marriage, and explained that the Scriptures "are there to set an example to us. The divorced and then married bishop-would set example that we can also do it...I don't that's a good example to follow."
But Seniorita Diaz was followed by an older, whiter male, the Rev. Mark Allen, who succeeded Beisner as rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Martin in Davis, California. "And for those of you who are interested in Scripture"-Allen pointed to the qualifications of bishops passage in First Timothy-"I would remind you that this is the same book that includes the passage on women having their hair in braids and wearing jewelry."
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