COLUMBUS, OHIO — Episcopal delegates Tuesday snubbed Anglican leaders' request to temporarily stop electing openly gay bishops, a vote that prompted the church's leader to call a special session in hopes of reaching a compromise to preserve fragile Anglican unity.
The vote by the Episcopal House of Deputies came just hours before Presbyterians, at a separate meeting, approved a plan to let local congregations install gay ministers if they wish.
In Columbus, wrenching debate over the moratorium on gay bishops stretched over two days in the House of Deputies, a legislative body of more than 800 clergy and lay leaders.
Top Anglican officials had asked the Episcopalians for a temporary ban to calm the outrage among conservatives over the election three years ago of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who lives with his longtime male partner.
In a complex balloting system, a majority of deputies voted against a measure that would have urged dioceses to refrain from electing gay bishops. Conservatives complained that the proposal stopped short of a moratorium, but supporters argued it would have set a moral standard for the church and would have signaled that the American denomination understood the concerns of Anglican leaders.
Outgoing Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, the head of the denomination, said he would use his authority to call a special session this morning to address the issue again.
In an emotional speech on the floor of that house Tuesday night, Robinson said he had been awake since 4 a.m., praying about how to resolve the conflict between his deep commitment to both unity and to full inclusion for gays and lesbians. "I desperately want to preserve this communion," he said. "But I can't do so at the expense of my own integrity and that of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ."
Canon Martyn Minns, a conservative leader and rector of Truro Church in Fairfax, Va., said the deputies' vote showed the impossibility of reconciling Anglicans with different views about the Bible and homosexuality. "It's too hard. It's a gap too wide," he said. "Unhappily, this decision seems to show that the Episcopal Church has chosen to walk apart from the rest of the Anglican Communion."
The critical vote in the Episcopal Church happened on a day when another American Protestant denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), decided at a session in Birmingham, Ala., to allow gay clergy, lay elders and deacons to work with local congregations.
A measure approved 298-221 by a national assembly keeps in place a Presbyterian church law that says clergy and lay elders and deacons must limit sexual relations to man-woman marriage. But the new legislation says local congregations and regional presbyteries can exercise some flexibility when choosing clergy and lay officers of local congregations if sexual orientation or other issues arise.
Mainline Protestant groups, including the Methodists and the largest U.S. Lutheran branch, have been struggling for decades over the traditional Christian prohibition on gay sex as lesbians and gays push for full inclusion in their churches. The issue has frequently dominated debate at national Protestant assemblies