Friday, September 8, 2006

Newark Prepares to Elect a Bishop

The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton reports that turnout for the "Meet the Candidates" events in Newark is high, the energy is positive, and the candidates engaged and engaging. Five priests and one bishop have been nominated for bishop of Newark; including one, the Rev. Cn. Michael Barlowe, who is an openly partnered gay man. Michael is the Congregational Development Officer for our diocese, and his partner, The Rev. Paul Burrows, is one of our finest parish priests. They, the other nominees & their families, and the people of Newark, are very much in my prayers.

Newark finds itself in an awkward position post-Columbus, where this summer the General Convention of the Episcopal Church effectively called for a moratorium on the consecration of gay men or lesbians as bishops. This means that the people of Newark must contemplate the possibility of electing someone who would not receive consent from a majority of the diocesan bishops and Standing Committees. They must weigh whether or not they wish to cast their vote based on the Spirit's prompting, or on calculations of "consentability." I trust they will choose the former.

Based on my experience of General Convention, in which the bishops and deputies displayed little courage in the face of ecclesiastical coercion, I think it quite possible that Michael would not receive consent if he were elected. I hope I'm wrong - it wouldn't be the first time! But if the people of Newark really believe he should be their next bishop, they should vote for him regardless of whether or not he might receive consent. If consent is denied, Michael's election would make visible the wound inflicted upon the Body of Christ in Columbus. That would not necessarily be a bad thing, especially for the "good liberals" who voted for B033.

That isn't a reason to vote for Michael. But neither is it a reason to vote against him. Folks in Newark should vote as they feel moved by the Spirit in conversation with one another. Their focus sould be on mission in their context, and who of these six called by God can best lead them in that mission. Which is why Michael was nominated to begin with; not because he is gay, but because he is so well qualified.

Some would say that Columbus has "politicized" the Newark election. The truth is that episcopal elections are ALWAYS political. That is as it should be. The question is, "Will our politics be moral? Will our politics reflect our loyalty to Christ as Lord?" Columbus has raised the cost of moral courage. That is an unfair burden to place on Newark or any diocese, but there it is. Those of us who seek to do justice and love mercy must stand in solidarity with Newark in their hour of testing, rejoicing with them and their next bishop: whoever she or he may be.

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